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I’m a big admirer of Czech animated movies. The Czech school of animation really perfected the thing that is so great about this medium – making the most real behave unreal. First, start by reconstructing frame by frame our experiences with objects like plants, machines, and all types of grit. And then twist them around and attribute with a completely different nature. In this kind of manner, the game Machinarium by Jakub Dvorak and Amanita Design offers us a whole city created and inhabited by a population of machines – a world where everything is at least a bit alive (sometimes more animal than human), but at the same time remains made of worn-out metal and undergoes all kinds of processes that we usually connect to inanimate objects.

If that notion alone didn’t stir your imagination enough then look at the images from the game – Machinarium is truly a sight to behold. What you see is three years of dedicated work on stylish movie-quality animated art with a crispiness of details very rare in 2D titles. The prevalent technique used here is actually the modern version of the ages-old cutouts animation and the fluidity achieved with it would make Disney jealous. So the fact that it all belongs to a fully interactive game is amazing. While not as eye-catching as the visuals the music and machine sounds of the machine city are perfect in their own right. The soundtrack is unique and  all full of whimsy, atmosphere and surprises. We even get to listen to a robotic street orchestra first tuning their instruments and then performing live for us.

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The story unravels very gradually and is quite straightforward overall. As it begins our hero is literally in pieces and being thrown out to a junkyard beyond the city walls. His goal is to reassemble oneself, then go back (at the beginning it is not clear why) and deal with a gang of dangerous mechanical hoodlums, as well as fix the damage they already done in the past. In the process our hero will  meet a large number of unique, quirky robot characters that bring their little stories and problems to the tale, and even locate his abducted romantic interest. While those side-stories don’t affect the main course of the narrative too much – they’re the heart and soul of Machinarium. For example, at one point you will start to wonder about the robots’ relationship with plants, and many other times you will get to try the ingenious contraptions they use for their everyday lives. The robot language is interesting – it includes inarticulate sounds that showcase emotions, but basically everyone communicates in some kind of telepathic ideograms. Even machine religion is represented in the game (and appropriately cultivated by the clock). In short, Machinarium offers a good slice of life like it would be if we all were robots and our joints would get quickly inoperable without constant maintenance and suitable amounts of oil.

The game has a few shortcomings though. One problem is the interface. Walking has no built-in path-finding – the hero is fixed to several predetermined spots in each location he visits. What’s worse you can only command interactions with objects that are within your little robot hero’s reach from where he is standing. Perhaps this is intended to be a part of puzzle-solving as your robot can be stretched vertically, extend his arms, and in general operate like a machine with a designed range. Nevertheless, this limitation will be annoying for many players and makes the proceedings more complicated.

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The most controversial aspect of the gameplay, however, are the puzzles. I’m not saying they are bad, but they are very much rooted in the traditions of escape-the-room browser-based games among which Amanita Design had its first big success (the Samorost series). In consequence, there is a lot of trial-and-error experimentation without clear goals, desperate pixel-hunting, and unlocking doors through mind-numbing logic puzzles (based on classic board and logic games for the most part,  e. g. match-5). What’s more, some puzzles are timed, there is one (not that tough) sound puzzle, and finally the game doesn’t shy away from arcade mini-games – one of which is both unavoidable and rather long. All of these will gather considerable criticism from the picky, core adventure gamers, however Machinarium’s challenges weren’t necessarily made for them. There is a whole new audience on the raise that loves such considerably difficult and patience-demanding puzzles. Besides, Machinarium offers a pretty cool hint system that doesn’t make you feel ashamed if you use it.

Overall, Machinarium could be a little bit more considerable in the gameplay and interaface aspects, a bit more deep as far as the main storyline goes, but it is still a delightful visit to a world of rusty robotic beauty.

A bonus comment to amend for my previous somewhat detached description of the puzzles: I actually DO think Machinarium has some extra-enjoyable ones, especially among the inventory-based. And the absolute genius concept+execution combo was the puzzle with the giant, snoring FAN!

Igor’s Score: 4pistol2/5 starks

The “pistol2” is for the great feel of being in a real robotic city

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