From Amanita Design, creator of the famously brilliant Samorost series, comes Machinarium, a game so well-conceived and implemented it can confidently launch as one of the best point-and-click adventures of all time. Machinarium is nothing short of a playable piece of art. Similar to Samorost in style and gameplay, you play a lone robot thrown out of the city working his way through desolate mechanical slums. Solve puzzles, find and combine items, and encounter loads of creative characters in your quest. Machinarium is one of those rare games you can't praise enough.
Get your cursor ready, you'll need it for this game! Everything is handled with the mouse in Machinarium, all you need to do is click on objects and the robot does the rest. You have to be next to the hotspots in order to use them, so when your cursor turns into a moving pair of feet, click and our hero will waddle in that direction. You also have the ability to change height, a skill you'll need to reach some out-of-the-way objects later on.
You can't die in Machinarium, so feel free to explore all you like. If the robot can't do something, he'll shake his head "no" when you click. And, yes, it's really cute when he does so. Sometimes he'll even give you a clue in the form of a thought bubble if you try and do something that isn't (yet) possible. Little bonus touches like this are what give Machinarium such personality, and they help push along the gameplay, too.
An hour or two into the game, Machinarium suddenly opens up and presents a less linear world for you to explore. The first handful of puzzles take place one after another, each leading organically to the next. At a certain point, however, you find yourself standing in a central hub with things to do in every direction. From here on, Machinarium is more like a traditional adventure game and less like a point-and-click puzzler.
Analysis: It's obvious everyone at Amanita Designs poured their heart and soul into this game. The proof is in the music, the artwork, the puzzles, the gameplay, the interface, the story, the pacing, the animations, the character desi— you get the picture. A fine example of how the studio went well above the norm is the in-game hint system. If you're heroically stuck on a puzzle and just can't figure out how to solve it, move the cursor to the top right corner of the screen. Click the TV icon and you'll be thrown into a mini-game. Using the controls on the right side of the monitor, you move a flying key up and down in a side-scrolling world. Fire your weapon to take out enemies, avoid the walls, and make it to the lock at the end of the stage. Key + lock = comic-style sketch of how to solve the level, step by step. The only reason I can think of why Amanita did that was because it's awesome.
Each area is packed with visual detail, from intricate backgrounds to fluidly animated characters. Machinarium's world is not a still piece of scenery, it's a living, moving environment loaded with personality. There's so much to look at it can be difficult to know where to start. Somehow, though, you always catch wind of a puzzle on the screen and can manage to discover what needs to be done.
Hotspots in Machinarium, as in any point-and-click game, can be a sore point of discussion. A fine balance has to be found between cleverly hiding the next move and turning the game into a pixel hunt. Machinarium finds that balance well, though there are a few moments when you narrow your eyes because you clicked near the right place, not on it. Proximity determines which objects you can interact with, leading to a fair amount of walking back and forth, moving the cursor around to see what's there. It's all about experimenting and trial-and-error, but because the game world is so full, your curiosity is always tickled, no matter what you end up doing.
As far as length and difficulty are concerned, Machinarium (unsurprisingly) gets them just right. You rarely need the "one hint per puzzle" thought balloon, and even if you resort to the lock and key mini-game you'll slap your forehead when you see the solution. Give each puzzle your best shot before resorting to a walkthrough, as it's especially rewarding to figure out the solutions on your own. Expect a good six hours from Machinarium, more or less depending on your skill.
Machinarium is a magnificent game, and that's all I really need to say. You'll be hooked the moment you see the robot store an item in his belly.