If you’ve played Samorost 1 or 2, then you already know, to some extent, what to expect from Amanita Design. In Samorost 1 and 2, Amanita used a combination of photography and cute animated characters to create a collage-like fantasy world. Machinarium, differs mainly in one aspect: It is completely drawn by hand.
A nice extra that comes with the game, is the free 51 minute long soundtrack made by Tomáš Dvořák. I’ve been listening to it, while writing this review to get in the right mood fort his traditional point-and-click adventure game.
Games nowadays have a tendency to go for the mind-blowing, wow-factor with awesome cinematic graphics that make your eyes bleed. Check out Crysis 2 or the new Batman game, or any big title for that matter. They look like freshly polished designer kitchens. But that… is just a whole lot of technical muscle flexing and money-spending by big publishers on big IP’s.
Machinarium says ‘screw that, we are not joining the 3D-cinematic-circus’. It is fully drawn by hand as if it popped straight out of a children’s book. It is set in a rusty, tin-can, tin-man, robot world, and every scene is capable of keeping your attention with its atmosphere and many little intriguing details. If I were still a kid, this is what I would believe a world of robots would look like.
You are a cute little bugger of a droid, that’s been freshly kicked out of robot town to be dumped on the nearest garbage heap. From there, you’ll have to puzzle your way back into town using the game’s many traditional point-and-click features. This means that you’ll have to collect objects, and use them in the right places, or combine them. However, you’ll also get to deal with some non-traditional elements: board games and old-school console games. Unfortunately the arcade style console games, kinda broke the atmosphere a little bit, though they are clearly meant as an ode to the time that those games were king.
As you puzzle your way through this adventure, you’ll encounter robots that need your help. In return, they’ll provide you with rewards that can help you continue your journey. For example: there is a lady-bot that needs to find her lost dog, that only you can find, or an old-timer in a wheelchair, who is desperately searching for oil for his squeaky wheels. It is within the confines of these rather innocent topics that the robots come alive and show beautiful human characteristics. Yet, before you encounter all this, you have to enter robot town. Only after that will you experience a greater form of flexibility on how you choose to go through this game. Before that, you rather move from scene to scene as you are slowly introduced to how the ‘bully-bots’ are making life miserable for the inhabitants of robo-town. You will also learn more about the game’s mechanics as these scenes will teach you how to solve some of its puzzles. Here’s an example of one of the game’s many puzzles: In order to advance in the game, you need to pose as a police officer. The only way to do this, is to find a traffic cone and paint it in such a fashion that it resembles a police helmet. As you can guess, this means, that during the game you’ll have to experiment, use your imagination and really try to think like a child that knows no limitations. That… or you just need to have a ton of experience with these kind of adventure games ;)
If, for whatever reason, you are really stuck in the game, the game uses a 2-step hint-system. Step one allows you to click a light bulb on the top right of the screen, and it will display a simple hint to nudge you in the right direction. Though if this really does not help enough, you can advance to step 2 by clicking on the little book. This will initiate a mini-game that allows you to ‘win’ the walkthrough to your current puzzle. Funny enough, it doesn’t really feel like cheating. After all, it is part of the game, and you did not just go onto the web to google for ‘how do I find the lady’s dog in Machinarium?’. All in all, I only had to resort to this devious form of cheating once, due to the fact that later on in the game, some of the puzzle objects are so far apart (location-wise) that it became hard to make the proper connections between them. As it becomes more difficult to solve the puzzles and find the right objects, I’m sure some people will end up irritated, as you end up walking around in circles in robot town a lot. Still, I found, that it didn’t matter that much as I got to enjoy the beautiful level design over and over :)
One thing to never forget in this game, is that you can only grab or manipulate objects in the game that are within arm’s reach of your little droid. But, the droid has one very nifty droid function: It can stretch it’s body or shrink it so you can reach objects that would have otherwise been too far away, so use it wisely. Another thing I noticed, was that after being afk (ask your favorite World of Warcraft-nerd) for a while, your little droid starts thinking about his robot pal, who he used to hang out with, or showing how his friend is bullied by the bully-bots. It turns out, you are actually trying to rescue your friend from those bully-bots.
The game and its story touched me. It shows sadness and love in a special way. The puzzles and game events are memorable and will leave you with a happy fuzzy feeling when you manage to solve them. Reminds me of the butterfly puzzle… sigh…
Amanita Design is an independent developer from the Czech republic and they are currently working on a new title. In the past, they’ve worked on a serious game to help kids learn English, math, and chemistry, but now they are working on Botanicula, a game you really oughtta check out if you are curious about Amanita’s next adventure game.