Wednesday 15 May 2013

Machinarium Review (PS Vita)

Point and click adventure games used to be the big sellers on PC. These days there are very few around with only the episodic style Sam and Max games being of relative note. New innovations have been tried with various series turning 3D and the Walking Dead certainly did a good job of creating a compelling adventure. Now though, we have Machinarium which takes the genre back to its 2D roots.

To go into the delicate plot here would spoil much of the adventure for readers. Starting out in a scrap yard the story is revealed through short comic scenes portrayed as thought bubbles of the main character. Often amusing and touching the animations add a real atmosphere to the game and it’s always clear what our little robot hero is putting across to us. It just goes to show how simple telling a good story can be when it is done in a precise and thoughtful way.

Shunning the style of new adventure games the world of Machinarium is presented in 2D with stunningly beautiful hand drawn style backgrounds and characters. The level of detail is breath taking and we can only imagine the hours that must have gone into designing the environments. Many of them you could simply screen grab and use as pictures and we expect many a Vita owner will soon be sporting their favourite screen as their consoles wall paper.

The game plays out in classic point and click style. You move a cursor around the screen to highlight objects and then collect them up in order  to solve puzzles. There are a few new gimmicks in the mix as well which helps to carve out even more of an identity for the game. For instance, our robot hero can lower or heighten himself in order to reach high shelves or reach under tables. 

There is also a hint of the Professor Layton about it as you will also have to solve a series of logic puzzles. None of these are impossible and include things like winning games of tick tack toe or getting coloured blocks into certain positions. Some of them could do with more of an explanation of what the goal of the game is though. There were also a couple of instances where colour blind players may have a bit of trouble. However, if you do hit a dead end there is a handy guide available to show you how to complete them. 

The guide is accessed from the top of the screen and requires players to navigate a small maze before unlocking. You then get the solution portrayed in sketches. It’s a nice design choice which allows for the lack of speech and text within the rest of the game to be maintained throughout. For those that don’t want to use the guide there is a hint system which, when pressed, causes your little robot to think of what he is trying to do.

Machinarium isn’t the longest game but there is absolutely no filler here. It’s such a charming title that, like the classic point and click adventures of old, it’s a story you’ll likely not mind going through again. As soon as we finished it our minds were already drawn to the ‘new game’ option to see if we could pick up on any snippets of story we didn’t quite get first time around.

The translation to the Vita has been handled pretty much as well as could be expected. To try and compensate for objects being small on screen a zoom function has been added (which works well). You also have a choice of controlling the cursor with the front or rear touch pad, as well as the left analogue stick. Needless to say the whole thing looks amazing on the Vita screen as well.

There are a few issues though. The main one is that the Vita version could do with a ‘look’ option. Often it’s difficult to work out what you have just picked up due to the small nature of the graphics and high detail level. You also often need to be in the right part of the screen to have the ‘interact’ option come up. Not a massive issue as you are normally given the ‘walk to’ option if there is something of interest, but on occasion there was something tiny we couldn’t really see that wouldn’t show up until we raised or lowered the robot. 

Even with the zoom function some things are still very small on screen and with the high level of detail displayed in each area objects can get lost. Aside from these relatively minor issues there is nothing else we could find to pick fault with.

We are being super picky because this game is a wonderful thing. It perfectly captures the magic of the classic point and click titles of the golden age of adventure gaming. The story is a wonderful thing to experience and so much of this game will have you smiling. It seems pretty clear to us that Machinarium is destined to end up being viewed as a timeless classic and added to all those lists and recaps of classic point and click games. It’s just so staggeringly lovely that we can only recommend you get it as soon as possible.


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