RETROspective REviews: Machinarium – Narrative Without Words

Machinarium

Machinarium is a beautiful point-and-click adventure game, released independently by Aminata Design for PCs in 2009. Created in Flash, it’s gameplay harks back to the Lucasarts and Sierra games of old.

However, it has a little trick up its sleeve – the charming inhabitants of this strange steampunk world do not speak. You play as Josef, the robot, and start out in a rubbish tip broken into pieces. After putting yourself back together you start making your way back to the city.

Not all of the characters in Machinarium are nice, though they are all entertaining, and you must often outwit them to get through the next door. There is the occasional use of animated thought balloons, but there is a general lack of forced communication. Facial and body expressions are used throughout to convey a simple and amusing story with deep characters and tragedy.

Machinarium - No robots allowed

Your kind aren't welcome around here

Puzzles often take the form of an “escape the room” flash game, i.e. the solution to the puzzle is on the same screen as the door you are trying to get through. Later puzzles do require more distant inventory items that you find scattered about the world – some of them requiring another puzzle before you can collect them.

It is generally clear where you need to go and usable objects are easy to identify with your mouse cursor (it changes to a pointing finger). Don’t forget that you can extend your body to make yourself taller and contract it to make yourself shorter.

Items can also be combined in your inventory to make new tools. You rarely build up an excess of items, as once they are used they are discarded in an amusingly flippant way. If you’ve still got an item after using it then you will need to use it again later.

Machinarium - An early puzzle

Useful instructions that will help with this early puzzle

The game features auto-save (although I am unsure of the frequency) as well as a manual save with 6 slots available. I don’t believe you can get completely stuck but there is at least one location that is a one-way street – if you enter it again you have to do a bit of back tracking to get back out. I recommend saving after every puzzle if you can remember to.

The graphics and sound are wonderful at conveying this weird and run-down robotic world. There are no lapses in the presentation and it is completely solid throughout. I personally love the style, its 2D drawings are anything but lifeless. Flash is used excellently here to animate and breathe life into these cute little robots.

The story – the whys, wheres etc – are subtly played out. Like every true mystery, the full details are not clear until the very end. You slowly learn more, piece-by-piece, as you work your way through the adventure.

A feature I didn’t notice the first time through is a series of wonderful idle animations. Just like in the old Sonic platformers, where the blue hedgehog would look at you and waggle his finger when you weren’t controlling him, Josef looks at you and adjusts his sockets. Uniquely though, Josef also thinks aloud with those ever charming thought bubbles. These reveal a little about his past and feature an apparent love interest for Josef (see the female robot with the sideways ellipse head at the top of the page), their love for each other usually ruined by the more boisterous of Machinarium’s cast of robots.

Don’t worry though all the naughty characters get their just desserts!

Machinarium - the town square

The town square - at least these robots all look friendly

A wonderful example of the point-and-click adventure genre, Machinarium still suffers at times from the same old problems – some of the puzzles can be a frustrating series of use this with that, doesn’t work, use that with that, doesn’t work. The inclusion of an in-built walkthrough is a great remedy to this though.

The story, both in the way it’s told and the journey you go on are exemplary. This is not just a rehash of games long-forgotten just for the sake of it, this is a great advancement of storytelling in video games.

9.2/10

Although Flash might not be the best platform for games in general, it works great in this example. Also due to Flash’s multi-platform nature you can play it on Windows, OSX or Linux.

Currently scheduled for release on PSN this year and due for release on WiiWare sometime in the future – this little gem won’t be released on Xbox Live Arcade.

Microsoft won’t publish it themselves as it is available on other platforms and Aminata don’t want to sign with a third-party publisher, only to see most of the profits go to them instead.

You can play the demo online here.


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One thought on “RETROspective REviews: Machinarium – Narrative Without Words

  1. Pingback: What can you do when you can’t get out of your home ? « My english thoughts

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