Also available on: N/A
Developer: Amanita Design
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Adventure / Puzzle
Point-and-click PC adventure games are making quite the resurgence of late. What with a resurrection of the Tales of Monkey Island series and all-new Wallace & Gromit episodes, this somewhat antiquated gameplay mode has been given new life amid the industry's blockbuster properties. Creeping unobtrusively into this world is Machinarium, the first full-size title from Czech developer Jakub Dvorsky's studio Amanita Design, which previously made the acclaimed shorts Samorost and Samorost 2. Over its many dream-like levels, Machinarium provides an original and beautifully presented adventure that never fails to enchant the player.
Back in May, Société Pollene's Gobliiins 4 saw a return of the vintage point-and-click series, which retained its positive points but also seriously showed its creaking years. In contrast, Machinarium excels by injecting a fresh and unique sense of presentation into the simple yet massively satisfying gameplay.
Players take on the role of Josef (named after Josef Capek, the Czech artist who coined the word robot), a rather maligned but no less loveable tin can droid who is tossed out of his home city Machinarium and into a scrapyard. The player's mission is to get back into the city, battle Josef's malicious tormentors, the Black Cap Brotherhood, and save his robotic sweetheart in the process. However, an important and indeed brave aspect of the game is that there is not a single word of dialogue during the whole campaign. Instead, the story is told through a series of bubbles over each character's head, which both advance the story and also give hints on how to beat the puzzles.
Gameplay takes the usual point-and-click approach of directing the player/character in certain directions, and then interacting with certain highlighted items to affect the desired outcome. Items can be picked up and placed in an inventory (Josef effectively swallows them) in a drop-down bar at the top of the screen. These items can sometimes be combined for various uses, most of which are really well thought out. Each level and gameplay section is like a little dream in which the player guides Josef to the next stage in his adventure. There is also a really nice sense of humour throughout proceedings, with quirky little touches and characters.
Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward, but there are some good curveballs thrown in which require a keen eye and a logical mind. Equally, there are some tried-and-tested challenges, such as a line game with nuts and bolts, which are addictive fun. Seasoned puzzle fans may find some of the brain teasers less than taxing, but the overall enjoyment of tackling them within the story makes up for this. For anyone less than adept at brainteasers, there is an immediate hint system and also a shoot-em-up style mini-game which gives a more detailed section walkthrough upon completion.
Despite its relative simplicity, the overall narrative ensures that the player is always genuinely eager to proceed with the story, which is all the more startling considering the absence of any dialogue. One minor gripe, though, is that the right-click function merely brings up a Flash settings menu. As most games in the genre generally use right-click for an inventory, there are a few frustrating moments at first while getting used to this quirk.
However, the overall package of Machinarium is very strong and it is clear that a lot of care and attention has been lavished on its development. All character animations are smooth and the art style really works well with the gameplay. Indeed, it is hard to overstate how stunningly distinctive this game looks. It is as though someone has brought their most treasured children's book to life on screen. The level of detail in the art design is immediately impressive, right from Josef's tin can body to the tiny scrawls of graffiti on the walls.
Aside from the charmingly drawn buildings and characters, there are also sophisticated lighting and water effects which add to the package. Sure, there are more beautiful games out there, but the quirky style of Machinarium's presentation and animation is just so delicately put together that it is almost impossible not to be charmed by it. This is coupled with an awesome soundtrack of unusual electronic instrumental compositions and superb sound effects, which all adds an eerie, ambient atmosphere to the adventure.
Essentially, Machinarium will prove an unadulterated joy for all point-and-click gaming fans, right from start to finish. The story is well told, especially in the absence of dialogue, and it brings purpose and interest to the simple yet satisfying puzzle-based gameplay. Most of all, though, the sheer charm of this quirky little gem will warm even the coldest of next-generation gamers to Josef's plight. In a world of big-budget gaming goliaths from towering corporate developers, it's heartening to see that a little independent studio can still create such a wonderful and worthy experience.
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