In a world where big budgets and development teams often steal the spotlight, it’s wonderful when an indie game created by a small team on a strict budget can make those blockbuster titles disappear into the background. Created by Amanita Design, a small game studio from the Czech Republic, Machinarium was the winner of the 12th annual Independent Games Festival’s Excellence in Visual Arts award, and it’s easy to see why.
Machinarium brings the player into a world devoid of human and animal life – a world completely inhabited by robot creatures that live in a rundown industrial mega city. The story begins when a nameless little robot is sent crashing into a trash heap in pieces, apparently ejected from his city for reasons unknown. After you help your petite friend pull himself back together, you sneak back into the city past the robot police only to find that the criminals that ejected you have now placed a bomb on the highest tower in the city. It’s up to you to put a stop to their criminal exploits.
You control the robot’s movements by clicking on hotspots on the screen, which allow you to perform a task like picking up an item or moving it. Collected items can be used on hot spots or combined with other items in your inventory to complete tasks. Some hot spots can only be reached when the robot uses his ability to grow either taller or shorter. While in his changed state, robot cannot move a regular pace so you must change him back if you need to move quickly for a puzzle.
The difficulty level of the puzzles tends to vary. If you do happen to get stuck, there are two hints systems you can use to help you along. One is a subtle hint given to you in the form of a thought bubble provided when you click on the corresponding icon, and the other is a full on picture walkthrough for the room which is only opened in your hint book icon after you complete a short side-scrolling shooter type mini-game.
While you would assume a world created entirely from metal would be cold and colourless, there is a certain beautiful to the world of Machinarium that comes through in the tiny details of this hand-drawn masterpiece. As you wander through the rusted streets of the city, you’ll notice subtle sparks that make this city come to life, like the many animated robot inhabitants, the sparse plants still clinging to life amongst the rusted pipes, and tiny details like the Space Invader wallpaper border in the arcade.
The music is the game is another enjoyable treat as each new area greets you with a new tune to set the mood. Most of the tracks have an eerie or calm tone to them but there are a couple up beat and quirky tunes too.
Dialog is handled in a unique but clever way in Machinarium. Rather than having long cut scenes to watch or dialog trees to read through, the game gives you silent thought bubble cartoons to watch from each character that offer hints about what you must do next. While I loved this method for delivering quick mission statements, the downside is that it takes a while to figure out what’s going on in the actual story.
Though I wish the game could have been longer, Machinarium‘s stunning visuals, creativity and attention to detail more than make up for it. There is no excuse for adventure game fans not to pick this up.