Bringing back the adventure game in style
HIGH: Excellent visuals and audio
LOW: Limitations in the user interface
WTF: Beating the Helicopter-style minigame is required if you're truly stuck.
came out in 1993, it was a genre-revolutionizing title. This was a game that was challenging, that was for adults, that featured an excellent, subtle story, imaginative worlds and jaw-dropping graphics. While getting used to the screen-by-screen point-and-click aspect takes getting used to, it's still an enjoyable game more than 15 years out.
Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the adventure game was either on its way out by '93, or Myst
itself caused the decline of the genre. The phenomenal success of Myst
was never to be repeated, even by its excellent sequels, and graphic adventure games slowly slid to near-irrelevance to the general gaming community. Games like Grim Fandango
were excellent, but the critical praise didn't translate into sales and one by one developers went under or shut down genre development.
There have been games that have bucked the trend, and there are games that are not only good, they show that the puzzle-adventure game is still viable; Machinarium
is one of those games. In many ways a throwback to simpler times, Machinarium
executes its game design with near-perfect polish. The game is Adobe Flash-based, which comes with several innate advantages. First off, interested players can try out a demo without having to download any additional software; the first level boots right up in the browser window. Secondly, the nature of Flash game development means that Amanita Design could create wonderfully rich and atmospheric worlds. The art style is fun and unique, despite being set in a rather dreary brown world dominated by corroded iron; who knew that the solution to next-generation brown graphics was brown illustrations?
Of course, the core of any puzzle game is its brain-twisters, and Machinarium
not only delivers, its handling of a hint system is hands-down the best I have seen. If you're stuck, you have two options: either a dialog balloon that gives hints, more and more cryptic with every click, or, in a surprisingly blunt maneuver on the part of the developers, gives you the entire walkthrough for that screen. You won't be forced to load another window and head to your favorite game guide site to push through the game if you truly get stuck, and that means you spend more time in the excellent auditory and visual world of Machinarium
. Perhaps to ward off those with poor self-control who would cheat too easily, the walkthrough book must be unlocked each time by successfully completing a side-scrolling mini-game. This is a great idea, but it takes patience and a surprising amount of awareness to actually complete; depending on the player, this will be a great idea that will prevent them from succumbing too easily, or else plain irksome (you don't want to come between an annoyed and desperate puzzle game player and his hints).
The difficulty of puzzles is appreciated, however the game interface, while minimal and clean, could use some tweaks. Once you've grabbed an item from your inventory, there's no way to get rid of it aside from dropping it back into your pack at the top of the screen. This quickly gets annoying, especially when you realize that solving the puzzle is a matter of putting certain items together in a certain order, and the time wasting this system creates becomes acute. For those who have played more modern versions of adventure games, the relative disuse of dragging items with the mouse is an unfortunate omission. But all these are quibbles that become minor when taking into account the game's whole. Machinarium
is not just a good puzzle game, but a good game, period
Disclosures: This game was obtained directly from Amanite via download and reviewed on a Mac-based PC. Approximately 10 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed once).
Parents: The game unrated by the ESRB, but features no adult language (or language, period), and is suitable for young children (whether they'll be able to complete the game is another matter.)
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The game primarily relies on visual cues, so while the deaf will miss out on an atmospheric score, the game is for the most part playable. Those with poor eyesight or the blind will not be able to complete the game.