iPad 2 App Review: Machinarium

Point-and-click  style adventure Machinarium originally started out in life as a Flash game for the PC, and is currently being adapted for use on various tablet computers. The iPad is the first to get its own version of the game, and it is specifically for use with the iPad 2; that’s right, it doesn’t work on the original iPad or the iPhone 4.

However, don’t be expecting a graphical powerhouse, or even one of those ‘enhanced for iPad 2′ apps like Dead Space HD or Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD either.  The reason Machinarium is so power hungry is the way it has been written – in Adobe AIR, or in other words, Flash.  Yes, you read that correctly, the thing Apple do their best to keep off their products still finds a way in. In an interview, the developers said AIR was the quickest way to get the game onto the iPad and other tablets; so was it worth it?

We’ll come back to that later, but first let’s take a look at Machinarium as a game. You play the part of Josef, a little robot ejected from his home, who subsequently uncovers a plot to blow up a city tower. By enlisting the help of those around him, Josef must foil the evil Black Cap Brotherhood’s plan.

The game takes the form of an escape-the-room style point-and-click adventure, except you don’t click anything, you tap. Each screen has a series of small puzzles to solve in order to set something in motion, or achieve a particular task, so you can move onto the next one. The control system is simple, with a tap to move Josef around, and another to prompt him to interact with an item.

The first thing that strikes you on starting up Machinarium is the incredible world which has been created. It will remind film fans of both Pixar’s Wall-E and Timur Bekmambetov’s 9, replacing the more apocalyptic themes of those two with a steampunk-infused alternative reality. The colour palette is filled with greys, blacks, browns and other earthy tones, and the only technology on display consists of a few wires and some very big cogs. Believe me when I say that each screen is an absolute work of art.

Machinarium‘s game world is also free of any kind of verbal interaction between the characters, at least of which we can understand, with the story told in a series of cut-scenes inside thought bubbles. Actions truly speak louder than words here, and this makes for an insular and even more thoughtful gaming experience.

Off we go then! The first couple of screens lead you in gently, with easily solved puzzles to get you used to the game’s style. For example, to gain entry to the city you need to impersonate a robotic policeman, for which you need a light bulb and a blue hat. Josef’s body can stretch a little, enabling him to grab out-of-reach objects, plus he can store items inside his body for later use. In essence, the game consists of find an object, use it here, go there, and repeat.

Now, to find objects in the original Flash game, you could use the good-old mouse pointer to hover over things until you found something to do. On the iPad however, things are a little different and unless you’re really in tune with the way Machinarium works, you’ll be aimlessly tapping away at everything in sight to solve some of the more challenging puzzles. And don’t let the fun looks deceive you, the puzzles get very, very difficult indeed!

If you’ve completed other similar games, you’ll love Machinarium‘s puzzles. If, however, you’ve thrown more than your fair share of Rubik’s Cubes out the window, then think twice about downloading this one; as the solutions need more than a little lateral thinking! A single clue is provided for each screen in the form of a slightly cryptic picture, or if you complete an arcade-style minigame, you can unlock the complete solution – again told in picture form, and often open to interpretation. See, told you it was difficult!

Machinarium is almost the very definition of absorbing, as the world is so real and the puzzles require a considerable amount of concentration to solve, you find yourself playing for several hours in one sitting, oblivious to what’s happening around you. There’s plenty of value here too, as even the most hardened adventure gamer will take several hours to complete the game.

On the downside, the controls are a bit of a pain, and it’s all too easy to keep repeating a movement you don’t want to do, just because you tapped in slightly the wrong place. Going back to Adobe AIR for a moment, Machinarium certainly did a good job of hammering the battery in my iPad 2!

The conversion from PC to iOS was absolutely worth it, and Machinarium‘s quirky nature and relaxed gameplay suits the iPad perfectly. It’s also a truly beautiful and lovingly created adventure game, and it doesn’t hold back when it comes to the brain-teasing puzzles either.  If you own an iPad 2, and have enjoyed games like the excellent Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery already, then you should be downloading it right now.

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