Publisher:Amanita Design Platform: PC, Mac, Linux US Price (as reviewed): $20.00 (inc. Tax) It's also available through Steam and direct from Machinarium.net.
You may be forgiven for not knowing Amanita Design, that’s because it’s not a traditional game studio per say, rather a design studio that delves into game design. Those familiar with the two previous Samorost games (the first one can be played for free, here) will know the company, and its cute point-and-click Flash based hand-drawn animations.
The difference between Machinarium and Samorost is that the former feels like a game rather than a design team having fun. It’s more thinky, more refined, and has features that keep you in the game rather than hopping in-and-out as other casual Flash games suffer from.
Without wanting to spoil the story at all – the evolving journey is inherent to the experience – you play a little robot that gets dumped, in parts, outside the city, and you have to point and click the little guy through a series of scenes where he has to collect objects to overcome puzzles and obstacles. It’s a tiny bit RPG-esq, but mostly it hawks back to the simpler days of Monkey Island style gameplay (there, I’ve perked Joe’s interest).
Between scenes, the story evolves by itself and sets up the next puzzle far more than Samorost ever did – in comparison those games simply led or dropped you into the next part and you were told to get on with it. Click-click-click-click-click-click-click ensued. You can do that with Machinarium, and indeed in the more frustrating parts you most certainly will, but it’s not a given as the logic generally shows off itself. Just as long as you’ve been paying attention to the start of the scene.
Uh Oh! It's the Rozzers!
If you really, really are stuck or forgot where you’re meant to go, there’s a bubble to hint you in the right direction, or if you really don’t have a clue there’s even a walkthrough built in. That sounds like it sucks the big one – why bother giving away the answers? Well, Machinarium makes you work for those answers. You have to complete a short side scrolling shooter mini-game before the book unlocks, and even then you only get access to a page at a time so you can’t look ahead (and spoil it).
While our little metal hero is undoubtedly cute, Amanita has dropped in little quirks as well to make him even more adorable. Early in the story we find he’s been bullied by older, bigger robots, and if we leave him alone for a while he not only fidgets but has daydreams of his girlfriend. For a jaded journalist who has seen it all before, it’s rare to find games that frequently bring a genuine smile.
Woo! A quirky mini-game that works because it makes you ask "Am I just being lazy to find the answer, or am I really stuck?"
What really makes Machinarium is not actually the gameplay, but really the gloriously beautiful scenes and soundscape (rather than soundtrack) that fills the environment and really does add to the emotion. Yeah, you can play it in your lunch hour in work on that PC without sound, but you’re really only playing half the game. Amanita clearly likes it so much, if you buy the game you get the sounds as an additional download included.