Impressions: Alchemia

By John Walker on August 24th, 2010 at 11:34 pm.

This does look awfully familiar...

Clearly the path cleared by Amanita Design, and their wonderful organic point and clickers (Samorost, Machinarium), is one down which others should walk. A team that has followed extremely closely is Springtail Studio, a two-man indie studio who have created Alchemia. To say it’s similar to Samarost would be something of an understatement. And of course in the inevitable direct comparison, it falls short. But it remains a charming, if slightly wayward, little adventure.

So I’m going to say “like Samorost” an awful lot now.

Like Samarost, the game is made in Flash, and plays embedded in the website, or independently if you pay for the extended version. Like Samorost, you control a small man, who interacts with his environment by exploratory clicking, solving small puzzles, aiming to advance through each screen as part of a larger, esoteric narrative. Like Samorost this involves engaging with the environment, or discovering the correct order in which to manipulate levers and switches. And like Samorost, the environments are a combination of photographs and cute cartoon creations.

The story here is about a man, Noses, who inadvertently destroys a strange flying machine called Lootpecker. The soul of the machine becomes his companion as he searches the factory where the creature was made to find him a new shell. Then the extended version adds five more levels, and nine more locations, as Noses attempts to create a new soul for a new machine that will help him put out a fire. This is all played out in caves and tunnels created from gorgeous nature photography and detailed Flash animations, mostly by operating machinery or tackling reasonably simple logic puzzles.

What’s interesting is learning quite how good Amanita is when experiencing what happens when another team tries the same. It’s possibly as beautiful, and while I prefer the aesthetics of Samorost that’s only a matter of personal taste, and the music, by Julian Winter, is absolutely wonderful. I’ve left one of the tunes looping in the background as I write this, and it’s yet to feel repetitive. But its shortcomings appear in how these lovely parts all fit together.

The puzzles, while relatively simple once you’ve figured out what to do – or more frequently how to do it – are often poorly flagged. Requiring you to find the minuscule detail in the muddled background is frustrating, not challenging. And perhaps more significantly, the game keeps forgetting to tell you why you’re solving a puzzle. Unable to move on without completing a screen (like Samorost, of course), you solve things because they’re there, not because you understand how you’re going to progress. Often it’s not until you see the next screen that you understand why you were doing x or y, and you feel completely at the mercy of the mechanics, rather than the story.

The story itself is confusing. Characters come and go, scenes appear then disappear, and little is explained. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just experiencing can be great. But with the muddling puzzles on top, it’s hard to hold it altogether in any coherent form in your head. That said, there’s some lovely moments, and even touching scenes. A lot of love’s gone in, but it doesn’t always successfully come back out.

You can play at least half of the game for free on the Springtail site, so you’ll know full well if you want to support the developers by handing over the $7 for the rest. And rather magnificently, the soundtrack is available to download for free from here too. But it sure is like Samorost.

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15 Comments »

  1. Doeke says:

    So, it’s sort of like Samorost, then?

  2. allen says:

    Why are you giving this guy press? His game sucks and he’s not original. Shouldn’t be worth posting about. This guy doesn’t deserve money for his ‘work’. He’s just trying to cash in.

    • kulak says:

      Anyone trying to “cash in” by doing an indie PC puzzle game, has some sorely misguided avarice.

      RPS has reported on much more derivative work in the past.

      I’m glad Walker brought it to the table, if only to see how well Aminita are in comparison, and a lesson to future developers in how important execution is.

    • brog says:

      what the fuck?
      if he’s already taken the time to play it, it’s worth him posting about it. it’s worth letting us know what to expect from it, to help us determine whether we want to spend our time on it. some will want to play it anyway despite the flaws, because they are fans of this type of game or this style of graphics. you’re not, and that’s okay.

      also, games don’t have to be in a completely unique style to be worth mentioning. you’re not clever for noticing that it’s maybe a bit like Samorost – if you read the article carefully you’ll see that Walker has actually pointed that out. games take a lot of work to make, whether or not the graphics have a wholly original style, and the developers deserve some amount of respect for putting in that work.

      plus, Walker reviews EVERY ADVENTURE GAME EVER, so what do you expect?

    • Clovis says:

      Are any adventure games original besides the first text based one? It’s an adventure game. I don’t think Samarost itself was all that “original”. I’d definitely played the “click on stuff in the background to make things happen” type adventure before. In fact, that style is often used in kid’s games.

      I never understand the “This is not news” style of comment. John played the game, so he did a quick article about it. There’s not a limit on the number of things that can get covered or something.

  3. pipman3000 says:

    oh wow a clone of a game that wasn’t that good of a game in the first place (unless you like looking at pretty pictures instead of playing games then go watch the boombas or whatevr that dumb show with the genital monsters is called you’ll love it)

    ps: hi everybody i’m back.

  4. Wulf says:

    You didn’t hear the PC audience going apeshit over how Jazz Jackrabbit had some core similarities to Sonic the Hedgehog back in the day, people just pretty much enjoyed a good game.

    Because really, Jazz Jackrabbit was a homage more than it was anything else. It was hardly like The Great Giana Sisters, in which case Apogee and Epic MegaGames probably would’ve been sued thrice over. They were just trying their hand at that type of game, and really, no one owns the exclusive rights to any particular sort of game, or style of presentation.

    PC gaming is all grown up now, we’re all sensible adults, and… well, look at us now.

    Sigh.

    Anyway, this looks rather pretty and I’m going to give it a look.

  5. GhaleonQ says:

    Exactly, the soundtrack was made available free first, and it’s like a slightly worse and much less original analog to Amanita Design’s. It seems like this applies to the whole project, but I can think of many less pleasing and more lucrative goals to have than “austere graphic adventure game.”

  6. Ignorant Texan says:

    Always wondered what would make me post…

    I must say I really liked Alchemia more than Samorost, and that I thought the similarities were due to the Eastern European origins of both devs, but, hell, as my tag says, what would I know? I found Alchemia charming, and never wondered why I was progressing through the game. I thought it was Noses’ guilt at killing the Lootpecker and his attempt to make things right. Glad to know they’ve expanded the game, and will check their site. Thanks for reminding me.

  7. Bindibadgi says:

    INSTANTLY like Samorost more. There was no need for talk, just do. It’s far cuter and elegant.

    It’s less brother from another mother, more long lost twin.

  8. toro says:

    I think it looks bad. Samorost and Machinarium were stylized, but this game seems to be a collage of sprites. :)

  9. Metalfish says:

    I think people need reminding just how often someone reads/plays/watches something and thinks “I’m going to have a go at that”. Creativity and inspiration don’t happen in a vacuum.

  10. tAgore says:

    Yes.. I can’t say I found it especially confusing. Rather the opposite. In fact I thought the first episode was a bit easy if anything. The thing that really set this game apart from the Amanita oeuvre for me was that in both Samarost and Machinarium Amanita did a really good job most of the time of making the process of solving puzzles one of exploring the environment and figuring out the behaviors and mechanics of the various entities in the world. Alchemia by contrast seemed to have a large number of very “puzzle-y” puzzles that had less to do with the world at large and seemed to have more to do with “oh we should stick a puzzle here, let’s put a machine with a symbol matching/combining/decoding problem in it”.
    The art style also seemed a bit unfocused. I enjoyed the Amanita-like sprite collage approach but some of the character designs looked oddly cartoony in a different way than the rest of the game, I’m thinking particularly of the fridge dude and the alchemist here. The fact that the birdy-chopper robots quite clearly were inspired, design-wise, by Pacific Northwest Native American art styles, particularly the ghost who accompanies you through the game also was something I found a little mystifying given the complete lack of any reference to Native American art in the rest of the game.