Machinarium for iPad
There’s no shortage of cute robots in the App Store—or on the Internet at large, come to think of it. Nevertheless, Machinarium, a classic point-and-click adventure game from Amanita Design, offers a truly unique experience with more heart than the average tin man.
In typical adventure game fashion, each room in Machinarium requires you to solve a puzzle, moving you forward in an overarching narrative. On your way to find your ladyfriend and thwart a dastardly plot by some robo-bullies, you’ll scan the environments for items to interact with, combine objects in your inventory (which you store in your wee robot belly), and solve a variety of brain-teasers (like beating a barfly at Connect Four to get an item you need).
In terms of graphics and sound, Machinarium manages to feel both electronic and organic. The hand-painted visuals of industrial landscapes and mechanical characters feel both cartoony and believable in their texture and detail. Flashbacks within animated thought balloons offer charming and oddly touching glimpses into characters’ histories—like seeing bigger robots pick on the protagonist—communicated through grunts, gestures, and pictures instead of words.
The soundtrack, meanwhile, blends elements of ambient electronica, jazz, and dubstep, among other genres, depending on the personality of the people and places you explore. In combination with the visuals, the the music and sound effects create a sense of a living (if not quite “breathing”) city. Rarely does a game feel so thematically and aesthetically unified.
There’s a price to be paid for this level of detail: Machinarium only runs on the iPad 2, with its more powerful A5 processor.
Machinarium does occasionally suffer from the pitfalls common to its genre. Puzzles can sometimes feel unfairly obtuse, requiring you to read the designers’ minds more than observe the environment. Even on the clear display of the iPad, some objects you’ll interact with will be so small that it’s easy to miss them. Worse, it’s not uncommon to tap around an interactive object, but still get no response at first.
All of that said, it’s easy to forgive Machinarium for its flaws because the game itself is so forgiving to you. Every screen offers one brief clue, accessed by touching a light bulb in the corner of the screen. If you get really stuck, there’s even a built-in walkthrough in the form of a tome with an electronic lock.
Play through a short, side-scrolling shooting game, and open to a page with a comic strip detailing the current puzzle’s solution. It could be easy for this to feel like a cop-out, allowing the game to play itself for you. Later puzzles, however, require you to work on multiple rooms simultaneously, so looking at one solution won’t necessarily spoil the entire path forward. The hint system offers just enough of a barrier to discourage you from overusing it, while still being easier and more immersive than putting down the game to search for walkthroughs online.
Overall, Machinarium offers simple characters with believable personality, a sense of humor and empathy alike, music so good you’ll stop playing just to groove along, and a system of clues that proves the designers actually care about your time. In other words, it feels a lot more human than its rusty veneer may suggest.
[Jason Tocci is a writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.]