Tag Archives: Machinarium

2016 Game Review Haiku, #74 – The Quest for the Rest

2016-gd-games-completed-the-quest-for-the-rest

A far-out landscape
Choppy Polyphonic Spree
Songs, still uplifting

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.

Samorost has always been and always will be pleasantly weird

samorost 1 final impressions gd

The surprising news the other day was that Samorost 3 is on its way, launching on PC and Mac on March 24, 2016. That’s awesome. I mean, to be honest, I haven’t really thought about the Samorost series in a good long while. I played Samorost 2 way back in the day (circa 2010, when I was moving out of my studio apartment), and only just realized with the latest news that I never touched the first in the series, though I did bang my head against a wall for hours in Machinarium, less in Botanicula. Suffice to say, I like Amanita Design’s games, as weird as they are, and I want to eventually play them all.

That’s why I headed over to the developer’s website, where you can play the first Samorost for free in your browser. It’s fairly short, depending on how good of a clicker and puzzle solver you are, and it’s more about interacting with the environment than controlling the space gnome directly. The story for the premiere entry in the series is that an asteroid is on a direct course to crash into the gnome’s home planet, and he will do whatever it takes to not let that happen. And so you’ll travel to this asteroid, which is full of life and machinery and isn’t just some hunk of rock hurling its way towards death and destruction, and try to change its path. You do it by clicking, deducing.

Almost instantly, you’ll find yourself in a strange, surreal world with Samorost, where common combines with odd, solving somewhat leisurely puzzles that occasionally require a bit of extra thinking and clicking. Paying attention to everything happening on screen is vital to making progress, even if it is as minor as bugs making noises or the way a signpost is facing. Sometimes it is difficult to take everything in when you are presented with this gorgeous, stunning mix of reality and artwork. At times, it can be jarring, like the screenshot above, but for the most part it becomes the norm, and you begin to believe in this strange planet and wonder how these critters and beings survive and whether or not they also know they are on a bad path to their own demise. Well, I did.

Thankfully, the day was saved, as well as the space gnome’s home. I just skimmed my review of Samorost 2 to remind me what happened next, and it involved a dog getting kidnapped by aliens. I wonder what the plot to Samorost 3 will be; truthfully, it doesn’t matter, because this is the sort of point-and-click adventure game where what’s on the screen and getting to the next one to see more wild imagination come to life is the reward. I’m sure something will drive the space gnome forward, but it’s not essential for me to care about. It’s the journey that matters, and the locations so far are absolutely stunning in their strangeness, their ability to be unnatural and yet familiar, a place one could live in if that was their role in life.

Between this and Night in the Woods, 2016 is shaping up to be stellar for adventure games. I also need to get around to Oxenfree and Firewatch at some point as well. Too many amazing titles to try, not enough time. Such is life, when you are not a space gnome.

Ridding a lambent tree of every evil, parasitic creature

botanicula pc early impressions gd

Originally, despite having owned a copy of Botanicula for a good while now, I was planning to experience it firsthand raw, in the flesh, during my Extra Life stream in this past October. However, when I went to load it up, something turned wonky with my streaming program and was not able to capture footage despite being able to capture other windowed games prior. Instead of sitting there and pounding my head against a metaphoric wall, I moved on to another title to keep the action hot, but always planned to get back to Amanita Design’s bug-based point-and-click adventure game.

So, what’s the narrative all about? Botanicula centers around a rag-tag group of tree-dwelling creatures searching for the last seed of their home, a giant tree unfortunately infested by evil parasites. Sure, this excursion sounds ultra serious and something the U.S. EPA could get behind, but there’s a great deal of humor to eat up thanks to the game’s zany five heroes and creative critter designs. For the first half of the adventure, the game’s environments and clickable bugs are bright and amusing (for example, the tambourine bug above), though things get pretty dark by the end, both figuratively and literally. Either way, it’s a straightforward story with a lot of personality, but few surprises–and that’s okay. It’s good versus evil, life versus nature, cute bugs versus villainous spiders.

Gameplay-wise, Botanicula is a puzzle game, one that often asks the player to think outside the box. That said, many puzzles simply devolve down to clicking/tapping on the most obvious of things on the screen (the bugs themselves, large plants, strange items) and watching what happens; generally, something happens. There is no in-game hint system or even text-on-screen guide to point players in the right direction, but the puzzles never got to the place where progress felt unmovable. Every screen has a number of tiny secrets to discover, too. My favorite section was about midway through the journey, when the gang arrives in a large village of problematic onion houses, asked to gather a number of birds to help run a machine. The puzzles here were sometimes isolated to a single house, while others gave you items to use elsewhere. Still, this is more a point-and-click exploration romp than an adventure game.

Let’s pause and talk about Botanicula‘s soundtrack. Which is astounding. The constantly unpredictable and tinkling audio is supplied by the Czech band DVA and is peppered throughout the game in numerous ways. Some scenes are interactive, with you making the music by bouncing on mushrooms or clicking bugs in a certain order, while other tunes are rewards for solving a puzzle or making some insect happy. It’s all very pleasing, except when it is scary, and then it is terrifying.

Last year, I finally got around to playing–and completing–Machinarium, which is truthfully no easy task. Some of those puzzles were absolutely maddening, and yet I couldn’t not solve them. Amanita Design’s games brim with color and character, not to mention colorful characters, and the switch from robots to bugs in Botanicula does little to change that hard-earned fact. I think I ended up looking up a single puzzle solution this time around, and it turned out I was on the right track to solving it myself, but just didn’t take it all the way there. Your inventory never becomes bloated, and it is usually pretty clear where you need to go or what you need to collect to move forward.

In total, Botanicula took about three to four hours to get through, and I ate it up in a single sitting over the Thanksgiving break while enjoying some quiet time down at my father’s place in South Jersey. As you go along and encounter all the various friendly/non-friendly insects, you collect animated cards of them; if I had been playing a Steam version, I think those are all related to Achievements. Anyways, I didn’t collect them all by the time the credits rolled, but I got enough to open up two bonus menu items after completing the game. I might YouTube what you get for collecting all the cards. Either way, I’m so glad I finally got around to ridding this tree of evil bugs; it was an odd little trip, but without a doubt memorable.

A mysterious hatch leads to trouble in BNKR

bnkr game final thoughts

I’m attracted to games with strange names or, at the very least, strangely written names. For instance, ^_^XIII, Viewtiful Joe, and Big Mutha Truckers 2: Truck Me Harder. Some quick complete transparency though: I’ve never played that last title, but just the sound of it alone, the way it rolls off your tongue and hangs in the air like some glowing, ethereal angel, has me curious. But yeah, if your game’s title is non-traditional and a bit bizarre, then you already have my attention, which is really helpful when sorting through game jam lists, too. And all that is just to slip into talking about BNKR, a point-and-click game by Piter Games not from Philip K. Dick and not from some recent jam, but just out there, waiting for you to devour.

Here’s the deal: the world was once populated by humans, but now only androids roam the bereft towns and buildings, constantly searching for fuel vital for survival. One day, a hatch opens, demanding whatever lies beneath it to be explored. You play as an unnamed–yet numbered–android with a digitalized male voice who goes down the ladder to see if there is anything worth salvaging.

Not counting the first hub area, which is a small, closed off town in the form of an overhead map with a few buildings to explore, most of BNKR is played from first person perspective. Er, I mean…first android perspective. Thank you, thank you. No, please, I’m happy to sign autographs. Anyways, you can click to move from scene to scene or interact with your surroundings and items in the inventory. A changing cursor alerts you if there’s something worth investigating. And that’s it gameplay-wise, which is fine, as it’s very short, though I’ll admit it took me much longer than probably others to complete it as I got stuck on two less-than-clear puzzles. Spoiler: you can find the third piece of mirror glass hidden between a desk’s drawers, as well as the other half of the broken key in a vent near the ceiling out in the main hallway. There, that should help greatly.

BNKR is a beautiful, desolate world. Also: very gray. You wouldn’t be wrong to immediately think of Machinarium or Primordia immediately, to compare in looks. There’s some light narration atop some striking artwork, and the voice of the robot you control is both human and not, which only helped draw me in more. It’s a strange combination of familiar and foreign, with the robot’s comments on things like levers and desks and photos of once-living humans little puzzles themselves. You can tell that the robot is a little sad, a little unsure. You can mildly interact with another android at the beginning of the game, but other than that, you’re searching solo; I think more droid-on-droid interaction would have been nice–hey now–as well as some dialogue trees to help fill in story gaps. Other than a couple of really well hidden items, the puzzles are pretty easy to figure out if you keep on clicking, and you can probably breeze through the game in about ten or fifteen minutes.

Alas, BNKR ends right as it just starts getting good plot-wise, and so I’ll have to keep looking for whatever comes from the people at Piter Games, as finding out what’s actually inside that opened hatch is just the tip of the post-apocalyptic iceberg.

Josef the robot’s journey to stop the Black Cap Brotherhood

machinarium final ps3 impressions

In a perfect world, I would’ve continued playing Machinarium on the PC and without a walkthrough minimized on my laptop, hidden but always there at the ready. However, the deed is done, and I finally played through Amanita Design’s gorgeous automaton-themed point-and-click adventure game on the PS3, using a visual (and sometimes video) guide at nearly every step. This makes me hesitate to say that I “beat” it, but I guess I did, as I saw all there was to see, including the credits, and managed to solve a puzzle or two all on my own though I know in my heart of hearts that I never would have escaped the titular city without outside assistance.

Machinarium starts with our little robot Josef disassembled and tossed aside outside the city. As he puts himself together and makes his way back to mechanical civilization, a plot appears: the Black Cap Brotherhood is up to no good, bullying many and keeping Josef’s girl kidnapped in a small kitchen, as well as planting a bomb somewhere else in the city. At least that’s what I’ve put together based on playing the whole game all the way through, as well as some secondary sources to fill in the gaps. Since the game lacks any kind of straightforward narration, both in text and voice, it’s a lot of guessing what’s going on, though the single screen plot problems are generally very obvious.

To progress, you point and click. Except I’m playing Machinarium on the PlayStation 3, so instead you move a cursor with the analog stick and press a button. However, the end results are still the same. Unlike many other adventure games, you can’t just swoop the cursor across a screen to see where all the interactive items are and click until all have been grabbed; everything is relative to Josef, and items only light up if he is next to it and the right height. See, Josef can stretch up to be taller or squat down to be smaller, and finding certain items or solutions is often dependent on his size. I really like this, as it adds a certain realism to a game stark with sci-fi and steampunk, but it also makes for very challenging, sometimes frustrating gameplay. To learn that you were on the right track with a puzzle solution, but because Josef was standing a foot to the left was unable to see your idea come to fruition is a big bummer.

I appreciate the commitment by Amanita Design to a voiceless world, which shows in the hint and in-game walkthrough systems. If you select “hint,” Josef will use a think-bubble animation to show a clue for one of the puzzles on the screen, though the clue itself is not always clear and direct. For the “in-game walkthrough,” you have to play a mini-game wherein you control a key and shoot spiders in your way towards a keyhole; once beaten, you open up a book to an illustrated walkthrough that, again, is not always clear and direct, and because I’m playing on the PS3 and not sitting directly in front of my monitor, it can be hard to see what is what and what is where. The zoom function is nice, but it doesn’t zoom in far enough, if you ask me and my bad eyes.

I found most of the item-based puzzles to be relatively straightforward, if a bit tricky if you didn’t spot that one item you needed hidden in the corner of the room. However, the logic puzzles to open doors, locks, elevators, projectors, etc were beyond stumping. Took me back to my high school math class days, where I’d sit staring at a piece of graph paper, no idea how to even begin. Many broke my brain and detracted from the experience because as soon as I saw a panel of switches or knobs or lights and wires, I went right to the Internet to watch somebody else do it for me.

That grudgingly said, this game is worth seeing. Yes, yes, yes it is. Whether you have to pound your head against a wall until the solutions ooze out your ears, “cheat” and play the key mini-game to unlock the illustrated walkthrough provided by Amanita Design, or simply use an outside walkthrough that clearly says “use object A with object F to see the robot do a Hadoken.” However you need to go about it–go about it. Machinarium‘s visuals are a pure delight to take in; hand-drawn visuals mixed with fun, Pixar-like robot designs, and a soft, rusty color scheme really help sell the world as a cohesive state. There’s always stuff in the foreground and background to observe, and I love how rooms would just appear if you poked Josef’s head through a window or hole, materializing right before your eyes. If you can, let Josef go idle, and you’ll get to take a glimpse into some of his happier memories.

I guess now I just have to wait for Samorost 3 to come out. Hopefully the puzzle-solving areas of my brain have recovered by then…

2013 Game Review Haiku, #39 – Machinarium

2013 games completed machinarium

Josef the robot
Out to stop a bomb, only
If it’s in his reach

These little haikus proved to be quite popular in 2012, so I’m gonna keep them going for another year. Or until I get bored with them. Whatever comes first. If you want to read more words about these games that I’m beating, just search around on Grinding Down. I’m sure I’ve talked about them here or there at some point. Anyways, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry.

You say you want a Tekken Revolution

gaming-tekken-revolution-screenshot-6

Last night, I switched on my DownloadStation 3 to see what I should grab next and add to my growing digital collection of games that I worry I’ll never get time to actually play. Yes, first-world pains and all that, but really now, the amount of free games being tossed into my face on a weekly basis is staggeringly frustrating. And now the Xbox 360 is getting in on the action with Fable III and more to come. Please pray for my well-being. Anyways, upon seeing that Uncharted 3 is a…40 gig download, which would probably take me an entire weekend to download and then install, I scanned the store for something smaller. First I grabbed Machinarium for free thanks to my PlayStation Plus subscription, and then noticed that there’s a new Tekken game available for all to enjoy. Me like Tekken. Of all the fighting franchises, it’s the one I feel most in sync with, and I think it has to do with the throws.

So, what exactly is Tekken Revolution? Well, in short, it’s a very simplified, non-serious version of the age-old Tekken utilizing a “free-to-play” business model. This mostly involves avatar leveling mechanics in order to lure new players to the franchise, as well as a regenerating token system to limit just how many online fights one can participate in over a given period of time. Currently, there are only three modes: arcade, online player match, and online ranked match. That’s it. No training mode, no silly bowling mode, no local competitive “vs. player 2” mode. You either fight a random roster of opponents up to the boss Ogre or you test your luck against online combatants.

Again, since this is not a full Tekken game in all senses of the phrase, the roster is quite small. You begin with eight default characters, plus four more which you unlock in a random order by earning gift points at specific amounts. In short, here’s who you can use: Kazuya, King, Paul, Law, Asuka, Lili, Lars, Jack, Leo, Steve, Alisa, and Bryan.

I played through the arcade mode twice and found the experience to be just fine. It’s the same ol’ fighting you know from previous Tekken editions, and it feels good. I played as Asuka and watched as she earned experience points by defeating enemies, eventually leveling up to LV 3. This meant I now had some skill points to assign, boosting her health total, the damage she deals, and her chance of nailing a critical hit. This felt beyond foreign and tacked on, and I have to wonder what the whole point of it is. Probably to make actual money, in that maybe players can purchase more skill points to be one step ahead of the curve, and then their Asuka will always be a slightly bit more powerful than mine. I don’t know. Again, it feels unnecessary. Oh, and once you assign points, there’s no going back.

After that, I was able to log on once to play an online match against someone using Law. The fight was very close, each of use winning two rounds, but I was defeated in round 5. I did not try to play any further rounds after that, but it seems like you have tokens that regenerate slowly over time that allow you to play arcade or online matches. If you run out, you have to wait to play more. Or you can bypass this roadblock by purchasing gold tokens via real money. In the short time I played Tekken Revolution, nothing got in my way of fun, but I suspect if I tried to play a few more rounds I would have hit a wall.

Probably the biggest bummer is the lack of story here. There are no intro videos for characters and, more depressing, no end videos after you take down Ogre in the last fight. These zany pieces of cinema were always a treat and made trudging through the arcade mode over and over worth it. Now it feels kind of pointless, and earning experience points is not enough to satisfy. I want to see Paul and Kuma hanging out and doing flips or something. I want Jack to blow up a planet. I want people tossed into volcanoes.

It’s certainly not a revolution, but it is something to play now and then if you like Tekken and, for some reason, don’t have a copy of Tekken II or Tekken Tag to enjoy. Well, you know.