A fun and quirky diversion.
OK, so here was my situation: It was a Thursday lunchtime, I had just finished all my work for the day, and I had 15€ of credit on my steam account. Flicking through the new releases page, I noticed the pretty, hand drawn front page of Machinarium. Being a bit of a secret old-school point-and-click fan, and noticing the myriad of awards the game had garnered, I opted for the download. I ended up glued to the screen for the rest of the day.
Machinarium is a classic style point-and-click adventure game, in the vein of such luminaries as Monkey Island or Flight of the Amazon Queen (10 points to all who played that one!). The general idea is that you walk around an area, interacting with other characters, objects and scenery to solve a variety of puzzles to move the narrative along. The game is presented in a hand-drawn animation style, with original music and story.
Firstly, the art is fantastic. Every scene, character and object is lovingly hand drawn, rendered and animated as if it has come to life from an artists sketch book. The quality of drawing is such that the characters have real personality attached to them, whether they are the main character, antagonists, or just a small bit part player in the overall story. The story is also told in the same style: small thought bubbles pop up above a characters head, and tell the story through scratchy cartoons without words. Whilst not everyone´s cup of tea, the reality is that these actually draw you further into the world and the story of the protagonist.
Secondly, the music is excellent. A minimalist, ambient track which swells and ebbs as the game demands, adding real atmosphere to the whole affair. there is no speech, as it isnt required, but the few sound effects scattered throughout also add to the mood.
The gameplay is excellent too. The game starts with (relatively) simple one screen puzzles, and gradually crosses into several puzzles spread across many areas. Whilst some of these puzzles can be a little obscure, the solution is never so unusual that you get stuck for too long. The game also has a hint book included, which introduces a very novel idea: if you want a small guide to what you need to be doing, you need to play a short side scrolling shooting game to continue. The game normally lasts a couple of minutes, and is quite tedious, but I think this is a deliberate decision to put players off from using the hints too often. I only needed to use it once throughout the game, and I probably would have figured the puzzle out with further tinkering.
I will point out though, there was one puzzle which was unnecessarily tricky, involving finding a well disguised plunger. To prevent the same level of hair pulling I experienced, I will point out that it is hidden within the shadows of the ceiling in one of the rooms you have visited (sorry, designers!).
So, if this game is so wonderful, why didn´t it get full marks? Well, it´s three things really. Firstly, although cheap, I thought the game was a little short. As a result of this, the ending felt a little rushed, and could have maybe done with a little more time. Once you get into the swing of things, the game can be finished in three or four hours. I appreciate that this is a budget, independent game, but as an example, mass effect took about 35 hours for 40€, and this took 4 for 15€.
Secondly, there is no replay value whatsoever. After finishing the game, there is no extras, no alternate paths, no unlockables. I won´t dwell on this though, as this is really a downside of the genre, and not the games fault as such.
Finally, for me, a 9 or 10 point game should be able to sway non players of the genre into playing it. Whilst this is a fine example of point-and-click, and should appeal to all kinds of puzzle fans, it will never draw in the OMGWTFLOL FPS junkie, any more than it will appeal to WoW players. It´s just too slow and measured for them.
So, in summary, I would recommend this to casual gamers, and all fans of point-and-click games. Any gamer who appreciates a nicely told story would enjoy it too, if they are prepared to take it at face value. it really is a beautifully crafted tale, with endearing characters and clever puzzles to keep you busy for an afternoon.
The Bad: Somewhat short; no replay value; not for adrenaline junkies.