Oct 28, 2009

[Games] Machinarium

MachinariumThe casual gaming market is pretty much dominated by arcade-style games that rely on a player's skill in an environment not entirely dependent on story. Hence the reason it's casual - it's something that doesn't require long term commitment that becomes easy to leave at any time in order to return to your primary task (i.e. the work you've been putting off by playing a game) and pick up again quickly when you have time again.

The casual gaming market has grown significantly because of the easy promotion granted by joint efforts like Yahoo! Games and MSN Games, but other genres have practically died out at the same time due to lack of popular interest.

So when my partner managed to find this interesting little adventure puzzle game, I was pretty surprised and quite happy to see an actual adventure game on the market. And even better, it turned out to be a pretty good game to boot.

Machinarium is an adventure game created by the Czech gaming studio Amanita Design. It's set in an unusual robot-filled world where you are a lone robot on a quest to do...something. Your mission, along with everything else in the story, is up to you to discover completely. You'll do this by solving a variety of puzzles of various forms, shapes and sizes and the whole time there won't be any dialog or significantly clear instructions.

Now in most adventure games, the first instinct is to click on anything and everything on the screen to see what happens. Machinarium opted to break that formula by limiting the user to interacting with objects in the immediate vicinity of the robot. Thus one truly needs to navigate the robot protagonist around each screen in order to carefully determine what areas may or may not be actually part of the puzzle.

The level of difficulty of the game starts out decently enough but picks up steadily as you progress through the game. For those who get stuck, each screen or level has a possible hint that the player can investigate, which manifests itself as a thought bubble appearing above the robot. If that's not enough, each screen also gives the option to access a detailed walkthrough, although the book itself has a mini-game guarding its contents and the walkthrough is presented in the form of more comic-style pictograms. Yes, even the solution can be like a puzzle in itself!

I was surprised to find out that the game was created on a budget of only $1000, which pretty much came out of the pockets of the game developers themselves. The game is just filled with some pretty deceptively simple but richly beautiful art that serves as the backdrop of every scene and pretty much how every character in the game is drawn. The music is also simple, but perfectly apt for the game in order to complement the scenes instead of competing for attention.

Machinarium is a rare game that I wish would get developed into a larger series of adventure puzzle games given its gameplay feel is similar to Oddworld with less chances of dying. Plus there's a subtle humor at work all throughout the game and of course the mystery of the actual story that is given to the player in bits and pieces, and not necessarily in order as well.

Machinarium is more than worth the download and at least a day's worth of playing. The length is my main issue, but then I can't fault them for that - this game deserves a full 5 robot insects out of a possible five.

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