No matter how great our demands are, we have to admit that this year, the producers were very generous with the adventure enthusiasts. We had Ceville, Sherlock Holmes Vs. Jack the Ripper, Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis, but the most important titles were without doubt Tales of Monkey Island and Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.
All of them are good games, but I felt that they lacked some truly innovative ideas. It’s true that it’s not easy to overcome the standards set by great series, but occasionally we have the oportunity to experience a less conventional title, which breaks the barriers of what’s considered “normal” and brings a breath of fresh air regarding originality.
This time we’re talking about Machinarium. I am note sure if the suffix represents a tribute to the famous Sanitarium, but it certainly fits the storyline. The game developing process took three years and it was done with great passion and enthusiasm by Amanita Design, a very small team, excluding the collaborators and the testers. Therefore, we are not dealing with a "commercial" title, and this can be seen even from the first few minutes of the adventure.
A little robot against the World
The story takes place in a metallic town, consisting only of pipes, iron pieces and metal junk, where a nice little robot is thrown away by a flying garbage machine. After you put all the pieces together and restore his physical integrity, you will have the difficult task to return home and save our hero’s beloved from the hands of the criminals who have kidnapped and locked her in a… kitchen.
The storyline is presented in a very interesting way, meaning that as you advance, the robot will remember various events from his past, whose logic will link gradually, guiding you to discover all the secrets to the end. Although this presentation is a less common one, the story is very mundame. Let’s face it, the classical "Prince Charming rescuing his princess from the evil monsters" has gotten really old, so a small dose of originality would have been very appreciated, especially if we consider that in addition to puzzles, the story represents the salt and pepper of an adventure.
Like its predecessors, Samorost 1 & 2, Machinarium is created entirely in Flash, and this choice has some repercussions. Even though this programming language, in addition to no loading times, allows for superb graphics and quality animations without any other auxiliary software (like Photoshop or 3D Studio Max), it also brings some annoying problems. The first one is that all interactions with the surrounding objects or those in the inventory are done using only the mouse left-click, with the right one being reserved to a Flash dedicated menu.
This would not be a problem for a beginner, but any adventure fan knows that in most cases, the right mouse button is used to deselect the current object. In Machinarium however, to deselect an object, we have to put it exactly in its place back in the inventory. But the producers thought of this problem, and the inventory will never contain too many items. So you won’t get the same frustration as playing Secret Files 2, in which we often had to use the well-known "trial and error" method.
Secondly, unlike other point-and-click titles, I have to mention the inability to move the robot anywhere on the screen, since the designers chose to restrict its movement on only the major areas of a room.
I admit that at first I was bothered by this implementation, but Amanita Design didn’t disappoint this time either, because everything has a logic, since you can do something almost everywhere you go: read a sign post, push/pull a lever, or get information while talking to a character. However, I did not appreciate the fact that we can’t figure out if we can interact with an object before moving close to it.
Referring to the most important element of an adventure, the puzzle quality, Machinarium deserves only praises. The producers chose to introduce us in the adventure by increasing the difficulty as we progress in the story. If during the first ten minutes everything seems easy and accessible, towards the end the puzzles become visibly more difficult and the neurons will really be put to the test. Do not dispair, however, as the majority of the puzzles are logical and accessible, although at first glance they may seem complicated.
“The book should be opened only in special situations”
As the latest adventure games have already accustomed us, we are given a hint system, but in a very interesting manner. If you need help, there are two ways in which you can get it. The first is a simple button that you can press, and the robot will think of the main thing that has to be done. The second is a locked book which contains the full solution of the puzzle located in that area. The way in which the book can be opened is a very interesting one, because you must have patience to finish a mini-game that resembles the ancestors of R-Type. The mini-game is far from being easy, but I think that there is no reason for it to be so either, because the book must be opened only in special situations, when your brain cannot solve the problem.
Regarding the visuals, Machinarium doesn’t have many flaws, especially if we remember how powerful the Flash tools are. The environment is bidimensional, but everything is designed, drawn and animated with remarkable attention. We don’t get bright and shining colors, but more sober nuances, in tone with the metal city atmosphere.
I forgot to mention one crucial thing, namely that there is no spoken dialogue. All conversations take place through animated baloons above characters’ heads, like the ones from comic books. Although it probably won’t appeal to everyone, I must admit that this method is very original, and in most cases, full of quality humor.
If someone were to ask what really impressed me about Machinarium, I would certainly point out the music. Rarely repetitive, sometimes sad, sometimes rhythmic, the songs that accompany this adventure are a clear proof that quality music can be integrated in a game without the support of an artistic genius like Nuobu Uematsu.
Finally, however, after drawing the bottom line and doing the math, we realize that Machinarium has some shortcomings that not all of us will be willing to look over. The first thing that comes to my mind is that the story, besides being dull , also gives the impression that it ends abruptly, even though it begins and continues cursively.
Others may critique the lack of dialogues, which brings other small problems with it, especially the one regarding the inventory items which don’t have names or descriptions (sometimes it’s useful to know what object we just picked). I refuse to critique the used programming language because, even with its small defects, it allows the game to run smoothly even on older computers and also provides almost no loading times.
Therefore, Machinarium can be considered a very successful adventure game, which I recommend to any player, be it or not a passionate of the genre. Unfortunately, its small flaws do not allow it to climb on the highest step of the podium and to become a classic, along with the Monkey Island or Syberia series.