The point-and-click adventure was once the king of PC gaming, with everything from classic instalments in the Broken Sword series to timeless classics from LucasArts defining cursor-based play in the ‘90s. However, it has taken a long time for the genre to finally make a comeback in the last few years thanks to the likes of Broken Age, Thimbleweed Park and the late Telltale Games. Yet, despite that vast chasm between these two golden ages, the genre still quietly produced some brilliant alternatives in the intervening years, including the charming hand-drawn world of Machinarium.
First released on PC in 2009, it has slowly (and we mean slowly) made its way to practically every platform there is; even the much-maligned PS Vita got a port. It only seems fitting then that the Nintendo Switch should get its own version – almost a decade on from that first glimpse into a world of mystery, criminal masterminds and lots and lots of robots. And while this latest incarnation doesn’t boast anything particularly ‘new’ – bar some improved touchscreen optimisation to bring it in line with the iPad version – it’s still aged incredibly well thanks to its unusual art style and cohesive approach to player interaction.
You play a nondescript robot by the name of Josef, who unceremoniously finds himself dumped outside the city in a nearby scrapheap. Poor Josef doesn’t have any weapons or special powers to draw on, save the ability to squash or stretch his body (enabling him to reach higher or lower points of interest) and the rather handy means of poking said points of interest.
In order to negate the traditional malaise that tends to set in with point-and-click games, developer Amanita Design has restricted interaction with the world around you so you can only poke things in close proximity to Josef. It’s a neat concept that stops you aimlessly just clicking all over the screen in hope of locating a less obvious solution, and instead urges you to use Josef’s simple functions as a means to solve each puzzle.
Its puzzles are just as obtuse and subtle in the complexity as they’ve ever been, with the classic setup of collecting items on a single-screen before combining these items in your inventory to find a way to the next screen. For instance, one early section will see your way into the city blocked by a security bot who only lets machines who look like himself over the bridge he guards. So you’ll need to take an abandoned traffic cone, use a can of blue paint beneath it to dye a bucket of water blue, then dip said hat to give it a convincing hue. You then screw a nearby light bulb on top and boom, one instant disguise.
These little brain teasers get far more sneaky soon after, but if you do get stuck, Machinarium’s hint system is still in place. Push to a certain point on each screen and a light bulb in your inventory will reveal one particular section of the solution. However, if you’re really stuck then there’s a walkthrough book right next to it that will explain the entire solution. However, to get to it you’ll need to complete a small mini-game first. It’s such a great little way of gate-keeping a puzzle’s true solution, and one that actively tries to push you back to the actual task in hand rather than having to solve another.
And you really should stick with each one, because there’s just so much to enjoy once you delve further into its world. The award-winning art style with has a grim, almost Monty Python-esque quality that gives every scene a unique eeriness, while Tomáš Dvořák’s soundtrack brilliantly flits between whimsy and foreboding, nailing both in equal measure. Even the way Josef will reveal some of his backstory whenever you leave him idle, with thought bubbles conjuring simple scenes of him and his robot lady love, is downright wonderful.
Mixed together amid a tale of dastardly crime syndicates, kidnapping and other noir-ish goings-on, it’s a story you should at least experience once. And with the Switch port offering a smooth experience that supports both optimised touchscreen controls and the face buttons and analog stick, this version is an ideal place to tick this memorable box off your ‘must play’ to-do list.
While this incarnation of Machinarium doesn’t offer anything different from the other versions already out there, it’s still a fine port of an award-winning point-and-click adventure. Even after nine years, Amanita Design’s brilliant little odyssey still looks, plays and feels fresh thanks to a quirky soundtrack, those instantly recognisable hand-drawn visuals and an approach to environmental puzzles that strikes the right balance between obtuse and tantalisingly obvious. True, the lack of any additional content makes this a hard sell for anyone who’s already played it elsewhere, but if you’ve never had the pleasure of joining Josef on his mechanical adventure, there’s arguably never been a better platform on which to try it.