When it comes to games, I’m not much of a puzzle guy. But since I got LIMBO a few months ago and enjoyed it quite a lot, I decided to give Machinarium a try when it was on sale on Steam a while back.
Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game with heavy use of puzzles and brain teasers. It’s created by Amanita Design, a small, independent game developing studio based in the Czech Republic. The game was released in 2009, but that something is “old” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad. “Old” in this case means that us patient gamers can get it on sale. “Old” in this case also means that the game is written in Flash, but we’ll come back to that later. Machinarium tells the story about Josef, a little robot who finds himself dumped on a scrapheap. After re-assembling himself he sets off towards the city to look for a friend. The story, which is told without the use of text or dialogue, unfolds as you play, and even though it’s not the most intriguing and creative story I’ve seen - you’ll probably feel it’s very familiar - it’s very well told.
The story’s backdrop is beautiful, hand-drawn scenes accompanied to a lovely soundtrack by Floex, Amanita Design’s own in-house “sound maker”, as he is entitled on their website. The soundtrack is available here if you want to listen to it. If I’d have to label it, I’d call it “industrial chill”, which is perfect for Machinarium - except for some plants and a bit of water, everything in the game is mechanized and industrial, including the local wild life. The game design is extraordinary well thought-through and the attention to detail is impressive.
The puzzles you stumble across in Machinarium are mostly about pattern recognition. How to interact with the environment is also often part of the puzzles, which are very well balanced and just challenging enough for Average Joe. I got stuck once, but even if that happens, there is hope. Josef will have a small clue for you most of the time and if you find yourself feeling like a moron for not being able to solve a puzzle even with his help, you can play a little mini-game that will reveal the solution, or at least give you some very good clues on how to solve it.
But Machinarium, like all games, has its flaws. The game is written in Flash, and clicking the right mouse button brings up the Flash menu with its “About Flash” and whatnot. Since clicking the right mouse button is usually some kind of action in other point-and-click adventure games - for instance that you automatically put whatever you are holding back in to your inventory - the Flash menu got a bit annoying after a while. It’s mostly my own fault though, for not being able to memorize that I could not use the right mouse button to return whatever the little robot was holding in his hand back to the inventory. Instead the inventory had to be opened before the item could be returned. Point-and-click adventure games often involves a lot of pointing and clicking - hence the genre’s name - with items from the inventory, a process that got rather tedious.
The game lagged considerably on my computer when played in fullscreen. It have to be said that my hardware isn’t what you would call state of the art, but it should be able to handle a game from 2009. Hardware acceleration was turned on in the Flash settings, but that didn’t help at all. I ended up playing the game in windowed mode, which worked a lot better and was fine since fullscreen didn’t really add anything to the game: The resolution used in both fullscreen and window mode is the same. The immense detail of the background images also proved to be a challenge: In one of the scenes, it was virtually impossible to see that the main character could interact with an object on the screen, and it was only by accident I clicked on it.
But in spite of these minor issues, Machinarium is a great game. If you like puzzle games and brain teasers, you should go right ahead and buy it. It won’t entertain you that long, it took me only 6 hours to complete the game and I really suck at puzzles, but at the asking price of USD 10 it’s certainly worth it. You can buy the game straight from the creators.
I tested the Machinarium on Windows, but it’s also available on Mac OS X, Linux (probably through Wine), PlayStation 3 (PSN), iPad 2, BlackBerry PlayBook, and soon, Android. So pick your poison.
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