Wot I Think: Machinarium

By John Walker on October 16th, 2009 at 9:00 am.

The long awaited adventure Machinarium is finally available today. After staring in wonder at the artwork and trailers for months I was able to play through a finished version this week in order that I could tell you Wot I Think.

I love him.

Machinarium is an extraordinarily beautiful creation. It’s a sort of beauty that games are almost never graced with. The awesome panoramas of a Crysis or a Far Cry 2 can be remarkable, but it’s always technically remarkable. The gorgeous graphics of games like the recent Prince of Persia or the forthcoming Borderlands are artistic works, imaginative and fresh. But Machinarium’s scratchy, hand-drawn robot world is beautiful.

If you’ve played Samorost 1 or 2 you’ll already know something of the worlds creator Jakub Dvorský designs. Where those games combined his adorable cartoons with organic real-world collage, Machinarium’s point and click adventuring is entirely hand-created. Each location is breath-taking – as in, every time I walked to a new scene I sharply drew in breath in wonder. Elaborate rooms bursting with intricate detail, alive with charm, ready to be explored.

The protagonist is a small, adorable robot. He has been thrown out of the city, and your task is to get him back in again. Any other goals grow organically once you’re inside. These might be aiding a group of busking robots to restore their instruments, or helping an elderly robot to oil his broken wheelchair, each contributing toward the next, making a path to your final goal. Much of it is about puzzle solving, either collecting and combining objects and using them in the correct place, or literal puzzles: lever challenges, a board game, even some arcade challenges.

Room puzzles like these soon evolve into wider areas.

Early stages play out as a series of scenes, each to be solved until you can access the next. But a third of the way through Machinarium blossoms out into a much larger world. Once in the city you have a hub area with many directions to head in, puzzles solved in one vital for progress in another. In many ways, it’s a traditional point and click adventure.

And one of those traditions is quite how hard it can be. Success is about exploration and experimentation. The opening puzzle requires you to disguise yourself as a guard robot to gain access to the city. But first you must figure out that this is what the game wants you to do. As a long-time adventure game player it’s an instinctive notion, and emulating a disguise from the surrounding objects has been the solution to dozens of games’ puzzles over the years. But I wonder how instinctively painting a traffic cone and stealing a light bulb will come to those who didn’t have such irrational logic etched into their brains as a child.

However, to ensure no one is stuck for long Machinarium offers two levels of hints. Most scenes will have a very simple clue available by clicking the bulb that appears in the top menu. A thought bubble will appear with a simple sketch indicating the key action that needs to be taken. If you’re still stuck after that, there’s a clue book that can be clicked on which will offer a detailed pictorial guide for what that location requires of you. However, to prevent lazy peeking, the book is itself a little arcade game. You must guide a key through a side scrolling hazardous route, dodging the rocks and firing at enemy spiders, until you reach a keyhole. Er, yes. Do this and the walkthrough is yours. It’s not difficult, but it’s time consuming, and it’s one of the best ways to put you off cheating I’ve seen. And I should add, some of the puzzles are brilliant. The butterfly wing/slide projector puzzle is a pleasure to solve, and many – like the popcorn/crowbar incident – are just so special.

The hub.

Another way in which the game can prove hard is finding the hotspots. I think this is going to be a matter of some contention. In previous games Amanita Design have let you explore the scene with the mouse to discover items with which you can interact. When the hand icon appears, you know it’s of interest. However in Machinarium you must be standing near something before it will reveal that it’s accessible. As I played through I rarely found this to be a problem. The use of the ‘walk’ icon is in a large part to thank – generally if there’s nothing useful in an area you can’t walk there. So in turn, if you can go there, there’s something to do. The other key thing to remember is that your robot has a stretchy tummy – perhaps game’s first stretchy tummy since James Pond. This means you can make him taller or shorter, letting him reach higher or under objects. It’s an extremely cute device, made cuter by his waddling about when at these extremes.

While I can predict people getting upset by a lack of direction in some areas (there were three occasions where I was forced to turn to the hint book for help), it’s hard to care for long. Everything about it is so joyously engaging.

Dvorak's music is so perfect here.

Regular Amanita contributor Tomáš Dvořák once again provides the music, which is wonderful beyond compare. Almost every scene has its own score, each good enough to task switch out of the game and leave running in a loop in the background for hours. The scene in which you reunite the band with their instruments is an incredible highlight, and as they begin to perform this gorgeous jazz should you leave your robot still he will dance along. The game comes with the full soundtrack as mp3s when bought directly from Amanita, and they accompany me as I write this.

Then there’s the daydreams. The story is simple and delightful, but is importantly discovered as you play – even the description on the game’s own website says far, far too much. And the daydreams are part of the slow understanding of what’s going on. They’re portrayed as minimalist Flash cartoons within thought bubbles above the robot’s head, roughly drawn black outlines dancingly animated. You might see your robot accompanied by a friend, the two playing together, laughing and full of happiness. As the dream bursts, the sadness of the little guy’s isolation in this decaying city becomes so much more poignant. Or perhaps you’ll see memories of being bullied, special moments ruined by larger, crueller robots. They’re heartbreaking. Hand over your mouth, eyelids blinking away.

In fact, so much made me coo and aww out loud. A moment with a large police robot and his tiny broken pink robot bunny is as wonderful and touching as anything in Pixar’s WALL-E. It’s a world bursting with love and sadness. I laughed out loud so often, and gasped even more frequently.

Oh, the owl.

Some people won’t like some of the more obscure puzzles, and there’s no escaping this. But while the sliding tile challenge (it is slightly different from a regular one, I promise) may irritate, the same scene’s owl is too astonishingly lovely to maintain any malice. I shall not spoil anything, but believe me, when you’ve played it you’ll want to find someone else who has too and talk about the owl. Oh, the owl.

There’s so many of these tiny vignettes, little delights, that melt you. I cannot think of any other game in existence where remembering a puzzle brings tears to my eyes, but as I hurriedly went back to edit in a mention of the popcorn puzzle, that’s exactly what happened.*

Machinarium is a delightful point and click adventure, if slightly flawed on occasion in its five or six hours. The hotspot hunting is going to put some people off completely, and I’m not sure it was a good design decision to require proximity to find them. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a work of passion, and it’s ludicrously adorable.

Arcades!

Machinarium is available from today from here for $20, and comes with the 51 minute soundtrack. Here’s the trailer:

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*And screw my reputation for being a cry-baby, as I mentioned here that’s been two games ever.

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130 Comments »

  1. K says:

    I pre-ordered and downloaded from “unofficial sources” because they still haven’t even sent me the download link. I feel a little guilty, but I have paid. Got it in less than an hour.

    And to balance out the negativity: it’s an adorable little gem of a game.

    • herme bags says:

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  2. Lewis says:

    They’ve posted a statement and apology on their website, and have temporarily closed the forums to free up server space. Guess they didn’t expect such a huge uptake of digital-downloadin’…

  3. Στέλιος says:

    I really really like the style and atmosphere. But the last screen in the demo with the little ore trolley got me worried. I worked out that I was supposed to derail it, but I could not work out that I had to then grab it.
    It just did not seem possible. I checked the hint system,. it described the same. I tried and tried and tried, at some point I *somehow* managed to grab it. I am not sure what I did – did I miss it by a pixel initially? Was it a timing issue? Not sure. But that was enough to make me feel like pixel hunting AND exact timing would make me hate it. Which is a pity.

    Anyone else had such an experience or is it that I am just an adventure game big girl’s blouse (always possible, I guess)?

    • Lewis says:

      I can’t work out what you mean here. You OH MY GOD SPOILERS

      derail the cart, it flops over and smashes. You hop on the wheels, nudge the railing against the lever, and off you go.

      THERE ARE NOT ANY SPOILERS ANY MORE

      Isn’t that what happened to you? Or are we talking about something different?

    • Taillefer says:

      It sounds like you found some buggy way of doing it, as that puzzle doesn’t need either pixel hunting or exact timing. I mean, the truck is static once it’s derailed, it doesn’t require you to try and try again.

      Did you grab the truck as it was rolling by, or something? Because that’s all I can think of that would require precise timing. And that’s a bug if it works. There’s a much easier way.

    • Harmen says:

      You can put the de-rail thing on either of the rails, but it only works in your advantage if you put it on the correct one. Does that solve it?

      Wonderfull game, and I don’t even _like_ point’nclick adventures!

  4. airtekh says:

    Sold.

    Nice review John.

  5. Peter says:

    You don’t have to grab the ore truck at all; you have to derail one of the carts, find your method of locomotion and then get another truck to push you..

  6. Richard says:

    There is no reason why you can’t do right clicking in Flash, the author can disable the default Flash menu if they want to.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      It might have something to do with that fact that there are settings in that menu that sometimes are needed to fix a bug (Flash is HW-accelerated by default, the devs tell you to shut it off via the menu). Maybe this also could have been fixed, but hey, I’m sure they’ll change it in the upcoming patch.

  7. Taillefer says:

    Oh, John! The owl! Tehehe.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    3 games now cry baby.

  9. some guy says:

    how the hell do you get the yellow thing hanging from above ? the one you use to derail the ore trolley

  10. Dominus says:

    ok, how do you get the second light bulb for the pentagram minigame? :B

    • Taillefer says:

      You don’t actually need it. Try making the pattern without it, although it doesn’t look very even.

  11. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    Nice of them to apologise. Plus it can only be a good thing when they haven’t anticipated such high demand for their game.

    Still; since I last posted I’m now at 48%, 8.7 kb/s, 4hs 26 min remaining!

  12. neems says:

    Damn it, am I the only person who completely fails at noughts and crosses? I’m gonna be pissed off if I can’t progress because of it.

    • Lewis says:

      Man. That was an absolute beast of a puzzle. I found the best way was to try work your opponent in a few places across the board, with the eventual aim to have four adjacent bolts in two separate parts of the board, meaning the other guy has to pick and choose, but will ultimately lose on the next move.

    • neems says:

      Got it in the end, using a sprt of grid pattern thing. On the plus side, what a band!

    • John Walker says:

      I found the best way was to let my housemate Graham have a go, who got it really quickly. I’ll lend him out to anyone who needs him.

  13. Pags says:

    Okay finally got it a few hours ago, absolutely love it. Not quite so cranky anymore.

  14. marxeil says:

    I just got this from GamersGate. I can’t find those MP3s. Possibly they are encrypted or something?

    • John Walker says:

      Sorry – I say it at the end, but not in the middle, that it comes with the mp3s when bought directly from Amanita. I’ve amended the post. Sorry for any confusion.

    • Taillefer says:

      All the music is in the “Machinarium\11″ directory. But with 000 and 001 extensions.
      01010001.001 is the robots. :P

  15. kulak says:

    I think £15 is just out of a reasonable price for this game.

    Admittedly there’s a lot of artwork gone into it, but the same can be said for Samrost 1 and 2. Also as a linear puzzle game, replayability is limited, and I tend to burn through these kind of games in one or two sittings.

    So I can’t really justify £5 an hour for gameplay.

    At £10 I would have snapped it right up after playing the demo, but I think I’ll wait for a Steam sale where it at some point will undoubtedly be going for some ridiculously small amount.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      I’d rather play £40 for this game than any other shitty so-called “AAA” game out there.

      It’s more than worth it.

  16. Mahmoth says:

    Yep, thoroughly stuck on that one. Can’t figure out a way of splitting his attention without getting blocked at the last moment or missing his setup for a five.

    • Mahmoth says:

      Agh, buggered up the reply, there. Stuck on five-in-a-row, as might be obvious.

  17. Robin says:

    I don’t regret buying Machinarium at all, but the demo is a bit deceptive. What with it not featuring any of the pointless, obnoxious Christmas cracker puzzles that intermittently drain all the joy out of the full game.

  18. Marcus says:

    You can disable the menu but that’s it, you can’t do right-clicking in flash. It’s just not possible.

  19. Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

    Isn’t this game out on various shady sites?

    I don’t see the harm in using other means to download it if you’ve payed for it. Not only does it translate to you being able to play the game faster (without any damage done to the financial situation of the developer), but you’ll also spare the Machinarium download servers the traffic, meaning other people will get the game faster as well.

  20. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    It got downloaded nicely overnight and it is indeed as lovely as good have been expected.

    Sometimes it’s tough knowing exactly what you want to be doing next but a few minutes wandering the beautifully drawn world and i’ll figure it out.

    Connect 5 was no problem for me at all. It was just a case of slightly extending the type of strategy used to win a game of noughts and crosses (though obviously a little trickier – a 19 year okd should be able to easily remember the moves which make noughts and crosses impossible to lose!).

    I just love all the animations for each action – they always bring a smile to my face. The dancing in particular was so cute!

  21. Theory says:

    I’m torn between feeling glad that I got it on Steam so had a smooth download, and feeling guilty that I got it on Steam instead of direct from the developers, losing free access to the soundtrack in the process. Was that worth the 60p?

    On the bright side, you can find the URLs to download six of the game’s tracks in the Machinarium RSS feed… ;-)

    And of course it’s a beautiful little game. A somewhat random ending, but it would be churlish to complain!

  22. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I’m sorry to say that Machinarium left me cold. While many aspects of the artwork were delightful (particularly the owl), so many of the puzzles were completely incongruous, even when I had solved them by trying-everything-on-everything-else (fortunately a limited set, as *most* puzzles still had all their required items on the same screen) that I spent most of the game feeling frustrated.

    There was one particularly annoying puzzle, where I had to fill an engine with oil to power it. I had in my possession an empty container that I had previously used to transport oil, but it inexplicably could not be used in this instance. And the solution to the puzzle was completely nonsensical.

    In the end, I regret paying 11.whatever for the Steam preorder; don’t think it’s worth above a fiver.

    • Dracko says:

      Well, if you’ll recall, said container had only enough oil to, well, oil the joints on a wheelchair, and then was handed back to you empty to fill with sunflower oil. And that puzzle and the one following were delightful.

      It’s one thing to have a legitimate gripe, quite enough to not be paying attention.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      spoiler warning:

      Well, judging from its size, compared to the amount flowing through the hose, it held about 1/3 of what was required to fill the tank with oil.

      Boiling a condenser will not yield a flexible hose, but just a hot condenser, unchanged in shape. The only reason I was able to solve that puzzle was that there was so little to use. I think such a nonsensical puzzle (it was not alone!) is a legitimate gripe.

      Anyway, I didn’t enjoy it overly. I’m glad many of you do.

    • Kakksakkamaddafakka says:

      I finished the game without being stuck in one place more than a few minutes (the one exeption is the tic-tac-toe game), without using any hints whatsoever.

      To be honest, all my friends are also racing through this game without any problems.

      I’m not saying you’re an idiot or anything, but if you don’t like puzzles, adventure games probably aren’t for you, and your critique isn’t really relevant for most people (I’m thinking most people like puzzles, but I might be wrong about that, of course).

  23. Letterman says:

    Just realized that all files in the game’s directory are named in binary. Awesome!

  24. IvanHoeHo says:

    The rest of the game is great, so far, but playing connect-4 was one of the least fun things I’ve had to do this week.

    Am I supposed to beat him multiple times? I did once and got what I need, but doesn’t seem to be going anywhere with the rest of the puzzles.

    • Dracko says:

      No, you only need to make him flip his lid once.

      You guys should play connect 5 more.

  25. Trezoristo says:

    As someone else remarked earlier: The music sits in the ’11′ folder in your Steam directory. Simply change the extension of the files in there to ‘mp3′ and you’re ready to go!

  26. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    I played Connect 5 a second time just to see if I was lucky or something. If anything I won quicker. It's not hard folks! I'll admit to finding some other puzzles difficult but that one was a breeze.

  27. Anthony says:

    I’ve been playing this game all day, and I’ve certainly fallen in love with it. The only frustration I’ve had so far is at the stupid “green triangle” puzzle.

  28. Mike R says:

    MORE SPOILERS OMG

    The tricky part here is that you can drop it on either rail, but only one will lead to the desired outcome. The problem, for me, was that when I saw that I could drop it on the rail closest to the robot, I assumed that was the only place I could drop it, and couldn’t figure out what to do about the cart flying off the screen.

    This is a great example of assumptions based on adventure game tropes coming back to bite me. Of course he should be able to drop the ramp on either rail, but I’ve run into so many arbitrary limitations that apparently I’ve started to come up with my own.

  29. scaj says:

    im a little over half way trough the game and i have passed the owl, and though i agree whit every thing else in this review the owl didnt do anything special for me, it might be because i bought it off steam and they removed something special about it, but i really dont see why anyone would want to talk about it (the owl, not the game as a whole)

  30. eah says:

    Only thing is, music from the game is just 160kbps, the soundtrack is 256kbps and not quite the same. Although missing some tracks, oddly…I had to use the game files to get the robot jazz trio track, for example.

  31. ironanno says:

    Bit of a SPOILER here but:

    In the room at the top of the tower in the robot city the big headed robot whose brain had been set back meaning he can only slobber. That coupled with the bubble telling how one of the big bad robots destroyed the poor robot’s brain made the sound he made even more sad. That was probably the saddest moment in the game for me. Probably partly because it comes out of nowhere.

  32. lintman says:

    Just finished it last night. I thought it was cute and worth the $14, but wasn’t as enchanted with it as Walker’s review is.

    Some thoughts (potential mild spoilers):
    - The Jazz trio puzzles and music were my favorite parts of the game. The prison bits were probably second-favorite.
    - I enjoyed the animations a lot – lots of clever ones like the dancing to the music and sliding down railings, etc.
    - The inability to know what you can interact with unless you were next to it was annoying and set my frustration level high enough to send me to the hint system far sooner than would otherwise be necessary.
    . The turn-off-the-water valve puzzle is just my sort of thing, but its behavior didn’t seem to be always consistent and I sadly ended up resorting to trial and error to solve it.
    - I enjoyed the kitchen screen a lot, , but the popcorn bit didn’t quite have the same effect on me as on John Walker. The owl was cute, but didn’t do much for me, either. I liked the cat bit better.
    - Annoyingly, as part of my explorations I returned to the kitchen and was no longer able to exit the screen because the earlier procedure was no longer allowed for some reason, so I had to reload a save.
    - The Connect 5 wasn’t so bad – I beat it on the first try and then beat it again on a second go-round to see if anything else happened. For me, the sliding bead puzzles and the bracket puzzles in arcade were the terrible ones.

  33. Premium User Badge Lambchops says:

    I agree with Lintman; having finished the game this evening (slightly before a much procastinated essay for uni showing I've got my priorities sorted!) the sliding bead and arcade bracket puzzles are the worst ones.

    Well in particular it was the top bead one and one of the middle bracke ones that took me quite a while today – the rest of them weren't quite as bad I was just suffering mental blocks for a while particularly with those bloody beads.

  34. Yearner says:

    I played the demo, was absolutely enthralled and immediately bought the game. I really enjoyed it, about to the point where you give the lady her dog and go into the city. But from there on… TOO MANY DAMN LOGIC PUZZLES! The “task” challenges where you have to interact with the people and objects to get something done are great, and filled with a lot of humor which makes the game really fun to play, just like Samorost. But it really sucks that the flow of gameplay is constantly interrupted with logic puzzles. It feels like the developers thought the game was too easy and then just threw in all the puzzles just to make it more difficult. In my mind, this spoils an otherwise great game.

  35. Railick says:

    I'm stuck on trying to beat the old coot at connect 5. I've lost about 100 games so far.
    To my great surprise I actaully figured out the sliding green and red bead on circles puzzle very quickly.

    Shadowcat “It hammers at my retinas like an evil woodpecker of pure energy”

    • abhishek says:

      I couldn’t actually ‘figure out’ how to do the green/red beads puzzle. I tried for a little while but then I gave up and started randomly spinning the wheels them around until they fell into place. Definitely one of the more random puzzles in the game for me…

      Completed the game in 7.3 hours according to Steam. Lovely game, although I wish it would have been longer.

  36. birdy says:

    How do I fill the oil can? I can’t oil the chair to see what’s down the manhole.

  37. li says:

    i think its over priced, i think i will wait fo some kind of promotion

  38. redbaron says:

    It’s an adorable game. Definitely one of the games with best art. The story could have been a little bit more detailed. Tell us a little bit more about this brotherhood, about the city itself and the robots. But never the less – there are so many nice things in here. The only part I didn’t like is when I had to play the Gomoku. I won it totally by accident. It was frustrating. I’ve never been good at tic-tac-toe and when it comes to a game that demands from me to put 5 in a line…Oh, well. I swet a lot and frankly I was about to give up when I hit the jackpot. :P Another puzzle that got me sweating was at the end when I had to line those balls in order to open the cabinet. Otherwise all other puzzles are well-thought, logical and all in all not difficult. There are some nice extras like when you’re on the square you can go at the edge and break the light bulbs on the wall. Very nice to do some vandalism from time to time. :D The little robot is really adorable. I laughed from the bottom of my heart when it started shaking his bottom while the band was playing. ^^

    Definitely a worthy game and even a jem as many call it. I’m a huge fan of the point & click adventures and I’m sad and happy that Machinarium came out. Happy – because it’s almost perfect! Sad – because I realized how neglected is the genre in the last 10 years or so. Most titles are like this – indie games. It’s really sad.

  39. Josine says:

    The owl is making me crazy! :’(

  40. Vicky says:

    I LOVE this game. Like the previous author, I agree; this is a really neglected genre – what with the influx of hidden object games and over scripted boring ‘games’ that make you feel like you are working rather than playing.
    Machinarium is a game for those who like point and click graphic adventures with good puzzles and story and beauty and humour…and randomness: you are not made to feel like you must perform a certain task at a certain. There is always so much to explore and so many thought bubbles that pop up when you least expect them that relate to some aspect of the main characters past you just want to be there…IN THE GAME. Absolute genius.

  41. Vicky says:

    I LOVE this game. Like the previous author, I agree; this is a really neglected genre – what with the influx of hidden object games and over scripted boring ‘games’ that make you feel like you are working rather than playing.
    Machinarium is a game for those who like point and click graphic adventures with good puzzles and story and beauty and humour…and randomness: you are not made to feel like you must perform a certain task at a certain time. There is always so much to explore and so many thought bubbles that pop up when you least expect them that relate to some aspect of the main characters past you just want to be there…IN THE GAME. Absolute genius.