The point-and-click genre is one that I have to limit my exposure to; an overdose can see my mind a little unhinged. It causes me to stare at every day objects wondering how I could combine a roll of sticky tape with my lunchbox and just what the hell I would then use it for.
My last experience was with the Sam & Max and Monkey Island episodes and whilst the humour was as good as it ever has been, I missed the dynamics that came animated sprites in a 2D world. The character that can be encapsulated in a simple animation is far and above that which can be squeezed from Maya. Compare a classic like Discworld to its modern day counterparts and the same level of expression cannot be found – and anyone wishing to differ should try to recreate that dunny scene before disagreeing.
This is one of the many reasons that Machinarium has become an instant favourite. From the very first moment you can see the love that is poured into every inch of its stylised world; against the backdrop of a craterous landscape, tiny robots buzz about whilst in the distance a city looms. The hand-drawn backgrounds that you greet you in each new scene are all exceptional and are packed with subtleties that would no doubt have been lost if a third dimension were added.
The same can be said for the robotic stars themselves. Controlling a small, nameless robot, you send him tottering around in search of his lost robot girlfriend. This story is not conveyed through traditional means, though, rather through thought bubbles playing short cartoon snippets. Considering dialogue is a foundation of similar games, it’s a bold choice but one that fits within the robot world; these metal beings have transcended the need to vocalise thoughts.
However, style alone does not make a game and at its core Machinarium is very traditional where collected items are used and combined to complete puzzles. The path towards your love is continually blocked by locked doors, nefarious characters and the occasional 8ft policeman demanding batteries for their cuddly toy, all of which you have the power to solve given the right mental approach.
The quality bar for these posers is high throughout and most will get your grey matter churning, although none are as obscure as to cause migraines. Cracking one that has been staring you in the face for a period of time is still supremely satisfying but every solution makes sense – you just need to be attentive and thinking in the right plane. Pages are also taken from Professor Layton’s book with a smattering of straight-up logic puzzles offering a break from thinking too abstractly.
Superbly attentive design also keeps frustration to a minimum. This is not to say that brainteasers they set are easy – many will have you scratching your metal head until inspiration dawns – but whether it be limited screen clutter, keeping many puzzles on a single screen or allowing you to stand only in predefined spots, they reduce red herrings to the smallest amount possible. All of which in turn keeps your brain clear to concentrate on the puzzles in hand.
For those who do come a cropper there is always help at hand. Clicking the light bulb permanently ensconced at the top of your screen will, through use of more robot thought bubbles, show you your objective in that particular area. Although not a huge give away it can get you back on track and even prove an utter life saver when staring blankly at a dog trapped on the other side of a canal. A further step-by-step guide is also offered by completing a small Gradius-esque mini-game but both should be used sparingly to gain the most from your adventure.
The trouble with a game like Machinarium is that all of the high points are wrapped up so tightly in brainteasers that if revealed they would ruin it for everyone else. Safe to say, those willing will be met with some of the most cunning and rewarding puzzles to grace the PC in recent times. Much like Portal, it may also not be longest of adventures but any game which leaves you feeling sad when the credits roll is a game worth paying attention to. Pitched just right, it doesn’t pad out the experience for the sake of it and Machinarium leaves you wanting more.