Hot on the heels of #LoveYourBacklog comes #MaybeInMarch. Last month, Ellen from Ace Asunder and I encouraged bloggers everywhere to talk about their video game libraries, and now we’re challenging you to play the game that’s been waiting on it the longest.
For the first event in March 2019, I managed to complete LIMBO and was left scratching my head after coming up with a few theories about its ending. This was followed by Thomas Was Alone in 2020 which I didn’t fare so well with: I ended up putting the title to one side after around four hours because I’d had enough. Although I have a few entries from the genre on my in my Steam library, I don’t often pick up or regularly play platformers because they’re just not my cup of tea.
Realising I wouldn’t have to attempt yet another one this this year’s #MaybeInMarch was therefore something of a relief. There was still a choice to be made though as the releases which had been waiting for me the longest this time around were part of a bundle I’d purchased back in July 2013. Would I go for Dragon’s Lair, The Cave, Papa & Yo, Machinarium, Still Life, Still Life 2 or The Path? After some deliberation, I decided to try Amanita Design’s 2009 point-and-click Machinarium.
This wasn’t the first time I’d played it however, as I’d previously got a taste while hanging out with friend-of-the-blog Phil at his apartment one weekend eight years ago. We’d started Machinarium on his iPad but didn’t manage to finish it before I had to leave, so I bought it for myself shortly afterwards. You know what it’s like though; it’s far too easy to get distracted by other games, and one which has never been touched before is always more appealing than one which has already been started.
The story centres on sweet-looking robot Josef after he is dumped on a scrapheap outside his city. After managing to put himself back together and get inside again, he discovers that the Black Cap Brotherhood bullies have kidnapped his girlfriend and are planning to blow up the central tower. It’s up to our hero to put a stop to their dastardly scheme, get rid of the evil gang, rescue the head of the city and fly off into the sunset with his lady, while helping the other robots he meets along the way. That’s just the nice kind of guy he is.
The release’s highlight is its artwork. Everything was drawn by right-handed artist Adolf Lachman using his left so the world wouldn’t look too perfect. This style along with the cut-out animation, a technique were parts of a character’s body are painted separately before being animated frame-by-frame, give both the city and its inhabitants an awful lot of character. Picking up Machinarium again after so many years felt like being warmly welcomed back to place I’d visited a long time ago.
The fact that the entire story is told without words is testament to how well the game is designed. Forget sitting through the long dialogues and conversation trees you may expect from the adventure genre; speech bubbles are used to convey the characters’ thoughts and this provides plenty of opportunity for humour. Leave Josef alone for too long and you’ll catch him reminiscing about a previous time with his girlfriend, such as their date at an oil container or when she gave him a birthday cake.
As for the puzzles, the protagonist can extend and shrink his body in size to get to objects and locations initially out of reach – but although this sounds like a central mechanic, it only makes an appearance in several challenges and feels as though it could have featured more frequently. Saying that though, there’s a nice mix of both inventory and environmental conundrums so there’s no chance to get bored, and the solutions for these are never illogical despite usually requiring some thinking.
Some puzzles would likely have been more intuitive if I’d been using a touchscreen to play Machinarium rather than a mouse, but I wouldn’t say that any of them are bad. My solitary gripe with the entire game was that hotspots only became active if Josef was standing right next to them. It’s easy to take it to mean ‘no’ when you click on something on the opposite side of the screen and the robot shakes his head, when he’ll actually do what you’re asking him to if you tell him to walk over there first.
I managed to complete the title in one stream session thanks to some kind little nudges in the right direction from Phil and DavieVanPeer in Twitch chat. It’s the best #MaybeInMarch game I’ve experienced so far and not only because it wasn’t ‘yet another platformer’ this year. LIMBO may have had us thinking about its conclusion and Thomas Was Alone’s narrator elicited some giggles with his humour, but Machinarium was far more endearing that my last two experiences.
Would I say it’s the best point-and-click I’d ever played though? It’s good but I don’t think I’d go that far. The robot-saves-city story just isn’t deep enough for me because it’s the narrative aspect of gaming that I enjoy the most, even though I did have fun during my six-and-a-half hours with the game. It’s still worth picking up if you’re a fan of the genre who hasn’t tried it yet however, because there’s just something incredibly charming about Josef and the world he lives in.
As mentioned above, Machinarium was my pick from several for the current #MaybeInMarch. It was a tough choice between this and Dragon’s Lair because they were both games I’d had some previous experience with despite not completing. I installed the latter last night before drafting this post and, if my short attempt is anything to go by, it’s still as difficult as I remember it being. Perhaps it will make an appearance in an upcoming stream so you can see how bad I am at quick-time events (QTEs).
So what’s in store for the next #MaybeInMarch? I’ll have another choice to make next year, but at least I already know it isn’t a platformer!