It’s a tale as old as time. But before this gets too soppy, I am of course talking about love. And it’s that love in Machinarium that motivates our main hero on his quest to rescue his girlfriend. You play as Josef the robot, who sets out to save his other half, Berta, who has been kidnapped by the villainous Black Cap Brotherhood gang. It’s quite an adventure that awaits our little tin hero too, filled with dangerous obstacles, nasty villains and some weird and wacky locals.
Some of you may be familiar with Machinarium, as it was originally released way back in 2009 for the PC. In the years that followed, it made its way to many platforms, including mobile and handheld devices, but never graced an Xbox console. Until now that is.
Partly thanks to a cult following, and widespread praise from critics, Machinarium is a point and click puzzle adventure which picked up numerous awards along its journey, grabbing everything from top soundtrack to best overall game. It all sounds very promising so far then.
The game starts with Josef hurtling towards a rubbish heap from the top of a very tall tower. It’s clear that where he lands is a huge junkyard full of spare parts and abandoned robots. Not exactly ideal then. It’s from here where he must battle his way back to Berta.
Thanks to the point and click nature of Machinarium, Josef is pretty simple to control and it’s easy to get the hang of things. He can extend if you click his head (or use the right thumbstick) and then this allows you to collect any objects within reach. You can move by hovering your cursor over your destination and hitting A. Whether it’s stretching, walking, or something else entirely, your cursor will change to an appropriate symbol when it is possible to take such action.
Some items you collect can be combined too – remembering this is crucial to solving many puzzles as you venture on. Your inventory is shown across the top of the screen when you scroll the cursor up to it, or you can use the left thumbstick on the Xbox controller. If you scroll to the bottom of the screen, you can access the main menu (alternatively you can press the menu button).
As Machinarium is a puzzle game, you may find yourself stuck. And trust me, you will. Thankfully then, you’re offered help in two ways. Firstly, you are gifted one hint per level, which is represented by a light bulb at the end of your inventory bar. This is designed to nudge you in the right direction. Secondly, there is a walkthrough book just next door to the hint bulb which will depict a step by step comic of what you will need to do. However, to unlock the book you need to play through a short arcade-esque side-scrolling shooter first. This is a fresh way of building in a help mechanic to a puzzle game, which works well. The only downside to this is the lack of variation, as you’ll play the same stage each time to unlock the walkthrough which differs from screen to screen. Don’t get too complacent though, as even after using both of these aids, I still got stuck in several parts of the game.
As you solve each puzzle, watching Josef navigate his surroundings is a beautiful spectacle. He’s a clumsy thing, but utterly charming, and bursting with character right down to how he stores what he finds in his metal chest by eating it whole. He will also reminisce about his time with Berta throughout the game, which strikes a beautiful chord, hitting somewhere between light-hearted and mournful.
It’s not just Josef who impresses, and in Machinarium the moody, watercolour effect visuals and eerie soundtrack fully immerse you in the game world. It’s not an attractive environment in the traditional sense of the word; it’s a grim, murky, dark and depressing location that Josef finds himself in. However, the way developer Amanita Design realises this world makes it beautiful to look at.
Another of the great things about Machinarium is how simple its puzzles seem at first, only for you to discover how intricate and clever they are. You’ll have plenty of light bulb moments, and there will also be times where you’ll be tricked into thinking the solution is more simple than it actually is. It’s great game design and there are no cheap deaths here either. In fact, you can’t die – which is good because I’m not sure I could deal with that considering how attached I’ve become to Josef.
I’m ashamed to say I had never even heard of Machinarium before starting this review. However, now I understand the hype. It’s an indie game in the truest sense of the word which carves out its own distinct identity. It’s just a shame it has taken so long to make the journey over to Xbox One.
Machinarium on Xbox One is a beautiful, stylish little puzzler that provides a real challenge. More important than that, however, is the fact that it immerses you in a fascinating and mysterious world that is an absolute pleasure to explore.