When Machinarium was released almost two months ago, I thought it looked promising—a hand-drawn point-and-click adventure? That’s right up my alley. Unfortunately, it was released the same week that Uncharted 2 and Brutal Legend came out, and soon became buried under a mountain of holiday season releases. After finally playing it, I was hooked almost instantly, and now that I have completed the game, I’m kind of sad that it’s over. Machinarium is a wonderful entry in the point-and-click genre, and despite its simple presentation, the game manages to make a lasting impression.
When starting Machinarium, you are thrown immediately into the game with no explanation, forced to come to your own conclusions through context clues. You control a robot, who at the start of the game has lost his limbs and found himself atop a junk pile on the outset of a city. You don’t know how you got there, but throughout the course of the game, bits of the robot’s backstory are revealed through animations in thought bubbles. There’s absolutely no dialogue, and yet it’s hard not to get attached to the robot and his plight to find his girlfriend and save the city, which is now ruled by an oppressive force. Much like the mechanical characters in Wall-E, the protagonist of Machinarium shows emotion and personality through gestures and sound effects. The result is a lovable character who needs no name or speech.
The gameplay is fairly typical for the genre, though it can feel a bit slow and antiquated at times. Clicking a point in each level where a little “moving feet” icon takes the place of a cursor will allow you to move around. The robot can stretch up and down, becoming very tall or very short, which is necessary to solve some puzzles. He moves more slowly when stretched out, so staying tall permanently isn’t really an option. Unlike some adventure games, in which any interactive parts of the screen will be indicated by the cursor, Machinarium only allows you to pick up or use items in the level while standing within range of them. This is fine for the most part, but can lead to frustration when you miss something important because you weren’t standing close enough to it. When you want to pick something up, the robot will eat it, and it goes in your inventory. This is accessible by scrolling the cursor over the top of the screen, and some items within can be combined.
What sets Machinarium apart from other titles in the genre are the smaller games and puzzles contained within that break up the gameplay and keep it from ever getting stale. There are a number of Professor Layton-esque brainteasers, and several pixilated, arcade-style mini-games (including Space Invaders, which needs to be switched on and played in an abandoned arcade to earn a prize). Most of the mini-games can be played using the arrow keys and space bar on your keyboard, but some only use mouse controls, which can be a bit awkward and imprecise. Still, it’s not enough to derail the experience. Even for adventure veterans, Machinarium can get pretty challenging, but there are two hint systems in place to help you out if you get stuck, the first of which is a simple image. There is only one of these hints per level, and it doesn’t really solve anything for you, it just gives you a nudge in the right direction. If you’re really puzzled, you can use a guide that will describe what to do in much greater detail, but you have to earn it by first playing a side-scrolling arcade shooter. It’s an interesting mechanic, and though I don’t enjoy having to ask for help to complete a game, it’s nice to have that option there.
I mentioned the game’s visuals earlier, but more praise needs to be given to the entire presentation. Once again, let me reiterate that there is no dialogue in the game—no text at all, actually. Everything you need to know is shown visually, whether it’s the animated memories in the thought bubbles of friendly robots, or the diagrams and drawings in the hint book. The robots have no speech, but they have plenty of personality. The main character will dance, shake his head, or shrug his shoulders. Ambient sounds make up most of the audio, though there will be catchy music in some areas, like when you find instruments for a street band of mechs, or find a radio so that a wrench-like robot can have some tunes while he works. The color scheme is bleak, perfectly representing the atmosphere of the city, and more than once the art style made me feel like I was playing through a graphic novel.
For fans of adventure games, it’s been a long time since we had a good amount of new and excited titles to choose from. However, that is constantly changing, and Machinarium is another good example of why this genre needed a revival. It’s hard to argue with the $20 price tag, and though there’s not a whole lot of replay value, the ten to twelve hours you spend with the game will be worth it. The few complaints I had were pretty nitpicky, and the issues are outweighed by the number of good qualities. Obviously, fans of point-and-click games check this out, but even if you weren’t a fan of the genre in the past, this might help to change your mind. Machinarium may not have gotten the attention it deserved earlier in the year, but it’s never too late to play a fantastic game.