In this cluttered, often overbearing world of video games, it is sometimes hard to imagine how anything unique and charming could be borne out of a medium that is sustained by sequels and clones.
Since its announcement, Machinarium has seen a host of Samorost faithfuls cling to every new press release or screenshot, and with good reason. Amanita Design has given us a diamond amongst a wealth of petty gems – even if it is a small one.
As soon as you start up Machinarium you will realize that this is not your average title. With only a single button on the main menu, you have no choice but to begin a new game in an entirely foreign land.
The hand drawn backgrounds and quirky machinery will hypnotize you with their beauty and depth, and there is nothing quite like immersing in a world that has been tenderly crafted.
Machinarium’s development took more than three years and was completed by a mere band of seven Czech developers; this game was a labor of love. With a budget of only $1,000, and an unorthodox twist on the puzzle genre, it is plain to see that this title would never have been picked up by a big publisher on proposal alone.
This point-and-click adventure will divide gamers from the moment you take control of the nameless protagonist. There are a couple of helpful hints to get you on your way, including a single hint for each puzzle, and a “use-only-if-you-must” walkthrough book. Other than that, though, you are left to your own devices to figure out what, when, where, and most importantly: why?
No background, no dialogue, and no clear purpose may frighten some gamers, but isn’t that what gaming is all about? A journey, a discovery, a new way to play games? Machinarium is what The Neverhood it intended to be.
As you progress through the levels, you will be fed tidbits of your character’s past through simple, yet elegant, thought-bubble flashbacks. Even without any dialogue, you will have no trouble understanding what has happened, and why you are doing what you are doing.
There are the standard bad guys, the escape vehicle, and of course, the damsel in distress, but the story is told in a way that is never dreary or mundane. Instead, there is something hauntingly beautiful about the way everything in Machinarium connects, and it ultimately drives you forward.
Amanita has managed to counter the flaw that most point-and-click puzzle games have by inserting both the Tip and Walkthrough features. Every single gamer will be playing Machinarium on the same “difficulty”, but how long it takes to complete, or how much satisfaction you wish to glean from the product is entirely up to you. Tips are presented in a thought-bubble format that will, more often than not, give you an idea of what you are supposed to do.
If you are an impatient gamer, however, or simply stuck, then you may decide to use the Walkthrough feature that will give you a step-by-step guide to completing each level. Don’t get too excited though; the developers have upped the frustration levels for anyone wishing to use the Walkthrough by forcing gamers to play through a repetitive, retro mini-game each and every time they wish to cheat.
There is a downside to this game, however, and I truly felt let down when I discovered it: length. For the first couple of hours, you will be adventuring through labyrinthine settings that all seem to be tangled amongst one another. You would hardly believe that the entire game could be so small or the story so short.
At only six or so hours in length – depending on how you choose to complete each puzzle – Machinarium is a victim of its own intricacy. There is so much detail put into every facet of the game that it seems like Amanita simply couldn’t make it any longer. There is no doubt that the story ties itself up nicely, but I did get the feeling that I had passed over a few important pieces in my character’s tale.
Despite this fact, there is nothing that should deter you from picking up this game. What Machinarium offers is so incredibly distinctive that its length becomes a minor flaw, giving you the chance to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the workmanship involved.
There is nothing quite like Machinarium on the market at the moment. Not since The Neverhood, thirteen years ago, have I had my entire outlook on video games turned on its head. And if it’s another thirteen years before a game like Machinarium comes along, then at least I’ll know it was worth the wait.
There is no doubt that the world of Machinarium is remarkable. No two characters look alike, and the setting has the ability to evoke emotions like no other. For a story about machines, it feels remarkably human.
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Point-and-click is a genre that can never really evolve to a great extent, but Machinarium is able to give you enough challenges, story, and creativity to always feel intrigued.
Without dialogue, Amanita could have bombarded us with ridiculously “futuristic” music. Instead, they have managed to create a uniquely audible experience that never feels contrived.
It’s an enthralling ride while it lasts, but, ultimately, the game is far too short. You probably won’t be going back for round two for at least a few months, either.
Machinarium is one of the best games of the year. It stands as a pillar of excellence for all independent developers, and will undoubtedly be revered for years to come.