I was very excited to find a PlayStation Plus deal for Machinarium, as I had heard great things about this standout indie game by Amanita Design. My weekend was well spent on the game, which is a refreshingly unique, challenging and charming point-and-click adventure designed to appeal to players of all ages.
The game begins by showing our hero, a little robot, being discarded in the junkyard outside of the city. The little robot's story is slowly revealed throughout the game in the form of a series of "thought bubbles" that show flashbacks of the robot's past. These "thought bubbles" are also used to illustrate hints and dialogue with other characters, although there is not actually any dialogue in the strict sense--everything is conveyed through short animations and pictures.
As our robot hero makes his way back to the city to save it and his lady-robot love, he encounters a number of puzzles of varying format and complexity which must be completed to advance the story. For example, the little robot encounters a problematic gate guard at the drawbridge to enter the city, so you must find a way to trick the guard and get the drawbridge lowered.
Later in the game, there are more complex tasks which require seeking out other robots, completing tasks for them, and in turn using the items they give you to solve another problem. Brain teaser type puzzles are interspersed with scavenger hunt type missions, so you may find yourself facing a game of checkers or a pattern-matching puzzle to move the adventure forward. Many of the puzzles are quite challenging and require some persistence, but not to the point of being completely discouraging. I must admit that it took me an embarrassingly long time to beat a robot at checkers. But what a triumph when I did!
The gameplay is easy enough to learn, since you navigate through the game simply using a cursor with one-click actions to interact with the world. There are no extra action-wheel menus or shooting/fighting modes to fuss with. The little robot has an inventory pop-up bar at the top of the screen, but it is fairly low maintenance since your robot will discard items once they no longer have a use. I don't think there were any more than 3-4 items in my inventory at any point.
If you are easily discouraged by puzzles, don't be scared away from giving this game a try: each scene has one freebie hint to help you with the current puzzle, and if you're really in a bind, Amanita provides a complete in-game walkthrough guide. In keeping with the game style, even the walkthrough guide is depicted in comic strip artwork, so be prepared to interpret drawings if you want that extra hint!
Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of Machinarium is the unique and intriguing artistry used to create this whimsical robot-world in which our hero lives. There are many cute aspects to the characters and their mannerisms, but there is also a distinct melancholy and industrial feel to the whole world. It was truly compelling and left me wanting to see more content, since the game is fairly short (though well done and satisfying in its own right).
Earlier I alluded to the fact that there's no shooting or fighting in the game. In fact, there's not any violence in the game and your robot hero is simply regenerated if you do something harmful to him. For that reason, this game is suitable as a family title to engage younger gamers but still challenging enough for adults....not to mention, it's a somewhat refreshing shift from the mainstream big-dog FPSs and RPGs on the market.
I really cannot find fault with Machinarium, other than the occasional tedium of trying to find the actionable items in the environment, but this is a flaw intrinsic to point-and-click adventures. Overall, Machinarium is a solid choice for gamers of all ages, a good workout for the brain and a fun feast for the eyes. I hope that we'll be seeing more good things from Amanita on the next gen consoles.