PC Game Review: Machinarium

Animata Designs
PC/Mac
$20

Machinarium emerged from the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival with a well-deserved Excellence in Visual Art award, and after three years in development by a small group of self-financed Czech developers, it’s finally ready.

The first thing that strikes you is the art design, which is somberly beautiful, wonderfully detailed, and utterly central to the gameplay. Your character is a little robot dumped in the trash, and he must solve various puzzles in order to return home, get the girl, and beat the bad guys. There is no spoken or written communication anywhere in the game, and sounds are limited to effects, ambiance, and music. All of the robot’s thought are conveyed via cartoon thought-bubbles.

The robot has limited powers: he can change his height a bit, pick up things, carrying objects, and combine items to make new objects. In the tradition of classic puzzle adventures, he searches each screen for hot spots and items, then uses them in clever ways to bypass an obstacle.

Some of the puzzles are absolute brain scramblers, but there is a helpful hint system built right into the game. The hints can be fairly oblique, merely giving you a nudge in the right direction instead of an overt answer. And, even if you think you are the master of all things puzzling in adventure games, you WILL hit that hint button at least once. This is an unapologetically smart and challenging game, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The website, machinarium.net, has a nice little free flash demo that gives you a good idea of the look and gameplay, without even requiring a download. You can buy the full game from the site for $20, or on services such as Steam, Impulse, and GamesGate.

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