17: Machinarium

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Let’s do good things first, shall we? Machinarium looks very nice, it’s got a genuinely hand-drawn design and a particularly nice touch is that towards the edges of the screen, the colour and linework decays away, it’s really as if you’re playing in a picture. The way rooms fade in like extra cells in a comic is really well used on a couple of occasions (as above) to split up their areas into a few bits. The animations are really well-realised and drawn, with everything moving with a distinctive gait and swagger. You can stretch and compress the little robot guy to get into certain areas or reach high objects and that looks cool too. When you interact with an object, you’re not just using some generic move, there’s a specially hand-crafted thing just for you. The music is decent, with a couple of excellent tracks (especially when you fix a band’s instruments). The game is pretty cool all told.

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Good things over, let’s rip into the design. It’s as if the designer has realised somewhere along the line that games do have to be interactive, but then he went no further with that thought. Your interactions with the world are pretty terribly managed. Yes, fine, you can’t use an object unless you’re next to it, that makes sense, but you can’t even see if an object is interactive unless you’re standing practically on top of it. This is an adventure game, idiot, the entire point is interacting with objects. The only thing that stops you going mad when you’ve searched every screed of the screen and still can’t figure out what to do is that at least there’s nothing hidden from view that you’ve missed! With Machinarium, those securities are a thing of the past and so I kept a walkthrough on alt-tab.

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And the puzzles themselves are this random mishmash of ideas that probably seemed good at the time. That room above is an arcade you stumble into. What do you need out of it? Two coins. How do you get them? Glad you asked. First, get on the bike and pedal to power up your machine of choice. By this I mean you drag your mouse around in a schizophrenic, circular manner for about three hours until the little power needle gradually goes to “on”. Now let’s win the coin! By playing an incredibly easy Space Invaders clone for another about three hours. Coin! Then do the same again. Power up the next machine in exactly the same boring, repetitive way. Play another game, this time a logic puzzle of the type that I have long hated and am basically pretty incapable of doing. There’s a lot of these random logic minigames scattered throughout the game and I suppose in one way I can understand why: you don’t always want to be combining things with things, it gives you a bit of time to think. But the way my mind works, they’re either easy or impossible and so it’s an annoying waste of time, or walkthrough fodder. Ugh.

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This is obviously a shame as the game at the start tells a simple story with minimalist design. You come to on a scrapheap, forge yourself back together then head into town to avenge yourself. Each room is a self-contained puzzle that allows you to experiment fully and work out the answer. Hints are there but you don’t really need them. And then like some horrible crouched massive octopus, the playing area just unfolds to become stupidly big, the objects become everywhere, and the puzzles change from these clever timing ones to arbitrary logic, arbitrary object combining, and just…ugh. This game was a chore to get through. I don’t care how good your game looks, how many little neat touches you put in it, if it’s just no fun to play, then what is the point

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Other things that were tried in the name of being different: The game has absolutely no dialogue or speech, everything is transmitted via little graphical speech bubbles. Sometimes these are quite entertaining! A bit like Wall-E! But then sometimes you have no idea what you’ve just watched, there’s no clarification for what you need to do, and you have no idea what this random bit of cloth in your inventory IS. It turned out to be a strip of fly paper. I was meant to catch flies with it. Obviously. Fuck you, game.

1 star, 3 and a half hours spent.

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