“A lovely robot adventure that’ll still have you clanging your head against the nearest wall at times.”£2.99
Like the previous games from slightly bonkers Czech developer Amanita, Machinarium’s a gentle little adventure with a story that unfolds wordlessly. Aside from the minimal interface and a few helpful hints at the start of the game, it shows you – rather than tells you – a tale of Josef, a robot who wakes up in pieces on a rubbish tip. From there, you find your way to the towering city of Machinarium, a dilapidated looking metropolis that kind of resembles the future as envisioned by, say, unhinged Edwardians.
Populated entirely by robots, complete with robot pets and robot fauna, it’s not a cheerful place and, you soon discover, it’s going to get worse with the impending detonation of a bomb taped to its tallest tower. And so it’s up to you, little lost robot, to save the city, as well as saving the girl and getting your own back on the big bully robots who, you learn from one of the game’s delightfully scratchy animated flashbacks, used to kick sand in your weedy robot face. It’s part adventure, part puzzle, part love story and part nerd revenge fantasy. And why not?
The first bit of the game explains pretty much all you need to know about how to play before throwing you into the first set of puzzles. It’s pretty standard fare – you wander around, pick up items and think of clever ways to use them in order to progress. You’re also taught that your robot body can stretch upwards and squash downwards – both abilities are called into play regularly. And as well as the item-based puzzling there are actual puzzles – mazes, logic problems, puzzles where you have to slide things into the right position – that you’ll have to solve to get past certain parts of the game.
It’s reasonably straightforward, but not overly; even the early, supposedly simple puzzles can have you staring at the screen for ages, looking for the insignificant detail that you know has to be there somewhere, such as the flypaper hanging from the ceiling in a bar. And then what do you do with it? We tried everything with that flypaper; it never occurred to us to catch flies because we didn’t see them.
And that’s the sort of situation in which you’re bound to come a cropper a few times. There are occasions where what the designers thought was a really clever idea simply won’t occur to you. The bit with the owl and the cat (both robots, of course) will, we reckon, have you reaching for the walkthrough eventually.
We’ll forgive that, though. We strolled through Machinarium over the course of a weekend and only got well and truly stuck three times, which is pretty good going. We had to put it down for a while quite a few times, just to mull things over, but in general we made steady progress and thoroughly enjoyed it, only rarely finding ourselves reduced to trying to use what items we had (thankfully you rarely have more than a couple of things in your inventory) on absolutely everything. Even if you do get completely stumped, there’s a hint system and a complete walkthrough included, which you should use sparingly, if at all.
We’re being deliberately vague about Machinarium’s details because once you finish it then, well, that’s it. It’s not a game you’ll want to instantly restart once you’ve completed it; it’s like a good book; difficult to put down, but once you’re finished you put it back on the shelf, to revisit at a later date. It’s a great story and a great journey, with lovely animation, bags of character and a fantastic soundtrack – don’t forget your headphones – that should bring a smile to even the most jaded gamer’s face.
Our sole complaint is its baffling demand for an iPad 2; we honestly can’t see what it’s doing that needs the extra power. It spends quite a bit of time loading and there are lots of animated things going on, but nothing especially excessive that we’d expect to require an iPad 2. What do we know, though? If you have the technology, we strongly recommend it.