Machinarium, a point-and-click adventure game set in a strangely recognizable robot city, is one of the most beautiful games to hit home computers in a long time. It achieves this with the barest possible technology: colored pencil drawings, ethereal music, and crude pictograph dialogue. The atmosphere is almost filmic, like Metropolis and Jean-Pierre Jeunet filtered through The Triplets Of Belleville, but the gameplay is joyously inspired.
The story of a little robot who must escape from prison, find his girlfriend, and prevent a bomb blast is told through puzzles. Many are single-screen affairs in which everything you need is before your eyes; others have the ’bot wandering the city with an item in hand. As the puzzles reveal plot, animations reveal character. The game is essentially dialogue-free, but you’ll develop an immediate affinity for the hero, based solely on his movement and range of expression. With a shake of the head, he’ll refuse to follow impossible orders. What orders he does follow are undertaken with a sly, self-effacing physicality that belies the rudimentary animation bringing him to life.
When a solution appears maddeningly difficult, there are two ingenious hint systems. One is a simple picture that shows what you should be trying to achieve. This is less a hint than a glimpse into your robot’s thought process. The other is a book that will explicitly spell out how to solve a problem, but you’ll have to beat a little arcade game before accessing it each time.
The only serious limitation here is tied to the game’s Flash chassis. The right-click action has long been a staple of adventure gaming, to cancel actions and deselect items. That isn’t an option in Flash; it only brings up an ugly, intrusive menu. Furthermore, Flash may freeze briefly, causing you to miss frames of animation. But if Flash is what it takes for Amanita’s Jakub Dvorsky to make an uncompromised creative title on his own terms, the hiccups can be called minor.