A Review of Machinarium

It’s break, and that means…well, actually way too many side projects, but what I was going to say is “games”! In addition to StarCraft 2 (which I still probably won’t play much) and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn (when I actually get home), I picked up The Humble Indie Bundle (#2) — five indie games including one of my all-time favorites, Braid. Of course, I already have a key for Braid…so okay, it was four games, and a donation for charity, for very little money. Um. Which means I didn’t actually donate much to charity, or to the game developers.

Moving right along…

Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game, somewhere between Myst and Freddi Fish. The whole thing is without dialogue, which gives it a very nice feel, and plenty of effort went into the music and art as well. Your character is a little robot, and in fact every character is a robot, along with all the animals. This results in an interesting look of what a robot lifestyle is like.

Unfortunately, the game itself is not as good. It took me until I was most of the way through to realize it, but a large portion of this was basically the “trading game” and “help the townspeople” part of every adventure game ever. You know, the part you tend to get bored of after helping one or two people. To make up for it, though, Machinarium had some clever puzzle minigames: lots of pattern-matching and puzzle-book mind teasers, and all quite varied.

The actual point-and-click part turned out to be not as good as it ought to have been. Your character walks pretty slowly, which becomes incredibly slowly if you were in extended height or squatting mode and forgot to reset to normal size. Where you click is not incredibly precise either — intelligently, the developers made it so you didn’t have to click exactly on a spot to get there, but they then made the hit areas too big, so that when you try to click on something to see if it’s something you can interact with, you end up walking around to the other side of the screen by accident. (Yes, the cursor changes, but if your hand slips you’ve probably already clicked before you notice.)

These interface issues wouldn’t be such a problem if the interaction puzzles didn’t have such arbitrary solutions sometimes. Many things are reasonably obvious, but other times I spent quite a while wandering around the city wondering if I was just missing an item, when really I just hadn’t tried using one particular item somewhere that I never would have thought to. Which meant lots of waiting for the robot guy just to walk across the screen.

The plot itself is silly, a standard “bad guys attack the king, kidnap the girl, lock you up, threaten to blow up the city” thing. (None of that are spoilers really.) I was really hoping they’d do something interesting, especially with everything being a robot. Even World of Goo’s exploration and anti-pollution message was better; this just felt, well, silly.

To defend it, there are a lot of nice touches in the game, little easter eggs that surprise you as you’re just playing. And to be honest, it was one of those games I couldn’t stop playing in the middle, cause I always felt like I could open just one more room, or get the next item, or whatever. The maddening controls and slow movement and the arbitrary puzzles were balanced by the great illustrated backgrounds, the fun quirks, and the interesting/clever puzzles, and of course what I call “arbitrary” is probably what someone a little bit smarter calls “clever”.

Still, it wasn’t enough to save the game for me. I guess I only put in less than 8 hours on it, and only paid like $3 for it, so it’s not that bad. But Machinarium’s clever puzzles and admittedly cute setup weren’t enough to save its less-than-stellar interface and trading game feel.

Out of the rest of the games in the bundle…I’m actually not sure I want the others so much either. Osmos looks like it could be relaxing, but also a real time-killer like many games without set endpoints. Oh well.

Coming soon: a review of The Social Network. (Please don’t comment on that here; when I say “soon” I mean like “tomorrow”.)

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