Machinarium Review: Do Robots Dream About Smoking Cigars?

Game: Machinarium

Genre: Point and click/ Graphic Adventure

Platform: PC, Mobile

Studio: Amanita Design

Publisher: Amanita Design

Initial Release: 2009

 

The Junkyard and Beyond

A city in the horizon in a desolate landscape. The brown and gray tones are a predominant feature in the world of Machinarium. A air vehicle comes from the city when we begin the game, a carry ship of some kind with a design similar to an insect. This ship hovers above a junkyard to drop our protagonist, a gray little robot with a detached arm; and so we begin the marvelous adventure through the lands of this robotic utopia/dystopia

The first thing that you will notice is the beautiful hand drawn graphic style, the presentation of Machinarium is one of the main qualities, it may run on Flash, but hey, there is more to a game than just crystal clear graphics. Continuing their own path in the indie video game scene, Amanita Design point-and-click games come with great hand drawn visuals, humor and a great soundtrack. Machimarium marks the studio first full-length game after Samorost, it’s sequel (Samorost 2) and other short web based video games.

But back to the junk-yard, now it is time to rebuild and reclaim our place in the Machinarium, the city that gives the name to the game, as we find ourselves in a not so good situation, lacking an arm and disposed like garbage. Here, we will learn the basic controls, inventory and help system. This is explained through hand drawn style writing and arrows, that indicate the use of the menus and the mechanics of the game.

The junk-yard is the first level or location, as the game is not structured by levels. Here we learn almost everything that we need to know about how to play the game, thee objective, of the first puzzle is to rebuild our robot and jump across an oil puddle. I played on PC so the the use of the mouse is the only thing that you need. The game is also available on mobile platforms, so the controls might be a bit different. After this short tutorial, our robot is ready to return to the city once again.

 

Sneaking into Machinarium

After the junk-yard we need to get back to the city. At this point, we don’t know exactly why.
The narrative is developed from set to set and this is accomplished by using “thought balloons”, like the talk balloons in comic books, here instead of words, the balloons show an animation. This animations may be more direct or more abstract in showing us what is the objective to overcome. If you stop playing for a bit, the idle animation will be triggered – also in the form of thought balloons.

This is an opportunity to know a bit more about our lovely robot protagonist, as this allows the player to see what he is thinking about. For example, we see him thinking about smoking a cigar. The short animations work as a back story for the main character and other intervenients in the story of the game, such as the antagonists, two robots with bad intentions and the love interest of the main character of the game. Bit by bit the story thread of Machinarium starts to unravel.

This is a very simple and functional narrative – basically, you have to save the city and the girl. Fortunately, the protagonist is witty enough to makes us invested in the game, with the help of it’s amazing jazzy soundtrack. As you are going to be thinking more about the puzzles, not the narrative, the game story doesn’t undermine the quality of the game.

 

You May Short Circuit

Now the puzzles: the bread and butter of the game. They start easy, but of course their complexity will evolve, become more challenging and sometimes borderline frustrating. I overcame at least more than half of the game without help. Jakub Dvorský (Game Designer) did a good job in making sure that everyone can complete the game, so you can go at your own pace. I completed the game in nine hours, but I think you can finish in less than five. To advance into Machinarium, one must find certain items around the scenery and use them to their advantage. You can combine items to create a new tool, or use single items that can turn a switch off or on.

We are almost a robotic MacGyver, improvising solutions from rubber bands and chewing gum. The help is always present but it’s not overbearing and it’s not forced on us while playing. It is there if you want to use it and later on you will find it very useful and reassuring. When we use the help system, we play a small and short minigame, a 2d “bullet hell” inspired game where the player gets to shoot some spiders to unlock the help book. Instead of a spaceship or a plane we play this mini game as a key, it is easy and short enough to not be an annoyance.

The help is conveyed by images, arrows, schemes and sometimes with the code combinations for the puzzle. That said, it’s not as linear as it seems, as most of the times the solution is presented in a way that needs some interpretation, and if you miss any detail you might not be able to solve the puzzle successfully. In this way you have to work a bit to get help thus not feeling too bad by getting it which ends up to be more rewarding this way.

All in all, Machinarium is an visually beautiful and stylish small video game that respects your intelligence, helps you when you need without giving the answers on a silver platter, whilst holding onto its great sense of humour. The soundtrack is very good and you will want to listen to it straight away, once you complete the game. It has a fusion of jazz and electronic elements that fits perfectly into the city of Machinarium.