A couple of years ago I tried the demo for Machinarium and was not impressed.  After playing the three demo levels I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, and never even considered spending money on the game.  It turns out I didn’t have to – after gifting Lost Horizon to one of the hosts of the GameBurst podcast for a job well done, I was repaid with a generous gift of the Humble Indie Bundle #2 and #3, and specifically Machinarium.  Not wanting to be a prude, I fired up the quirky little puzzler and played it to completion over the course of a week.

Let me start by saying that all of my prior criticisms of the game are still completely valid:  puzzles are obtuse, the user interface design is outdated, the tip system is horrendous, and puzzle solutions often feel far too based on random chance than actual logic.  Machinarium is a game that doesn’t even bother heeding the lessons of the ancient Monkey Island games – it just blunders ahead with its too-tricky puzzles and refuses to give players any information to work with unless they ask for a hint, at which point the entire solution is vomited onto the screen.

The thing is, once you get past the first three puzzles – those included in the demo for the game – these shortcomings fade into the background as the whimsical cartoon world opens up and takes hold.  The demo includes the very worst of the levels that Machinarium has to offer – once you’re clear of that segment, the levels become far larger, more full of character, and utterly charming.  The strange little robot that you control manages to be so emotive that you actually feel for the little guy, and want him to reach the end of his quest.  The characters he meets and the conversations that he has – all told using line-drawn animations in cartoon-style word bubbles – are charming in a way that is tough to frame with words; they just work brilliantly.

 

As the environments get bigger the puzzles get harder; the finale spans something like fifteen screens and requires multiple hours to solve, even with occasional use of the hint feature to get unstuck.  A nice addition to the pixel-hunting and random item combining that the demo highlighted are the logic puzzles that would not be out of place in a Professor Layton game.  For the first time in a long time I was forced to make notes as I played (shown above) to try to solve the different challenges that the game through at me. How often do you have to really think when playing a video game?

As much as I despise the archaic and confusing aspects of Machinarium, I am glad that I was given a chance to play it to completion.  The world and characters made the game enjoyable, even during its most frustrating moments.  I’d love to see Amanita Design take another stab at the point and click adventure genre, but perhaps adopt some of the more modern mechanics that have been developed.

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2 Responses to “Post mortem: Machinarium”

  1. I am so glad you gave it more of a try and like me you found it at least entertaining :-)

    I think I found like you, after getting through the first few puzzles, that there was a mind set to try and get in. Like many puzzles adventure games of old, you do end up trying everything with anything. Sometimes you know what should go together, but there is some routine your failing to do before it to make it all work together. that is when i did use the cheat / guide book. but I am happy to say Yep I finished it without abusing the book and just like your notes, I to had to do the same thing to make that bloody lift work ;-)

    btw, if you didn’t get it, I think you can download the soundtrack, which is very nice and I think you get some artwork too?

    Dips

    • I think the tip feature was a huge detriment to my enjoyment because it opens EVERYTHING to the player… it’s not even subtle about it. If they could have dished out a hint at a time – context sensitive to where you were stuck – then I think it would have gone a long way towards improving the game.

      I haven’t grabbed the soundtrack – I should go do that for sure. Thanks.

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