Game #11: Machinarium (2009)

by: Amanita Design
finished on: 3 September

I wasn’t fully expecting to like this game, the second that I’ve finished from the Humble Indie Bundle. It’s partly the genre of the thing: I’m not particularly a fan of this point-and-click style of game, which seems to often end up in pixel hunts. But I kept with the game, and for all that I didn’t particularly enjoy its gameplay – indeed, it drove me nuts at some points when I just couldn’t see the solution – it more than makes up for it in sheer charm.

Its basic premise is that you play a robot, and you have to get him back into the robot city. You don’t get given much in the way of plot to begin with, and you start to be filled in on the plot as you go – for instance, there are these evil bully robots, who you have to try and get back at. The game keeps it simple overall, and conveys meaning through pictures rather than words, except on the very first level where you’re given basic instructions on how to operate the robot.

For all that it’s a gritty, brown, steampunk-esque environment that the robots inhabit, it’s equally lush, with hand-drawn backgrounds in every scene and cute little animations at every turn. The music, too, really adds to the atmosphere and is incredibly sublime and listenable (and the soundtrack comes as an extra with the Humble Bundle, so I’ve been listening to it ever since).

The puzzles themselves are sometimes very obtuse; the first few levels are single screen and stand alone, but then the game starts to open out, first with a series of connected puzzles, and then about halfway through the game, there’s a kind of hub that goes off in several separate directions. Suddenly the game really starts to connect different screens in increasingly obscure ways, in such a way that it can be hard to keep track of what you’re trying to achieve by going through a certain area and where you have to go next, although by the end, it all comes together neatly like a jigsaw.

There’s a decent balance between general puzzles that cover the entire screen, often involving the robot taking things from places and putting them in other places, or doing a certain thing with something, and mini games, which range from sliding tiles puzzles to a clone of Space Invaders to a board game played against the computer which is a bit like Connect 4 and Go mashed together. I found this balance to be generally good, as I tended to be better at the mini games – I think one had to complete all of them anyway in order to win the game. But some of the wider puzzles could be maddening. The game, to its credit, was quite good about having a hint and walkthrough available in-game (cutely illustrated, as usual), and locking it off with an annoying mini game lest you be tempted, but at first, I just got pissed off at the mini game because it wasn’t really obvious that you could shoot enemies, and that you could use the keyboard instead of the onscreen buttons. I got there eventually, though.

Anyway, it’s said that good science fiction shows, and doesn’t tell, and Amanita Design have perfected this art with their setting. Apart from being beautifully illustrated, it’s incredibly detailed, with different little things catching your eye every time you play it. Even writing this review I’m getting little pangs and wanting to play the game again. So I’d definitely recommend it to anyone.

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