Machinarium is unique in so many ways, which makes it difficult to write about. It's also one of those games that is best experienced firsthand rather than after reading a spoiler-ridden review. As much as I'd like to lecture on about something that impacted me so greatly, I'm left with very little to work with; but what's there to discuss paints a picture of a masterpiece.
Visually, Machinarium takes a Victorian children's book illustration style and blends it with dystopian psuedo-steampunk imagery. It's not only as striking as that description suggests but it adds layer upon layer to the gameplay and storyline. Characters and scenes are beautifully hand-drawn and painstakingly animated to bring life to the citizens of the eponymous metropolis. When I say life, I mean it metaphorically as the cast are entirely robotic; their endearing movements and actions convince you that they're genuine creatures, acting out of circuitry or as puppets.
The whole game is a juxtaposition. The pure and sweet protagonist stands brightly against the grim, dank underbelly of the city whilst the dark despair of obsolescence and helplessness is often paired with love and hope. There's a great story to be discovered without ever uttering a single word, written or spoken. That alone is a remarkable feat but the characters you meet along the way are just as impressively fleshed. From the musical troupe in need of new instruments to the brutish and bullying pair that serve as antagonists; so many moments will ring in your mind when you reminisce years later, which is a powerful statement.
I don't personally enjoy point and click adventures very often as I find they can sometimes be generic, predictable and require great leaps in logic. There are always exceptions, especially when it comes to LucasArts game, but lumping Machinarium into that category does little to help explain just why it's something every gamer should experience. It's on a par with the bests but ultimately nothing like them except in some key ingredients. The puzzles are frequent and never bordering on torturous like say 7th Guest, but they will certainly test you at times. It's a story-focused experience without sacrificing those times where you need to take a step back and hope for a eureka moment.
There are moments where I wish you could walk across scenes a little faster, but the protagonist's gentle hobbling is endearing and easily forgiven. Puzzles that prove an irritation are quickly overshadowed by the sheer genius of the next. I'd have liked less of the retro-gaming elements but that comes down purely to preference. I can raise minor criticisms but there are no dealbreakers, nothing that will make distract from how compelling it becomes to see through Josef's quest to reunite with his girlfriend. What Machinarium does, it does extremely well.
As with many games of the genre, it's a fairly brief journey, clocking in at around two hours if you're adept. It's not the longest game by any means and the ending is abrupt and slightly underwhelming but it manages not to overstay its welcome. The brevity does nothing to impact a powerful tale that had me smiling at several moments; you can put a value on the length of a game but it's much harder to put a value on something that makes you feel.
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