Machinarium, by the independent developer Amanita Design, is a point-and-click adventure game (developed in Flash) that recently won the “Excellence in Visual Art Award” at the Independent Games Festival. This is a game that I have been meaning to play ever since Steam released a free demo and the guys from the Idle Thumbs podcast discussed how much they enjoyed it on their show.

The best part of Machinarium, hands down, is the absolutely gorgeous visuals that the developers have obviously spent hours crafting. Every level in the game looks like something out of a quirky comic book, and the characters that inhabit the levels are equally charming. The objects that you interact with do not stand out in a disjointed manner (as with some games), but neither are they particularly hard to spot. The entire atmosphere is extremely pleasing, and immediately makes you want to explore the world.

Unfortunately, the visuals are the extent of my praise for the title. From a game play perspective, Machinarium manages to be exactly the type of point-and-click adventure that annoys me to no end.

First and foremost, the puzzles are far too frequently of the non-obvious variety. Instead of using my head to deduce how to solve a challenge with the tools at hand, I was constantly forced to randomly click around the screen to identify all of the hot areas, and often had to randomly try objects on areas with no idea ahead of time whether or not they would work out. This is exacerbated by the fact that Machinarium has no tooltips for anything, nor any way to examine places/things to gather more information about your surroundings. Instead you are left with random bits of unidentifiable junk in your inventory that you must combine in an arcane manner in order to bypass obstacles. (Level three is the worst example of this.)

Adding to the frustrating experience, the game lets you walk around the screen and only as you approach an object that you can interact with does the cursor change from a pointer to a hand. This means that puzzle solving involves a lot of wandering around the screen wasting time. It would make for a much better experience if you could detect hot spots from anywhere on the screen, and your character automatically walked to them as you clicked instead of forcing you to walk around hoping to locate interaction points.

The final straw – at least for me – was the tip feature in Machinarium. Many point-and-click adventure games have a hint button that you can press to receive a gentle nudge in the right direction. I got stuck in the final level of the demo after acquiring both obvious items on the screen, and after fifteen minutes of fruitless toying around decided to resort to a hint. Clicking the button brought up a book with three buttons, one of which invoked a mini arcade game where (it turns out) you had to guide a key through a bunch of spiders and into a lock. Unfortunately nothing in the game tells you this, and it took numerous failed attempts before I realized that the “start” button on the book doubled as a “shoot” button in the arcade game. After finally beating the little mini-game the book opened and revealed the entire solution to the puzzle! I didn’t want that – all I wanted was a little tip (akin to what Monkey Island would give)… but there it was, a step by step guide to solving the entire level.

For a game with such a promising beginning and high accolades from the Independent Games Festival, Machinarium is an unmitigated let down. There is no way that I would pay any money for a game with such a poor demo, let alone the $20 that the developers are asking for. In the end, Machinarium is just a disappointing Flash game.

Steam: link
Demo parameters: three levels
Release date: Now
Cost: $19.99

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