My first meeting with Amanita Design was actually through their very first browser game called Samorost. It was a puzzle-title my father introduced me to, and I loved it so much that I ended up getting its sequel the day it came out. However, before the third instalment would be released, the team took an interesting shift by replacing the bizarre botanic locations set in outer space for a surreal scrapyard where metallic creatures had created a civilisation. Thus, Machinarium was created.
I ended up buying this title when it was on sale for a fourth of its original price, which I thought was a generous approach by the developers. Sadly, I would later learn that this was an act made to fight against piracy, as only 5-15% of those who played Machinarium had actually paid for their copies. I am not going to beat around the bush; you are scum if you commit to piracy for games that are readily available for purchase (outside of insanely expensive used copies). With that said, let me also explain to you why this title is a wonderful classic that is worth contributing to.
The Čapek brothers would have shed a tear
Outside of what can be described as a metallic city, we meet a small robot named Josef, who has been thrown out into the scrapyard wasteland for unknown reasons. As soon as he has reassembled himself, he heads back to the city with different flashbacks reminding him of good and bad times. Truth to be told, it is hard to decide whether the story is a main focus or not. It is a good driving force, but does not contain much more in terms of a plot and is rather comparable to the traditional platformers from the 80s.
However, Machinarium goes a step further to provide more outside of its simple story. To start off with, the world around him is interesting and you will find yourself exploring different parts of this civilisation, such as a rundown bar, seeing street musicians trying to enjoy life, and even what seems to have been a greenhouse. It really showcases that this is a functional city with diverse locations, creating a strong setting that is intriguing. Despite how everything is in shatter and rusty, it might be either a subtle showcase for the city’s doom or just the machines’ everyday life that they have accepted, which adds to makes me invested in this world.
Then we have the citizens, aka: the robots. All of them come with different looks, and have simple and adorable personalities that fit perfectly with the game’s easy plot. Be it the sore loser playing Gomoku in a bar, the tired prisoner wishing for a good smoke or the workers who just want to do their job, everyone is wonderfully charming. Our protagonist is no slacker either. Josef is a lovable creature who only speaks in grunts, got an innocent and childish humour, and wants to do what he can to help those in need. This makes him an easy character to root for and have a soft spot for, due to his light and cute personality.
Combine this with a city that is atmospheric and fascinating, Machinarium provides a world you will easily get lost in without anyone uttering a single word. In fact, the speech bubbles only contain scribbled drawings of what the characters wish to talk about, which is a cute touch. Another lovely detail, is that Josef’s idle animations can lead to him recalling memories with one robot he misses, adding to push you further in order to see this game through. For such a simple premise, the developers went all out to make every single element in this game heartwarming or interesting, with a sweet plot that anyone can get behind.
Story Score: 10/10
Just some oil and it is the perfect thinker
Similar to Amanita Design’s previous projects, Machinarium is a point-and-click where you solve puzzles in order to progress through the game. Playing as Josef, you are able to pick up and store items within his stomach, combine them, and use them on objects or people. While this little creature can extend and shorten himself to reach certain items or crawl through areas, it is rather a neat extra for making you explore the environment than anything else. However, Machinarium is one of the smartest games ever made through how it presents every single puzzle.
These brain-teasers are always limited to the small locations you are in and clearly showcased, making it so you will not be looking around aimlessly in a huge world for one item or have no idea on what you can do. This removes any unneeded backtracking, makes you focused on what you can interact with where you currently are, and be able to figure out a way to progress through your observations and logical thinking. To summarise; you are never outright told on how to solve the different puzzles, but should always have the right tools nearby in order to do so.
The puzzles get exceedingly harder and are always fun to solve, due to them requiring creative thinking and a keen eye. One of my favourite examples, is when you have to trick a policeman into thinking you are one of them, with the only tools at disposal being those outside in the wasteland. All of the puzzles are exciting to figure out, with even some being literal puzzles where you must think logically in order to proceed, such as a sliding puzzle. These are entertaining diversions that change between each other, making the game never become dull.
Every puzzle is told through visual means and the pointer always changes if you can interact with parts of the environment or an item. The objects are not highlighted outside of this, but the game is never hiding important elements to get you further and you can even zoom in if you find it hard to see certain areas, making pixel hunting completely gone. Beside the puzzles are two minigames you will have to play, with one being based on Space Invaders and the other on Berzerk. Both are delightful diversions that only last as long as they should.
In fact, I only have minor issues with this title, with one of them being Josef’s movement. While he will walk towards wherever you click on the ground, you have to physically do so and get nearby anything interactable in order for Josef to reach it, otherwise he will just shake his head. This can make some puzzles confusing, as this animation is also used for when a solution is wrong or an action is impossible. There is not even a visual highlight that you can interact with the objects when he is too far away, so just keep in mind that the game showed in the beginning that Josef has an area of where he can reach elements. This is still a strange implementation that I do not fully grasp why was added in, as you can generally reach most areas without any hassle.
There is also a hint book and even a walkthrough included with the game in case you get completely stuck, but I never found a puzzle too confusing for needing either. I will say that I do like how the hint book will have you play a horizontal shoot’em up where you pilot a spaceship through randomly constructed stages in order to open it. Sadly, this is not fun due to these segments being slow and rather underwhelming, but it is a creative idea if nothing else.
These are really the only elements that keep me from giving Machinarium a perfect score in gameplay, but it is still close to one. The puzzles are fantastic and get more difficult without going to the level of moon logic, I love the removal of huge backtracking and pixel hunting, and the visuals clearly show what the puzzles require without spelling out the solutions. Just remember to walk towards what you want to interact with first, and you are going to experience probably one of the best point-and-click games ever made.
Gameplay Score: 9.5/10
It is not rusty, it is just antique
The change from Samorost’s naturalistic focus to Machinarium’s metallic sceneries is a clear contrast, but I am surprised that it made for just as creative of a world on par with the team’s first title. This scrapyard of a city is filled with different locations, each presenting diverse and surreal backgrounds, and contains textures that are simply mesmerising to study in detail. The gritty areas that somehow resembles ours with a robotic twist also adds to make this world inviting, such as the bar serving oil as beer or the greenhouse in ruins due to not a single creature here being sure on what to do with it.
It is a clever way of creating a civilisation that is unique and visually interesting, yet still conveys the areas’ functions through what we can observe. This goes for the inhabitants as well, as all of them are brimming with charm and identity that makes them instantly recognisable through a similar element. Josef is the best example here, as he uses strong motions in his interactions, has cute sounds for emphasising his mood, and presents adorable flashbacks. This goes for the rest of the cast, and shows how endearing and effective using only presentation to tell anything can be.
The diversity this world has is complimented by a soundtrack that focuses on industrial sounds, such as barrel drums and electronic sounds. Everything is being utilised for giving a clear tone, be it the uplifting song outside of the arcade, the echoed and dark track when you are in the wasteland or the jazzy tune inside the bar. This makes for an amazing soundtrack that enhances each area’s mood with fantastic rhythm and memorable tunes that are all varied. The atmosphere is further strengthened by the sound effects that are either of the ambient ones or the NPCs walking around, adding to this rusty marvel of a world.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Through its wonderful artistic presentation, clever puzzles that are always engaging and challenging, and a charm that can even make the coldest of hearts beat, Machinarium is one game I believe everyone should finish at least once. I have a hard time believing it will ever rust, and rather age like fine wine. It is now available on just about any device you have, and hopefully you will take some of your time to experience it. Just make sure to contribute to the developers, okay?