Sunday, December 20, 2009

Machinarium - Do Flash Skills Result In Great Games?

Flash games are the bains of our bored, dead time on the internet. Whatever the menial task that we should be performing, we always fall across that one link that asks us to perform an even more degrading activity that when completed, we hold nothing but pure regret towards. Machinarium, is an adventure game that despite being developed and built solely in Flash, is not a use of time that you will equate with regret. Machinarium is the first full game release by independent Czech team ‘Aminata Design ‘, who though at first appear foremost a game studio, also seem to lead a double life as a design studio, based mainly in flash websites. The experience and skill the team have with the Flash platform is undeniable from their portfolio alone, but is the transition from mini-games and web layouts, to an immersive gaming narrative a successful one?

On the surface Machinarium’s narrative is generic in the context of most adventure games. A robot dumped in a scrap yard travels back to his home city in order to save it from peril, humorously solving quirky puzzles along the way in a point and click engine. It may sound unoriginal, but the simplicity, and even naivety of the narrative comes across as refreshing and charming amongst today’s Modern Warfaring and Uncharting. The atmosphere of the game breathes an innocence that is oddly captivating as opposed to frustrating. Part of the success of this comes from the absence of character dialogue in telling the story. Instead, speech bubbles and thought clouds lead the player through the back story leading up to the game’s opening. The real success however, is probably the comfortability of the games point and click enginge, which is familiar enough to let other factors of the game stand out. A stalemate somewhat lies here though, as it can’t be helped to think that the game could feel like something a lot greater, if it’s controls weren’t so similar to everything else.

Although the familiarity in the gameplay and the story could be enough to turn a player off to Machinarium, it’s saving grace lies in the presentation. Although the game isn’t in fact that long, the high level of detail in all of the beautifully hand drawn artwork is reminiscent of a children’s story book, or concept artwork from a Tim Burton film. Background artwork and interactive animation is seamless to the point of immersion, and the fact that the player has to at times spend a fair amount of time on the one screen solving it’s puzzle is made up for as they get lost in the detail. The accompanying soundtrack, composed in-house, is incredibly befitting of the game’s artwork and story, with a slight electronic twist on Terry S. Taylor’s soundtrack to claymation cult classic ‘The Neverhood’.

At its price point (12.50GBP 20$ 14Eur) there is more than enough in the Machinarium package. As an experience it provides everything you would want from it, keeping Adventure gamers very content. The artwork and soundtrack give that little bit extra, which if absent, there’s no doubt the praise of this review would be somewhat dampened. Aminata have proven themselves incredibly capable of making a Flash game that isn’t an utter waste of time, and playing it safe for their first full game was probably a good move. However, matching the originality of their art style with their own take on the controls and mechanics would have possibly produced something that would cause up a more significant storm and certify their place on the Adventure Games Developer map. Though achieving this whilst maintaining the charm and simplicity that makes the Machinarium so successful, is most certainly easier said than done.

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