Machinarium is a point-and-click puzzle game published by Amanita Design in 2009. In the game you are a robot who has been dismantled and dumped from the robot city into the endless junkyard beyond. You had lived happily with your friends until a gang of thugs came and split you up, using each of you for your own devices. Now you need to find your way back into the city, rescue your friends, and keep the gang from doing anything like that again.

The visuals of this game are immediately appealing. The little robot guy that you control is a cute little fella with amusing animations. For instance, when he picks up an object and adds it to his inventory the way he does this is by opening his mouth so wide that his head unhinges and then dropping the object down into his body cavity. The other robot denizens have similarly fun and appealing designs and the artwork as a whole is one of the most appealing parts of the game. The junkyard outside the robot city is a scary and desolate place. The locations inside the city are very detailed and interesting as well.

In gameplay it’s mostly your standard point-and-click puzzle adventure, ala King’s Quest games or Monkey Island games. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a great genre, and very versatile for different kinds of storytelling. There are some mini-games that are necessary to progress through which give some nice change of pace.

One thing that makes the game a little unusual is that during gameplay there are never any words onscreen. Your character speaks with other characters, and in the usual trend of such games NPCs do make requests for which you will be rewarded, but it’s all done with speech bubbles containing cartoons. If you see a robot woman with an umbrella, and you need an umbrella to get under a downpour of water without rusting, then talking to her will show a cartoon of you holding an umbrella under a stream of water, and she will reply with her own cartoon of her holding a little robot dog. So, if you bring her little poochie back to her she will give you her umbrella as a reward. This does limit how complicated the plot can become, as most of your interactions can only be basic explaining of things that have happened and simple requests, but for a game like this the plot doesn’t need to be complicated. From a practical standpoint of the gamemakers it has the extra appeal of not requiring translation–only the title is displayed in text and you don’t need to translate titles, so it’s instantly accessible to gamers of any language.

Some of the puzzles are pretty straightforward. Some are difficult but achievable and satisfying. There were a few that I wasn’t able to solve especially as new areas of the game open wider and wider spaces that you might need to get components of a puzzle solution from. After I knew the solution, even then some of them seemed too obscure to be really fair.

On the bright side, the game has a built-in hint system that makes these more obscure puzzles less frustrating. If you need just a little help there’s a light bulb icon you can click and you’ll see a thought bubble abovethe robot that will give you one step of the solution at this location. Not necessarily the first step nor necessarily the last, so its helpfulness can vary but it’ll usually give you a gist of what you should be thinking about at least. This is mostly helpful if you’re at a complete loss.

If you know what you’re supposed to do, but are lost on trying to finish the whole process, there’s a complete per-location in-game walk-through which takes the form of a locked journal. If you select the journal you have to pass a minor obstacle of playing a mini-game where you control a flying key to avoid obstacles and kill spiders to reach the keyhole that will allow the journal to be opened. Inside the journal you’ll see solutions for all the puzzles at your current location drawn out–but once you shut the journal it locks again. So if you want to see solutions for a different location, or if you want to refresh yourself on the solutions here, you need to play the mini-game again. This seemed like a reasonable obstacle to getting walk-throughs–discourages from just spamming it all the time so you have to play the same mini-game over and over but encourages you to check it out if you’re feeling stuck. I tried to only use it if I thought I’d tried everything I could think of, and did end up using it a couple of times.

Visuals
The artwork of this game is great, at turns bleak or amusing, but always evocative.

Audio
I played most of the game with the audio off. It didn’t seem to be necessary for the game. When I had it on I remember the sound effects being amusing especially when the robots are speaking or otherwise interacting.

Challenge
Generally reasonable, escalating challenges. One or two of the puzzles I thought were unreasonably obscure but this is offset a bit by the in-game hint system

Story
Nothing complex or deep (would be hard to do complex with no language) but I felt for the little robot and I wanted to help him, so it served its purpose.

Playability
Easy to use, point-and-click interface to tell the robot where to go, what things to manipulate, what inventory items to use. My laptop has a bit of a finicky touchpad which was occasionally frustrating on the occasion that there was a series of things that needed to be done quickly to succeed but that’s an issue with the laptop–not the game. And those timed sequences were few and far enough between that even with that kind of finicky touchpad the game was till very playable.

Originality
Nothing really new in gameplay, story, or look. But not every game has to be original.

Playtime
The game took me about eight entertaining hours of gameplay.

Value
The game costs $10 on Steam. So, a little more than my general rule of thumb of wanting at least an hour of gameplay for every dollar. But certainly worth a play-through, especially if you can catch a sale. The artwork is solid, there’s good challenge. Fun stuff.

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