I consider myself I dinosaur in terms of gaming and especially adventure gaming. True, my first PC was already a 4/86, 66 MHz and 4 MB RAM. I missed the era of text adventures, but I was there for the golden age of Sierra and Lucasarts, when hand-drawn graphics and FMV ruled supreme. I've punched German soldiers in Atlantis, followed Dr. Jonh into the Bayou, had my fortune read by the gypsies of Mordavia, guided Tex Murphy inside Roswell Airbase and fell off the edge of Great A'Tuin. This was before internet, online walkthroughs and torrent. When you couldn't find what to do, you had to wait for your PC magazine (or call them, in our case); these were the same people you circulated the patches. When a floppy didn't work, you would find a tech savant who would hack it and copy it and give you a new one.
People reminiscing the old days tell more about themselves and their age than they do about the glory of the past. But it's true that the heyday of adventure gaming is gone. Its popularity waned, the public having moved to RTS and first person RPGs. FMV turned out simply too expensive to make. The colourful cartoons of the past were replaced by clumsy computer rendered graphics. Most companies went either bankrupt or were bought off and eventually liquidated, their production line ceasing. The genre arrived at the brink, where it stayed for about a decade, sustained by the nostalgia of a die-hard minority of gaming fans.
There are signs of a revival, cases of modest but well-executed productions appearing along countless freeware games. Machinarium, a production of a small company based in the Czech Republic, is one of these - and a lot more than that.
You control a little robot, which, as the game begins, is unceremoniously dumped at a landfill just outside the city. Flying robots, walking robots, rust, scrap metal: The setting is alien enough that you don't need to ask where you are or what you need to go. As the game progresses, you see that the game does have a plot, and a smart one at that. In the beginning, however, moving from screen to screen, solving puzzles along the way feels good enough.
Machinarium operates on a point-and-click basis with a very easy control system - click to interact or pick up, drag and drop to use or combine inventory items. The game is structured as a set of screens, with the robot hero required to find a way to proceed from one to the next avoiding the obstacles in its way. The hero's mobility increases in the mid-game, as it finally reaches the city. Additionally, there is a great variety of puzzles and arcade-style mini games along the hero's path, expertly designed. There's also an in-game hint system, accessible after beating a simple arcade game, which explains what the player has to do in each screen in the form of a comic book.
The game's background graphics are simply stunning. The robot city looks something between a child's book and the harsh industrial setting of, say, Beneath a Steel Sky. Character animation is not amazing, but not bad either. Music has a rather discreet presence, but there are points in the games where it simply shines. There is no speech but the grunts and clanks of robots and machines, something which adds to the whole cartoonish feel of the game.
To some up, Machinarium's merit lies beyond nostalgia and the modest character of independent productions. Machinarium is an excellent game in its own merit. It has its share of problems (most importantly, its short length), but it still has a very good value for money. Its puzzles and riddles are cleverly designed, its graphics and music give it a unique feel and, above all, it has a character strongly reminiscing the adventure games of the past.