Review: Machinarium (PSN)

Machinarium

Originally released on PC and Mac three years ago, Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure set in a visually rich, yet slightly decaying robot city. In bringing the game to the PlayStation 3, Amanita Design has appropriately reconfigured the UI to accommodate playing with a DualShock, making the left analog stick function as the mouse pointer and using the extra gamepad buttons to implement quick magnetic shortcuts which help reduce the need to slowly drag the cursor across the screen to access the inventory or manipulate some of the puzzles.

The old adage in writing is show don’t tell, and this can be true for games as well.  Machinarium offers very little in the way of telling you want to do.  In fact the only way that the game really indicates anything to players is via animated cartoon thought bubbles, which act as a minimal hint system, or by playing through these short side-scrolling type of arcade games to unlock comic book panel graphical representations showing what steps should be followed to complete a puzzle.  By not explicitly saying anything, the game basically forces puzzle solving by exploration and to some degree experimentation.

The game begins with a little robot needing to rebuild himself after being tossed out to the scrap yard. After being rebuilt, the robot indicates that he needs to get back to the tower to find his robot girlfriend. Of course a series of puzzles, from simple to deviously complex, stand between the reunification of these two robotic lovers. However, I don’t want to delve any deeper into the story than that as part of the magic that this game holds is seeing everything unfold firsthand through exploration and puzzle solving.

As with most adventure games, only objects that can be interacted with will change the cursor. The trick though is that the little robot you control has to be near whatever object you are trying to use.  Some objects are up high and the robot can telescopically extend his body to reach them, while other objects are simply consumed for storage, and then once all pieces have been collected, they can be combined to form the solution to the puzzle at hand. Interacting with many of the items offers humorous results that add to the charm of this beautiful indie title.

Machinarium reminds me of the animated movie Robots for its portrayal of robots with human traits as well as the aesthetic and design of the robots that are encountered.  Adding to that visual style, however, is a layer of grime and neglect that starkly contrasts the polish and shine that is normally associated with a robot utopia.  I get the sense that the world in which Machinarium is based is one that barely scrapes by; in this world everything is in disrepair and most robots are unhappy.

The music is a treat as well. Between the street musicians that offer a soulful jazzy tune after all their instruments are repaired to the sparse environmental cues that help drive the game forward, the music adds a greater depth to the overall atmosphere of the game.

Puzzles within puzzles is something else that makes this game stand out.  Gameplay isn’t necessarily linear as several puzzles can be attempted in any order before being forced onto the next one.  From a gameplay perspective, this is nice as I found some puzzles to be a bit more challenging than others, and having a chance to step back, try a different puzzle and then return later lessened the frustration and kept me from immediately wanting to go find a walkthrough online. While I know that is a bit of a cop out, the story was so compelling that I wanted to finish each puzzle so that I could see what happened to the little robot next.

I had never played the original PC/Mac version (or the more recently released iOS and Android tablet versions) and initially I was somewhat skeptical of how the game would fit on the PS3, but after experiencing this extraordinarily imaginative adventure I am so happy that Amanita is continuing to expose Machinarium to new platforms (a Vita version is also supposedly in development!) and a broader audience of gamers as a result. The point-and-click controls translate surprisingly well to the the DualShock 3 and the story and puzzles tie well together, providing a satisfying, organic gameplay experience.  Console gamers that haven’t yet had a chance to play Machinarium should not pass up the new PS3 version.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Unique two level hint system
+ Rich art style and music
+ Organic puzzles that fit within the context of the world
+ Wonderful, dry humor throughout

Cons:
- No option to skip a puzzle if you get completely stumped
- No real replay value

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN (Previously released on PC/Mac, iPad and Android)
Publisher: Amanita Design
Developer: Amanita Design
Release Date: 10/9/2012
Genre: Adventure/Puzzle
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.