I hate puzzles. Whether it's the ludicrously impossible Rubix Cube or a silly jigsaw puzzle, I just don't have patience for such tasks. Point-and-click games aren't exactly my idea of gaming bliss either, with my last outset in the genre being Runescape. (Give me an explosion-filled gorefest or a pretty platformer any day.) Machinarium should be ranked fairly low on my satisfaction scale then, but it may surprise you that my venture through the game's mechanical city filled me with absolute joy.
Brought to us by indie developer Amanita Design, Machinarium lets players control the rusty, worn, yet incredibly endearing robot called Josef (named for Josef Capek, the creator of the word "robot"). After being dumped on a scrapheap, players must undergo simple puzzles to salvage Josef's disassembled body. Once players complete this tutorial undertaking, the beautifully bizarre adventure begins.
Little Josef, although incapable of speech, quickly becomes one of the most charming, comforting characters you'll ever have the privilege to control.
The premise of Machinarium is fantastically simple, and the ways in which you interact with the world give the game its charm. Joints squeaking, you must guide Josef through his grainy environment, pointing, clicking, and using all manners of trinkets to accomplish baffling objectives. Click the floor and Joseph will walk there. Select an object and Josef will manipulate said item or deposit the tool in his bucket body through his unkempt metallic mouth.
Thankfully, poor controls will not be an issue. The left analog stick becomes your cursor, much like navigating a webpage. Hover over a particular item or object and the cursor will become a pulsing robotic hand symbolizing an action. Press Square and your inventory opens. This collection of clever knickknacks aids in the exploration and escape from each environment. Items can also be combined, giving another enigmatic twist to the proceedings. For example, pairing a magnet and some string allows you to swing across a cavern early on.
Josef ignores ''No Robots Allowed'' signs.
Besides his ingenuity, what makes Josef so endearing? Well, his appearance for one. Look at those eyes. His animations are brilliantly done, resulting in a cute, comical aspect to his personality. Get a puzzle wrong and Josef will stare at you equally confused. An early problem required Josef to craft a makeshift disguise, and it made me chuckle with admiration. Who can't find the humor in a little robot with a painted traffic cone teetering on his innocent iron head? The fact that this "disguise" fooled a police officer was even more hilarious.
Minigames are interwoven into Machinarium's interesting journey to lighten the load of the challenging core adventure. Although these sequences fit in with the whole Machinarium world rather well, one of them is much more than a simple play on Space Invaders. Open the inventory, click on the big "?", and a dull minigame appears. As a reward for completing each game, you unlock a page from Josef's elaborate hint journal. Sometimes it's a breath of fresh air obtaining the current puzzle's answer after being stuck for so long, but players may put themselves through the tedious games too many times for the sake of progression.
The infamous hint journal. Can you resist a peek?
Machinarium still has a delightful, little tale to tell, though. Revealed through Josef's thoughts of past events, Machinarium paints an elaborate picture of heartache and oppressive bullies, but what a picture this journey portrays. It's not surprising that this game has received so many aesthetic-related rewards. Each portion of the game is handsomely detailed. Environments appear to be hand drawn directly on the screen, yet the deeply gritty and seemingly unforgiving world remains intensely charming – a great accomplishment.
As I said before, I hate puzzle games – but not Machinarium. No, this title is different. Rewarding, albeit very challenging puzzles litter the five-hour campaign. The tragic tale of friendship is handled wonderfully, and the art style is simply phenomenal. I felt immense pride in completing my first puzzle game too, even if the hint book was somewhat overused. There, I admitted it! Although there isn't much incentive to revisit Machinarium, it's an adventure that I will remember for a long time.
Publisher: Amanita Design
Developer: Amanita Design
Release Date: September 6, 2012 (PSN)
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: PSN (Reviewed), PC, Mac, iPad, Android