It has to be said, that it is a very interesting time for the games industry. As ‘B grade’ titles appear less and less and only the huge ‘triple A’s’ survive, the industry has opened its doors to new areas and people. The rise of the indie developer and Kickstarter project is upon us, and in this wave of cheaper developed games some retro ideas (and genres) have been washed back into the realms of the mainstream.
One genre that has always been on the fringes of popularity is the Point-and-Click Adventure. Its certainly had popular titles with franchises like Broken Sword and Monkey Island reaching such heights that several re-makes of each have graced the industry over the past 5 years (and I for one am glad to see them again). But despite this, the Point-and-Click genre seems destined to make its home firmly within the indie game section of the industry, and long time fans of this game type (such as myself) have come to except and even embrace this. Machinarium is a perfect example of an indie developed Point-and-Click. Although not the best out there it serves to remind us why we loved this genre in the first place and also why its mechanics still stand the test of time.
Our tale begins as you take control of a nameless, small robot shortly after he has been dumped in a scrap heap by some larger, meaner bots. The first thing you are sure to notice is Machinarium’s extremely distinctive art style. Character designs are incredibly original and fit seamlessly into a quirky but strangely dystopian world. The use of colour is also brilliantly understated, with most areas having a washed out, brownish texture that are occasionally pearsed by the odd neon light or sign.
The music and use of sound effects is also as brilliant and should serve as an example to other developers in this field. It must be said that even in a world full of originally styled indie games, Machinarium still manages to stand out. As I continued my journey through Machinarium’s weird and wonderful locations, solving puzzles and meeting new and ever weirder bots along the way, I found it difficult not to become engrossed. Although initially off the wall, the story pulls you in and I soon found myself truly invested in what transpired. Unfortunately it is the charm displayed in these areas of the game that help to hide some of its flaws.
It is clear almost from the offset that there could have been a few tweaks made to port the controls better from its PC counterpart. Obviously Point-and-Click games will always play better with a mouse, but certain control pad shortcuts seen in other console versions of the genre’s classics would have been a welcome addition here. Often I found having to move the cursor at a slow speed or having no explanation of the inventory shortcut button to be detrimental to the game’s pacing.
Another issue can be found in the game’s many puzzles. With most of the brain teasing issues that you must overcome, you will find yourself only equipped with a few items at any one time, all of which are required for the puzzle in question. This in turn means puzzles can end up being a short process of elimination rather than a test of logic. This however is juxtaposed with certain areas (namely the ones at control panels) that are genuinely challenging and will no doubt have you stumped.
The game attempts to combat this by the inclusion of a hint system that serves as somewhat of a double-edged sword. As well as one hint per area the player also has access to the game’s walkthrough at any time during game via an icon at the top right of the screen, however you must complete a short mini-game once per page to gain access. This is great for those who just want the experience but unfortunately serves to also make the game too easy if over used. This is especially troubling when taking into account that this is only around a 3 hour experience and the inclusion of a walkthrough in any capacity will only serve to decrease that time. Although 3 hours seems too short for any game, bear in mind Machinarium’s ridiculously small price tag. It is currently free on Playstation Plus and only £6.49 for non-members. I look at it as less cost than a trip to the cinema and potentially twice the length.
For fans of the genre Machinarium is a welcome addition. If you are a Playstation Plus member then there is literally no reason not to give this unique (if a little short) experience a try. For non Playstation Plus members the £6.49 shouldn’t break the bank, however if you are a fan of Point-and-Clicks then searching the game out on Steam may be cheaper and in the end will make it more of the experience that it was clearly intended to be.