Machinarium is a beautifully crafted point-and-click graphic adventure game set in a clinking and clanking world of rust, dust, and robots.
The developers at Amanita Design are chiefly known for their Samorost games: another series of point-and-click adventures in which the gamer solved environmental puzzles as the diminutive titular character in order to accomplish outlandish goals. With a combination of surreal collage art and whimsical animation, the Samorost games were a joy to play through.
Machinarium feels like the natural evolution for the company from their previous efforts. The game focuses on the trials and tribulations of a small nameless robot who looks like the most adorable flip top trash can you could ever hope to meet. As he explores the dystopian machine city the game is set in, you help him take down gangsters, break out of jail, and even play a little Space Invaders. Just a day in the life for a walking bug eyed rubbish bin really.
The game opens with our hero crashing unceremoniously into a scrap pit, literally falling to pieces. As you work on putting him back together, the game begins to introduce it’s basic control scheme and mechanics.
As is the norm in point-and-click games, clicking on the environment will move the character about. Similarly, clicking on specific hotspots will make the character interact with them. The game establishes early on that you can only work with hotspots that are nearby (read literally next to) your character. While this adds realism to the gameplay it also has a few niggling drawbacks. The only way to tell if an object is clickable is by scrolling over it. However the cursor won’t change if you aren’t next to the object, making key puzzle pieces easily missable.
One of Machinarium’s unique control features is the ability to stretch and squash the central character on a vertical axis whilst sacrificing speed of mobility. This is used in a variety of contexts such as stretching to reach hidden away nooks or squatting to fit into sewer drains. This ability feels very organic, helped largely by the charming character animation and design that accompanies it. The only downside is that if you forget to return him to normal height, you’ll be moving at an uninterruptible snails pace until you reach your destination. This is particularly tedious in the game’s few timed puzzles.
Graphically the game is absolutely gorgeous. Amanita Design have managed to create a visual style entirely their own. The look is equal parts children’s picture book and steampunk eccentricity all conveyed in a wonderfully tangible pen and pencil sketched style. The backgrounds are filled with incidental details. Pipes spiral off into the sky, small mechanical creatures rush through the shadows and oil slicks pool under the glow of stuttering neon signs.
The character designs can be described as nothing else but charming. Each robot is unique and has their own specific animations and personalities. The game is devoid of any actual dialogue or voice acting. Instead conversations between characters play out in animated speech and thought bubbles.
This technique is also utilized by the in-game hint system. If the gamer gets stuck they can instigate a thought bubble from the protagonist on the current proceedings that will give them a nudge in the right direction. A more direct walkthrough is also available at the cost of playing an intensely tedious side scrolling shoot-em up mini game in which you guide a key into a lock. This worked as a decent deterrent the majority of the times I was tempted to use the walkthrough. You really, really don’t want to play that game.
Also worthy of mention is the soundtrack, which comes with the game in MP3 format. It contains elements of ambient electronica mixed with wheezing machinery. The effect can be likened to hearing science fiction lullabies whistling through a junkyard. It perfectly matches the game’s sense of wide eyed innocence meeting dark industrial landscape.
Overall Machinarium is an absolute charmer. It bursts with originality of design and setting. The only other major drawback is it’s relatively short length, say five to eight hours. Whether this is worth the twenty dollar price of admission is up to the gamer. Personally, I’d say it’s worth it. I can guarantee you won’t have played a game quite like it before. So really, do yourself a favour: get lost in Machinarium’s wonderful world.
-Dashiell ‘The Diminutive Hero’ Asher