Machinarium [$4.99] is a treasure, judiciously and efficiently designed, with not a single pencil-drawn sprite out of place.

It was worthing playing on the PC two years ago, it will be worth playing on the PlayStation 3 later this year, and it's worthing playing on your iPad 2 right now.

The "story" of Machinarium -- Amanita Design's first full-length effort -- is unobtrusive and elegant, told entirely through the unnamed protagonist-bot's thought bubbles and context clues. There is no human speech to parse, no dialogue trees to navigate, no lengthy exposition to ignore -- Jakub Dvorsky and his team have a laser-sighted focus on puzzle design.

And what puzzles they are! Machinarium features a mix of traditional logic problems and modern, multi-step inventory manipulation puzzles that, by and large, fall into the range where challenge and critical thinking intersect. The result is a game that feels organic and internally consistent, with none of the arbitrary, "guess-what-the-designer-wants" logic that so often plagues puzzle games.

If you do happen to get stuck -- and that's ok! -- there is a two-fold hint system that should give you a nudge in the right direction: a hint system, and a full-blown (and beautifully illustrated) in-game walkthrough. The rub: the hint system is generally pretty limited, and access to the walkthrough is blocked by an intentionally awful LCD-screen shmup, which is boring and time-consuming enough to discourage the mentally lazy. (One of the iPad 2 version's quirks is that it's, y'know, impossible to alt+tab to a walkthrough, adding yet another barrier for those inclined to cut corners.)

When touch screens became a viable input device for the games industry, the consensus was that point-and-click adventures would be a natural fit. This is particularly true for Machinarium: Amanita decided to limit players' range of motion to a few actionable hotspots in each area. In other words, Machinarium dispels the need for super-precision touch controls -- the game is designed to require as little movement as necessary.

Machinarium, as a whole, is remarkably tidy. It begins with an unnamed protagonist being dumped, rather unceremoniously, on the outskirts of a city whose skyline is dominated by an ominous spire; it ends with a flashback of the events that set the game in motion in the first place. The puzzles employ a similar rolling structure: each puzzle is discrete and self-contained, but the game as a whole is tightly paced and given momentum by a set of smart, complementary design choices.

First: solving any given puzzle in Machinarium generally results in the acquisition of another inventory item that -- unbeknownst to the player -- will be critical to a later scenario. Secondly: though the town square acts as a hub for the gameworld, the bulk of Machinarium's puzzles take place inside individual rooms or buildings, i.e. on a single screen. The result is that players enter each area already armed with the necessary tools and aren't forced to travel very far to solve puzzles. Like a shark, Machinarium thrives because its design encourage progress, not stagnation -- every step.

My only real hiccup with Machinarium's high-level dynamics is that the gameworld doesn't always do enough to inform or motivate the player. For example, an early puzzle tasks players with helping a group of musicians fix their instruments, but the player has no real reason to help them except that they happen to exist in the gameworld. The game's sparse narrative components are great when it comes to contextualized story telling, but they don't particularly account for the player's need to, say, fix someone's didgeridoo. Instead, it's design by tautology: Machinarium is a puzzle game, so it should include puzzles.

Everything else in the game is beautifully realized. The puzzles, full of circuitboards, waterworks, and mechanical tinkering; the protagonist's evocative animation; the mournful soundtrack -- all of these things exist to sell the idea that a world populated entirely by robots could be plausible, and that this particular robot has something important to contribute to it. Nevertheless, there are several moments -- even after you discover the game's central conflict -- that are aren't necessarily tethered to any kind of narrative or in-game logic: puzzles are solved because they simply exist, not because it's clear that they somehow contribute to one robot's quest to save his city from ... well, bullies.

Bullies, of all things. How quaint, right?

And maybe that's why we had to help those poor, broke musicians -- because Amanita Design hopes that we're just nice people. That Machinarium is, give or take, a beautifully evocative story about playground bullying should indicate the kind of charming, understated game it is. Even the name, Machinarium, suggests a mysterious, whimsical place -- I do hope you explore it.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Nate Chatellier

    This awesome game was made entirely with Flash btw. And was the #1 paid iPad app for a while: https://skitch.com/russdogg/fa5ej/itunes

    Glad good ol' Steve changed his mind about allowing games made w/ Flash in the iOS store. Excellent game!

    • Anonymous

      ol' Steve didn't change his mind about Flash. Adobe's latest version of Flash compiles SWF's into native (armv7) code. As you can see, it's still not good enough as it requires an iPad 2 just to run a 2d puzzle game.

      • Anonymous

        You'd think after all the sales they've made across all the platforms they've offered it on, they might have hired a programmer to code it in XCode for them, instead of an Adobe AIr conversion. Then it might run on 3GS and above, not iPad 2 only….

        My iPad 2 runs this, but it's not impressive…..great game….terrible resource hunger.

    • Electrium

      It's not Flash, it's Adobe AIR.  There is a difference - you can't just load up Kongregate on an iPad 2 and play whatever.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Integrated_Runtime

  • http://matzelocal.myopenid.com/ MatzeLoCal

    "This awesome game was made entirely with Flash"
    Which is maybe the reason that it only runs on iPad2 AND that they give you the advice to completely reset/restore you iPad2 .... 
    Sorry, but that unacceptable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

      That means to reset the device and free up any memory other apps may be using.  A LOT of apps in the app store ask this of people who have issues running games that use a lot of RAM.  Don't confuse people who may think they need to wipe their iPad 2 to run the game.

      • Blueknight1st

        They also suggest that you restore your iPad. That is the part that is unacceptable.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

        I am not seeing them suggesting you restore your iPad anywhere on the app store.  They say on the app page, and I quote "If the game does not work properly after install, please try to reset your iPad2."  The offsite page they link to for those who may not know how to do this is not from their company, and only suggests restoring as a final "Nuclear" solution after soft resetting, hard resetting, and re-installation of the app.  As they didn't write the Mac-Life article about how to potentially fix general app crashes, I don't think it's fair to say they are asking you to restore your iPad to run their game.

      • http://matzelocal.myopenid.com/ MatzeLoCal

        This is because the removed the How-To-Link: http://bit.ly/btsL2G Which led to a maclife article where you can read: "Solution Five: Restore - The Nuclear Solution" 
        Anyway... it's a shame that the have such high requirements for the game... making it iPad2 only is ridiculous. There are much "heavier" games that run fine on any iPad.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Buckingham/518019273 Will Buckingham

        That is the link I was referring to.  And just because they linked to an article about possible ways to fix an app not working on your iPad does not mean THEY want you to restore your iPad.  That article has four other ways that are almost guaranteed to work well before the "nuclear" option, and the only one they actually tell you to do ON THE APP PAGE is to reset the device.  You're blaming them for linking to an article giving more information than is required, which is the petty behavior of someone wanting to find something wrong that isn't there.

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Flash bullshit aside, the game itself is really awesome. But I know people will use this as a debate platform... Hopefully the focus isn't too shifted. The artwork is uniquely awesome, the mood and games really transport you. I highly recommend!

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Flash bullshit aside, the game itself is really awesome. But I know people will use this as a debate platform... Hopefully the focus isn't too shifted. The artwork is uniquely awesome, the mood and games really transport you. I highly recommend!

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Flash bullshit aside, the game itself is really awesome. But I know people will use this as a debate platform... Hopefully the focus isn't too shifted. The artwork is uniquely awesome, the mood and games really transport you. I highly recommend!

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    Flash bullshit aside, the game itself is really awesome. But I know people will use this as a debate platform... Hopefully the focus isn't too shifted. The artwork is uniquely awesome, the mood and games really transport you. I highly recommend!

  • Amrulez

    Why is it this game can not run on an iPhone? The new Unreal engine games look better and they can run on my iPhone but this 2D game can't?

    • Mitchard

      Two reasons,
      One this is a flash game recompiled to run on an iPad, it was made by designers not engineers, such is the nature of the app store.
      Two, believe it or not hi-res 2D games can actually be MORE resource intensive than flashy 3D games, especially on a device with low RAM like the ipad.

  • Amrulez

    Thanks for the explanation

  • Relytgninroht

    Why'd your review take so long? Were you waiting for bug fixes or did you have a hard time with it?

  • Anonymous

    Yeah this looks nice. Shame it doesn't run on iPad 1 - means I cannot buy it. Shame they used a technology that limits their potential sales - guess they can still do well from iPad 2 only - but huge sales lost from not being on iPhone.

  • http://twitter.com/chaosz911 René de Groot

    It's really an awsome game, but the fact that it cannot run on an iPad1 is, nicely put, strange. It suggests a lazy port to iOS and a missed opportunity imho.

  • Dave

    At the end of your review it should say (iPad 2 only).

    Were this not the case I would have picked it up already. It is a shame it could not be made to run on the orignal iPad. 

  • mzinn

    This game took me a little time to get into. I think i was trying to get far too fast. Once i slowed down & just took it all in I really started to enjoy it. I will say some of the "puzzles" are too hard for someone like me that gets frustrated at times. But very solid game & pretty cool all around. Give it some time & enjoy. Its worth it.

Machinarium Reviewed by Joseph Leray on . Rating: 5