This generation of games, more than any other before it, has had an influx of creative design poured into various genres to varying degrees of success. While the landscape of gaming is still dominated by shooters, sports and other various games on a yearly release schedule, the dawn of a viable online marketplace for home consoles has made it possible for these little creative gems to shine and find an audience. In prior generations it’s very unlikely you’d see games like PixleJunk Eden, Limbo, Journey or Journey on the PlayStation platform because they do not work as full retail releases. Thank God for the PlayStation Network.
Machinarium is one of those titles that sets out to put style above all else in an attempt to be unique and stand out from the crowd. On its surface, it’s “just” another point-and-click game, not that different from any other. Where it sets itself apart is in its art style. Machinarium is a beautiful game to look at with hand drawn environments and a very inspired world unlike one I’ve seen in a game before. There is definitely a feel that certain style elements may have been borrowed from other mediums (animated film), but that doesn’t stop Machinarium from being more fun than it should be due to its great style.
The game is very slim on story, similar to Journey or Flower. You wake up in a world full of junk, a small robot tasked with finding his way. What is he finding his way too? That takes a little progression to find out, but just like any number of other games, it’s all about saving the girl. The world our little robot friend is in seems oppressive. The reason for that oppressive feel is unknown, even after the game is complete. There are clearly “bad” guys, though I’ve never sure of their motivation. When all is said and done, I don’t know that people will find the story itself memorable, only the world in which that story takes place.
Since Machinarium is just a point-and-click, as noted before, it’s not that different than any other title you’ve played in the genre. You move around pre-determined paths picking up random objects and talking to random characters here and there. Talking isn’t exactly talking in this game, all communication is given through thought or speech bubbles above people’s heads that will animate a story or what you need to do to progress in the game. If you stand idle for a few seconds, you will have thought bubbles appear here and there which appear to be memories. These are used as an attempt to flesh out the story, but since there isn’t much to flesh out, I’m not sure that you will take anything away from them.
Like any game of this style, puzzles are also frequent. They are at times clever, but other times dull. Some don’t seem to follow any logic which can leave you scratching your head, but the game is nice enough to give a hint on each level to move you along. The little robot you control has the ability to elongate his body or even scrunch it down, allowing for some creative use of his body to solve the puzzles or reach certain areas.
One of the ways the game attempts to separate itself from the pack is the inclusion of some old-school mini-games a lot of gamers should be familiar with. Just like the puzzles, these are for the most part fun, but at times get into the mundane and even a bit frustrating. There is an arcade level where you have to beat a few of the games provided withing that arcade. One is a Space Invaders clone and the other is a puzzle game involving the movement of cubes. Both are fun with the puzzle game even being clever. Where the game missteps is a bit further along where you have to get into the brain of another character and defeat a dungeon style, top-down shooter. You have to go through and eliminate 40 enemies in a somewhat large map that has lots of dead ends and back tracking. This mini-game just wasn’t very much fun, does not control well and felt tedious by the time it was over.
Aside from the above mentioned mini-game, Machinarium controls very well. Telltale Games could take a wonderful lesson from this game and go to more of a true point and click style instead of what they currently use. Telltale could even take a little more from this title and try to be a little more creative with its style as well. The cursor turns to a walking icon to click places you can walk on any given screen. The item menu is easily accessible by just dragging the cursor to the top of the screen. Items highlight when you can place them somewhere. Point-and-clickers have often times been frustrating to move around on the PS3, but Machinarium never has that issue.
Despite the occasional dull puzzle or mini-game, head-scratching moment and a story which doesn’t really go anywhere, this is a fun little game worth playing. The unique world, which is saturated with a somewhat depressing color scheme, but has uniquely designed environments and characters which help to take what could very well be a boring title and make it vibrant enough that you want to play it through. Granted, style is very subjective to each person so if you find yourself bored with it, it’s unlikely the game will do anything else to excite you. There is no replay value to speak of, once it’s done it’s done, but it’s still a journey worth taking just to see what each new area holds in store for your eyes to enjoy.