Machinarium is a point and click adventure game originally released for Windows PC in 2009. I had the pleasure of experiencing this game seven years later, on the Playstation 4. The game was developed by Amanati Design, a small indie studio based out of the Czech Republic. It follows a little robot who simply wants to leave the oppressive world around him, and overthrow an evil plan on the way. It’s an intimate game, and one that forces you to think. That may not be your kind of game, and hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some specifics. This way you can decide if Machinarium is the kind of adventure you’d like to embark on.
Something you’ll immediately notice about Machinarium is its lack of dialogue. In fact, the entire game has no spoken word. In most cases, the choice to go silent can really be a detriment. However, the game manages to pull it off by excellent world atmosphere. In addition, the narrative is one of experience, rather than history. You’re simply a robot trying to find his lover, everything else happens as your adventure progresses. In this way, the story telling is successful and gripping. Every important aspect of the story will play out in front of you, and any backstory needed is shown via flashbacks. There’s also some really cute idle animations that play when you stand in place: a speech bubble appears over the robot’s head and shows memories. These memories always revolve around his partner and love. These would often put a smile on my face and make our robot hero relatable. That’s a tone that sticks throughout the whole game, and it really pays off. Our hero encounters some crazy characters whom he assists (such as the musicians pictured below), and these quirky robots breathe more life into the game’s atmosphere.
This ties in perfectly with the look of the game. The narrative is intimate, and the game has an intimate look. The hand-drawn visuals fit the style of the game immensely, and there is an obvious attention to detail here. The overall artistic style of the visuals is greatly themed, as well. The metallic, rusty, broken world reinforces the overall gloom that is present throughout the game. This in turn reinforces our narrative drive, creating a great symbiosis of narrative focus and visual representation. The aesthetic is used in some truly interesting ways as well, with tall alien-like skyscrapers littered in the backdrops, and oil leaking from the gutters in back alleys. It all feels very dystopian, and ultimately cold. The world around you constantly feels bleak and oppressive, but the characters inhabiting the world itself balance it out. The game never feels depressing, rather like a motivational slideshow. As the player, we’re just an unassuming robot in a big bad world. The audio side reinforces this as well, with much of the music being ambient and soft. You won’t find any big orchestra booms in the soundtrack, rather melodic and unique ambient sounds. The sound effects, by contrast, often pop with life. With no dialogue I expected the game to deliver on the audio front, and it does in style. The menus are pretty barren, but effective. The menu system is located at the bottom of the screen; simply rolling your cursor down there will pop it up. I occasionally triggered this by accident, which was slightly annoying, but it’s a small gripe. The ability to save at any point as also appreciated, and the quick trophy list was a welcome addition.
If you’re at all familiar with the point and click adventure genre, the gameplay here is pretty common fare. You move around the world investigating items and solving puzzles. Some involve combining items and using them with the world around you, and some are complex brain teasers. The game does a good job of keep most of the items near the puzzles they are involved in, that way there isn’t a lot of backtracking. In fact, each area feels different from the other, and the puzzles show that as well. Some of my favorite areas were the arcade, the greenhouse, and the bar. Not because they looked cool, but because the puzzles and interactions within were greatly themed and entertaining. The point and click genre is notorious for puzzles with illogical solutions, and Machinarium does a decent job of avoiding that. Items usually have a clear purpose, and if not, you’ll never find yourself confused for too long. The game has a unique hint system that I really enjoyed. Each “level” of the game has a singular hint you can look at. It usually indicates what you’ll want to inspect around the area. If you ever get too hung up on a specific part though, you can activate the walkthrough book. This book will tell you a more precise solution to your current puzzle or problem, but you have to unlock the book by playing through a side-scrolling mini game each time you wish to use it. This kept me from using it too often, but never feeling guilty when I did. In general, the situations you will find yourself in are often light-hearted and humorous, even when the obstacles are intimidating. The puzzles stay thematic and interesting throughout the game and left me satisfied and challenged, but never frustrated.
Machinarium is that one of a kind game. It’s from a small studio, and the game’s genre is niche. However, the amount of passion and heart leaking out of this game is so immense, I can’t help but love it. You truly feel engaged in this world, and invested in the character. The game avoids being frustrating, so you never lose sight of the narrative goal. The game never overstays its welcome or pads out its content. Everything feels purposeful and reactive, and there’s a true feeling of accomplishment as you progress.
If you’re a fan of artistic games, and you enjoy a heartwarming adventure, Machinarium is probably right up your alley. It’s bursting with character and I had a great time experiencing it. It gives me hope that the point and click adventure genre will continue to be revitalized.
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