When I was looking through EB Games for a cheap, Mac-compatible game to purchase, I looked through many, many games and those many didn’t tickle my fancy. I can’t play Bejeweled for longer than ten minutes, really. I didn’t quite feel like shelling out the admittedly-small amount of twenty dollars for Plants VS Zombies, despite knowing of it receiving great reviews and also on the recommendation of a friend. It was then a dark, shiny box glinted in the bargain bin at me: Machinarium.
Despite not knowing exactly how to pronounce it (is it Mack-in-air-ree-um? or Mash-in-air-ree-um?), Machinarium is one of the best games I have ever played. It helps that for a slightly dearer amount than Plants VS Zombies at twenty-four dollars, it was a special edition stuffed with really nice goodies, which I’ll get to in a bit.
Players are the small, lovelorn robot named Josef who has been dumped into a tip for a reason the player doesn’t find out until well into the game (no spoilers here, don’t worry). Through a small introduction, the player needs to point and click around the environment to progress further and further into the game, although you’ll need to keep your brain constantly ticking with puzzles almost everywhere you look.
For once, a game that doesn’t pander to its audience; a game suitable for all in terms of content, a game with a simple story and very well-designed, emotive characters. When I saw the game initially, it reminded me of Shane Acker’s feature version of 9 starring Elijah Wood and produced by Tim Burton. It’s a shame, though, whether this can be a compliment or criticism towards Machinarium I’m not quite sure, that this game is much more involving in terms of its plot, and not simply because it is a game, than 9 ever was.
The basic plot revolves around Josef needing to find and rescue his girlfriend robot who has been kidnapped by the Black Cap Brotherhood (robots who, surprisingly, wear black caps – who knew, right?), while the Brotherhood is also planning to rig a bomb and destroy the city.
Of course, the pros don’t come without a few minor cons to Amanita Design’s Machinarium. The point-and-click format of the game helps the graphics, in an odd way, not necessarily overloading the player with visual information and keeping everything simple, though keeping the puzzles difficult. Utilising 2D space, Amanita has crafted a truly beautiful hand-drawn world with Machinarium, a video-game world I haven’t gawked at since I first experienced Rapture in Bioshock. The puzzles are designed so ingeniously that the mind boggles how the developers managed to tell a coherent story utilising nothing but hand-drawn, animated images, music and occasional grunts or sounds from characters. Major props to Amanita for balancing a lot with this game! However that’s also a con: balance of storytelling VS gameplay. The first thing that happens after you assemble yourself at the beginning of the game is a lengthy walk towards the city. You can’t skip it, and the player can’t do anything. There’s a lot of these kind of environments where Josef just walks, or uses such an environment as a thoroughfare to an actual puzzle level, which got me questioning why the developers bothered to put these kind of “shots”, I guess you could call them, into the game? Another shortcoming (pardon the pun) is the length of the game. I finished it in two days, roughly, and I’m not one to finish games very often. Yes, I had major help from the included walkthrough (more detail later) but the game still felt short, walkthrough or not. However, the positive heavily outweigh the negative with Machinarium, it just gives Amanita Design some wiggle room to improve for a hopeful Machinarium 2.
The soundtrack is quite eclectic. It is a dark, although at the same time, upbeat score, perfectly balancing the rust and oil of this world with the very individualistic characters. The track that is quite possibly my favourite out of all tracks is “The Robot Band Tune”, which, I’m pretty sure uses a didgeridoo, so huge props need to go out to Tomas Dvorak for using the didgeridoo if I am correct. Dvorak’s score on the whole is quite a perfect accompaniment to the game itself, but some tracks, like “The End (Prague Radio)”, have the possibility of never being listened to for pleasure because a quota has already been used up within the game – let me explain: “The End (Prague Radio)” is played in a bar where you need to beat a man at a chess/connect four type game and it takes quite a while, and this particular piece got on my nerves quite a bit because I could always hear when it began again – not necessarily when it ended, but when it began again, leading me to think, especially later on my further plays of this robot chess, “Oh no, not this piece of music again.” Thankfully, this doesn’t happen much else in the game.
Now, to the goodies included. Of course, the soundtrack is included on a separate disc, however, there are actual files loaded with artist information and artwork which are also loaded onto the game disc itself, which I found odd (however, only the Machinarium Bonus EP is accessible on the game disc). The next goodie is a small, square booklet which is the walkthrough. Wonderfully designed and drawn, it’s what I think is actually the perfect walkthrough, because while it explained what things you needed to do visually (there is no didatic text), it doesn’t tell you exactly when you need to do at this certain event, and doesn’t tell you where you need to go if you need to fetch an item to use in your current environment. It explained enough while still making me feel like I was working details out myself, and I appreciated that. The last goodie is a fold-out poster with a colourful image on one side similar to the cover art and on the other side concept art, comments and designs. Definitely worth a look for those interested in the visual aspect of the game and not necessarily the technical aspects. Of course, it all comes in a beautiful shiny slipcase that attracts you to it like a moth to the flame.
Machinarium, while painfully short (I mean it, I felt very depressed when I finished), is a fantastic game not without flaws, but as I mentioned earlier the positive far outweigh the negative. It is what Shane Acker’s 9 should have been: involving, emotional, visually arresting and last but not least, entertaining. A definite plus is the game is playable across Windows, Macintosh and Linux, so there is no excuse (besides lack of stock) to not play this game. Get your hands on a copy and play it – you won’t regret it. Four-and-a-half out of five!