Updated review: Machinarium (2009)

IMG_2303.JPGCreator: Jakub Dvorský of Amanita Design
Language: mostly gibberish with some on-screen instructions in English
Finished on: 23 Sep 2014

I guess I don’t do such reviews as this particularly often, where it’s something I’ve already reviewed on here. I can’t remember what I wrote about Machinarium the last time I played, but then that was about three years ago, so I don’t exactly expect to. I can at least say that it had a lasting impact on me and I liked it enough to want to play it again.

I actually picked this up again because I discovered that you can download it for the iPhone. Thus, I want to make a few comments about the iPhone port just now. Point and click games like this are very suitable for a touch-screen interface, but I think I need to specify that more clearly as something with a bigger screen than an iPhone. Maybe a tablet would be good.

It’s a minor nitpick I suppose, but furthermore, the programming on this app was faulty, as it had a “pinching” function to zoom in and out, but pinching your screen would also make you randomly click on things. In this game, it never really makes a difference, because you can’t accidentally kill yourself or make the game impossible to win, but it was annoying.

As for the game structure, it is awfully linear; even when your robot comes into an open area where it looks like you can make a variety of choices, there is basically only one route open. Then he throws away any item he no longer requires, which I found boring because it means that he can’t collect up that many items just on the offchance that they would be used later in the game.

One more minor complaint is that it’s probably impossible to ever come back to this game fresh, that is, without knowing what is coming next. The linearity and non-randomness of the game means that there is no staying power to it. I can’t play the game again and have the same reaction as I did the first time. It’s still enjoyable, though. Also, all that said, I had still forgotten the solutions to several of the puzzles.

The mini games also suffer from a related problem, which is that they’re too short. Some would make interesting games in their own right. As it is, it’s eclectic and a little frantic.

I should stop criticising the game so much, though. It’s making me look like I hated the game, which couldn’t be further than the truth. I always think it can only be a compliment if the main criticism one has of something is to say it didn’t last long enough. The game is very engrossing and addictive, I really like the illustration and the characters, and I think it deserves to be played by more people.

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Film #127: Lucy (2014)

IMG_2170.JPGDirector: Luc Besson
Language: mostly English but also Korean, Chinese, French, German, Italian
Length: 89 minutes
Watched on: 17 September 2014

Japanese film release schedules are impossible to predict sometimes. Usually they’re the world’s worst, most often at the bottom of the list on IMDB, months after seemingly every other country. But just occasionally you get one like this that wasn’t released that long after it was in the west. Thus I have to be pretty lucky to catch a film like this. I usually get my film news from Mark Kermode’s podcast, but I tend not to register the films as ones I’m likely to be able to see any time soon.

A bad habit, perhaps. In any case, I had a free afternoon recently and used it to go to the cinema in Shinjuku, when I discovered that Lucy was being shown. It was pretty much what I’d been led to expect from Kermode’s podcast: a bit ridiculous, built on a flawed premise, but kinda fun to watch.

It’s worth noting from the start that this doesn’t live up to Besson’s earlier works, like The Fifth Element, although that is indeed a high bar that I wouldn’t have expected it to cross. The story concerns Lucy, who accidentally becomes a drug mule for some Korean gangsters. The drugs leak into her system, causing her brain functions to go into overdrive. In the universe of the movie, humans only use 10% of their brain, a myth that I thought had been debunked in real life. As she gets closer to 100%, she gets closer to some kind of transcendental being, able to manipulate the world around her at a whim. Certain scenes were reminiscent in that respect of The Matrix.

The premise is thus fundamentally flawed, based on a vapid myth, but as long as one can accept that, it’s definitely enjoyable. Morgan Freeman plays Scarlett Johansson’s sometime foil very well, if perfunctorially, and Besson doesn’t make his gangster characters inexplicably all speak English; for example, the Korean characters even have to call up a translator in order to communicate with Lucy at the start of the film. Details like that lend credence to the film, making up for the thin excuse of a plot.

But anyway, that now makes two films that I’ve seen recently that essentially boil down to a sci fi plot in which Scarlett Johansson ascends to a higher plane of existence. I wonder if this is becoming a theme.