Every now and then you get chance to experience a game that is so artfully beautiful it’s difficult to spot the quality of the game beneath. Last year we had Limbo, a black and white side scrolling part puzzle, part exploration, part je ne sais quoi title that dispelled speech or communication of any kind to deliver a mysterious masterpiece that still lingers in my head even now. This year’s equivalent? Machinarium, a game that iPad owners may know pretty well already.
Transferring a game from iOS to consoles is a dangerous game and doesn’t always work out all that well, but Machinarium is a perfect example of just how it should be done. Maintaining the hand drawn style that made the iPad version so well loved, the fantastic visuals are immediately apparent as soon as you’re dropped with a pile of trash and searching for your missing limbs.
I should probably explain, your main character is a robot. The story is intentionally unobtrusive, and for decent periods of time you enjoy the picture-based and language-free thought bubbles without having much of a clue quite what your final goal is. But for some reason that doesn’t matter in the slightest, because it’s the puzzles themselves that take centre stage in amongst the hand-drawn world you find yourself in. With a mix of straight forward problem solving and mind bendingly challenging puzzles there will be a lot throughout the game for you to think about, even when you’ve turned the PS3 off and gone to do something else. It gets under your skin, makes you care about this little unknown robot dude and what he’s trying to achieve.
When you get stuck (because it will happen, whether you like it or not) there’s a two level help system available. The quick hint shows you a picture of what you need to aim for without telling you how to make any progress – handy if you’ve no idea if you’re in the right place, but it won’t give you any help in terms of specific steps to moving on. This is left for the locked book, always available and providing more detailed steps for each and every problem you’ll face, but coming at a price: an intentionally boring and crappy side scrolling mini game where you get the key to the lock by shooting spiders. It’s no challenge whatsoever, but it’s not meant to be. The game is there to prevent players from dipping into the help system for every puzzle, instead giving more reasons to sit, stare at the screen and try to work out exactly how to go about the task in hand. It’s a huge challenge, and one that some might get annoyed with, but give yourself some time to think logically about what needs to be done and most people will get there in the end.
Some puzzles seem to exist for the sake of existing though, without a clear tie-in with the storyline even after it starts to become slightly clearer beyond half way. At one stage you need to help a small band of musicians for no reason other than just being a nice guy/robot/thing and although it eventually leads to gaining some kit that helps you with the main line of problems it feels a bit disjointed.
But this is picking holes really. Half the beauty of Machinarium is the pacing of the puzzles and the way they end up interacting with each other over the course of the game. The other beautiful half which encompasses the styling is bolstered by a gentle soundtrack which only goes to enhance the feeling of loss and wonder that you’ll feel from the environment and characters met along the way. It’s an experience which is quite rare in modern console games, and takes a leap away from the idea of filling a game full of bangs and whistles just to get some attention.
So, take one of the year’s best iOS games and bring it to the PS3. The result? One of the year’s best PS3 games. Worth every penny.
Reviewed on PS3