Explore a fantastic underground world

Unmechanical is brilliant. Is that an unreserved recommendation? Alas, it is not. It’s a quirky, oddball thing, neither particularly long nor especially challenging. It’s a sight-seeing tour with puzzles. I love it. You may not. But you’d be crazy not to at least give it a chance.

In Unmechanical, you take the form ofa small, cute and entirely uncaring robot with dangling limbs and a propeller on the top of its head that allows it to fly, who is by all appearances a very normal, average inhabitant of a world filled with such creatures. One day, while out for a stroll, you’re pulled underground by an unknown force and emerge in the midst of a very weird, organic-mechanical underworld – the belly of the robo-beast, you might say. Who does it belong to? Why are you there? What is its purpose – and what is yours? But such existential questions aren’t for tiny robots. You just want to get out. Or not, as the case may be.

Mechanically, Unmechanical is very simple. At the launch screen, you have the option of starting a new game, continuing an existing one or adjusting settings like screen resolution and volume levels. Gameplay consists of nothing more than directing your robotic self through the labyrinth with the four directional keys; the only method of interacting with the world, aside from banging into things, is with a powerful but short-range tractor beam controlled with the spacebar.

There is no dialog and no on-screen text, and half the challenge is figuring out what needs to be done. It starts off simply enough, easing you into the basics of the game world, but as things progress you’ll begin to run into more challenging situations. A hint function is available, although it’s hardly necessary. There are no selectable difficulty levels, but those occasional wickets that do get sticky are still relatively simple to figure out with a little bit of thought, patience and exploration.

Paying attention to the environment is vital; fortunately, it’s a pleasure to behold. Your journey begins in a great cavern filled with pipes, tubes and bric-a-brac machinery, but as you play you’ll move into high-tech control rooms, underwater caves packed with luminescent flora, the maw of a gigantic, subterranean monster and even, very briefly, outside. Unmechanical doesn’t offer the lushly detailed eye candy of, say, Trine 2, but it’s very pretty and bizarre enough that it’s fun to just poke around and see the sights.

Unmechanical

Due to both its visual style and its soothing, electro-ambient soundtrack, Unmechanical will inevitably evoke comparisons to the 2009 point-and-click adventure Machinarium. Beneath the surface, however, they couldn’t be more different. Neither game bothered with dialog or text, but while Machinarium made the effort to construct an engaging narrative out of its silence, Unmechanical doesn’t bother. You move from point A to point B to point C not in the pursuit of any great goal, but simply because there’s nothing else to do. And what happens at the end – well, I’ll leave that for you to discover.

That determined lack of depth may work against it among players looking for a conventional storyline with a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s also not terribly long, clocking in at around three hours in total, and while the game world appears wide-open and sprawling at first glance, it’s actually very linear; it does a great job of making you feel like you’re exploring a massive system of underground caverns, but the truth is that you’re marching along a fairly narrow, well-defined path. And the absence of a manual save/load option could prove frustrating for dedicated achievement hunters, because the only way to pick up missed achievements or replay favorite areas is to go back and start over again from the beginning.

But these are relatively minor nitpicks. Unmechanical is a fantastic, wonderful little game. It’s not profound or world-changing, but for simple, charming, easy-going fun, it’s absolutely delightful. Don’t miss it.