Sometimes when I play a video game I have to stop and admire what I am seeing. It could be fantastic storytelling, a beautiful art style or challenging gameplay. It is a rare occurrence for all those factors to apply to one game, but Czech developer Amanita Design has managed to achieve it with their cult-classic point and click puzzle adventure game Machinarium. Originally released back in 2009 on Windows, Mac and Linux, it has since arrived on every platform under the sun. Before arriving on PS3 and PS Vita in early 2013, it had already showed up on iPad, Android and Blackberry Playbook.
In a world inhabited by robots, the story follows a small robot named Josef, who begins the game in pieces after being ejected from the futuristic city of Machinarium and dumped in a scrap yard. Saying too much more would spoil the plot, but let’s just say Josef is the hero Machinarium needs. No comprehensible spoken language is spoken at any point during the game, with the narrative being told through Josef’s thought bubbles and cute animations. It reminded me of the film Wall-E, where the two main robot leads interactions are done entirely though expression and body language (As well as only being able to say their respective names). Yet even with this minimalistic creative form of story-telling, prepare to full in love with Josef and (most of) Machinariums residents.
The gameplay for Machinarium consists of a point and click system. This genre of gameplay was recently given the 3D treatment with Telltales The Walking Dead, but here in the world of Machinarium, you’re brought lovingly back to the world of 2D exploration.
I will say this now; Machinarium is an absolutely gorgeous game. It will instantly make you feel like you’re navigating a painting, with fantastic futuristic towers and mysterious robotic creatures dominating the backdrop. You will be exploring a variety of environments during your playthrough, from a prison, to a busy street and even a sewage system. There were times where I had to just sit back and admire the beautiful art style. The last time I did that on Vita was with Rayman: Legends, so you get the idea of how beautiful it actually is. It is also important to mention the fantastic soundtrack, which was written by Czech musician Floex (Tomáš Dvořák). It really adds an extra degree of atmosphere to the world, and enhances the feeling of being in an industrialised landscape. It works hand in hand with the art style, and is hands down my favourite soundtrack to a video game since the Jack Wall score for Mass Effect 2.
Puzzle games require a lot of patience as well as trial and error. Throughout Machinarium you will be solving puzzles, answering riddles or seeking objects that will help you progress. Comparisons can be made to games such as Limbo and Escape Plan, but what makes Machinarium unique in the puzzle genre, is that it will make you answer riddles, TO solve a puzzle TO find an object which will then be used to solve another riddle. There were a few occasions where I assumed the developer had made a mistake, believing I had tried every possible way of solving a puzzle, only to be left red faced when discovering the answer just required a bit of logic. Yes that’s right, I committed the cardinal sin of puzzle games… on a couple of occasions I had to Google the answer, and I can safely say I felt instantly ashamed of myself.
But rather than use the Internet to cheat, Amanita Design does a great job of not making you feel like a failure if you can’t figure out a puzzle or riddle, and gives you two options for receiving hints whilst in game. You can either select the light bulb icon, which will make a hint appear in the form of a Josef thought bubble, that shows what action you need to undertake to progress. Be warned though, this can only be viewed once in each area. There is also the option to read the full manual which details exact what you have to do. The added twist is that to get the manual you have to complete a small mini game as a key, where you have to navigate a small maze whilst shooting spiders. It really is a nice addition, and adds a nice challenge to simply just receiving the answers. The manual is then viewed as a sketch book, where there are no words, just sketches detailing what needs to be done to proceed. It looks fantastic, and compliments the overall style of the game.
Navigating around the world takes some getting used to at first. A cursor is on screen at all times, and you direct it to where you want to go. You can either do this with the left joystick, or by using the front and back touchpads. The use of a cursor in a Vita port is quite a perplexing decision, and seems to make little sense on the Vita’s small screen. Using the touch pad can be quite troublesome, as rather than snapping to where you finger is on the screen, the cursor will instead stay where it is and move with the motion of your finger. This can make clicking specific areas difficult; especially as double tapping the touchscreen to select can be frustratingly imprecise. I would recommend using the left joystick, which thankfully does work well.
An added twist to the point and click gameplay is that you can only select objects that are reachable to Josef. For example, if there was an item you needed that was on the ceiling, and you were on the floor, you would not be able to select it. This encourages the player to fully explore each unique environment. You are also given the ability to stretch, and to shrink using the right stick, which assists with collecting items higher up, or under structures. This also adds a nice extra layer to the exploration gameplay.
To make up for the smaller screen, the ability to zoom in has been added via the right and left triggers. This is a useful addition in theory, but even zoomed in I did find that certain puzzles were still too small to fully comprehend. I also found that I would over look certain items scattered across the world that I needed, simply due to the fact they were unfairly small on the Vita screen.
As well as touch screen controls, leaderboards have been added to the PS Vita version. You can easily see where you rank in the world and against your friends, with faster progression through puzzles leading to more points. It’s a nice touch, and I did find myself constantly checking to see how much higher in the ranks I had gone after completing a puzzle. It really helps the replay ability of the game as well. This is essential for a puzzle game, where replay ability can be an issue.
In Machinarium, there is no better feeling than taking time to assess what’s on screen, and figuring out a puzzle independently. On the other hand there is no worse feeling than having to rely on the Internet for help, only to learn that the solution required a simple bit of logic. Though he never speaks, you will fall in love with Josef and the world of Machinarium. I was completely engrossed in the story, and when it was over I was yearning for more. Once you have completed your playthough, you will be left with a huge sense of achievement.
Machinarium is a fun and challenging game, which has a surprising amount of heart in its metallic outer shell. Amanita Design really has created something special, and you owe it to yourself as a Vita owner to play this game. It will not only astound with its beautiful art style, and challenge you with its array of clever puzzles and riddles, but leave you with a big smile on your face
Lasting Appeal: 3