When we hear the mention of "Adventure Games" most of us will daydream back to a better time. A time filled with islands full of monkeys, a time of tentacled days, a time where kings and police quested, sometimes in space. We'd slap on our leisure suit and hit the road, maniacs driving full throttle. But as the year 2000 passed our genre became grim, veiled in myst, the longest journey ahead. As adventure games died out we faced Hell (on Wheels), but there would come a time again. A time where new developers would set our beloved adventure genre FREE(lance Police).
Whoops! See, I went and got all nostalgic again. Adventure game fans will understand my feelings, though. We've come through a drought these past nine years, and though the genre has found some of its best games intermittently since 2000, it's only now that releases are gradually becoming more frequent. New iterations of Monkey island and Sam & Max have rekindled many gamers' passion for adventure games. Unfortunately, though, original intellectual properties are still few and far between.
Enter Machinarium, an independently developed adventure game starring a small silver robot stuck in a crumbling mechanical slum. The painstakingly detailed environments and endearing characters and story should be enough to persuade any gamer to purchase this game. If those words alone aren't impelling, read on for my full review and why Machinarium is important to all adventure game fans as well as to the genre.
The first area in Machinarium is symbolic of the entire game, and more which I'll reflect on later. A flying robotic garbage machine dumps a load of scrap metal into what can only be a graveyard of machinery and robotic compatriots. You've been thrown away. Of course, the reason why is several puzzles away, but, despite the lack of initiative, you put yourself together. You give a small robotic rodent a lost stuffed animal in return for your leg, then you fish your missing arm out of a pool of water with a magnet and some string. Thus begins your journey through the world of Machinarium; putting broken pieces back together again.
What will first amaze you is the beauty of the world, despite the wear and tear that shows on everything. Items in the foreground are appropriately blurred despite their obvious detail, and background are often covered in haze or fog, hinting at unexplored areas within the city. The perfect example is what must be the town center. A rusted fountain sits in the middle of a circle of broken tile. The greater circle is lined with lightbulbs, some broken, and should you touch the ones that are still whole they might break as well. Here, you'll spend time helping a broken robot in a wheelchair fix his ailing leg, though after you heal him he'll return to his wheelchair.
And therein lies the secondary beauty of Machinarium: the mood and atmosphere. The game is thick with despondency. It's only as you travel through the town that hope and light begins to fill some of the darker areas. You'll give batteries to a guard whose small friend has run out of energy; you'll fix broken musical instruments; you'll return a radio to a forlorn robot; and, perhaps most vividly, you'll travel to an arcade where none of the machines work and one is broken completely. Nearby is a bicycle machine which you'll have to use to repower the arcade cabinets. After you're done though, the arcade will return to a powerless state.
And this entire mood is reflected through the musical score. Most of the music is extremely haunting, but also serene. Crickets in the background will mix with the raspy tones of a needle scratching an old album. It's all very pure. While some faster, more jovial songs will leave both yourself and your little robot dancing, the majority of the soundtrack is very morose.
It's only your small silver robot that contradicts the dejection you'll feel. During his idle moments, he'll dream of what can only be his girlfriend robot. Each small dream will leave you with a smile. The sketchy black and white thought bubbles that are used as communication in Machinarium will show your robot's words and thoughts, ultimately creating a level empathy with the characters. Early on, you'll run into enemy robots in the city, and you'll be angry at how they treat you and the other town folk. Despite that, though, the little robot never seems to aim for revenge. Instead he pursues a greater resolution, an ending that will surprise you but is yet completely fitting and natural. I'd love to hear what other players have thought of the way Machinarium ended.
The controls are extremely simple and intuitive: click to move, click to pick up an item, drag an item to where you want to use it, there you go. The only spin is the ability of your robot to stretch to be taller or shorter, which can occasionally trick you into ignoring an important item that would normally be out of your reach. In practice, it's much nicer not having all of the items at ground level. Each level ends up feeling more full as a result, though it also requires you to be more aware.
In regards to item finding and where each item belongs, the game does a wonderful job of giving in-game hints. There's a hint bubble for each stage that will more often than not guide you in the correct direction. I'd recommend avoiding the hint bubble until you've no other recourse though, as they often spoil the solution. Beyond that there's a walkthrough book that will give you a detailed account of every step required for the area. The book asks you to play an annoying little game before it grants you access to the walkthrough, but it seems appropriate for giving away the game's secrets.
Beyond the standard of finding an item, then taking it where it will be used, Machinarium adds in some truly challenging puzzles. Nothing that should make you pull your hair out, but I found myself with a pad of paper and a pencil, attempting to organize my thoughts more appropriately, quite a few times. There's a particularly annoying board game where you have to get five stones in a row that will frustrate you initially. Damn robots are built for those kinds of fucking games!
What I've really wanted to touch on, though, is Machinarium's importance to the adventure genre. Being an adventure game nerd makes this little segue unintentionally snooty, but I think it's appropriate. I mentioned how the initial area of Machinarium is symbollic in more ways than one. Beyond that game, I think that scene represents Machinarium's role in the bigger gaming picture. A small robot in a graveyard of other robots, piecing himself together in pursuit of something important, something more. It's no stretch to say that most independent games, as well as most new IP adventure games, wind up in a junkyard. Machinarium itself seems to have been released with one foot in the grave, working with a scant $1000 marketing budget.
This game is different, though. Beneath its independent exterior and small budget, there's some high level productions values that went into this game. Not only is it worth the asking price, it's worth more on potential. Potential for these new developers, and potential for a budding new adventure game generation. While Monkey Island and Sam & Max are great games, I hold no faith in the executives behind the projects. They will not try and further the genre through their own games, let alone fund new adventure game IPs. Machinarium is deserving of your support on multiple levels.
Let me reign this in a little bit. I'm making a pitch to support this game on more than what the game is, but let me be clear. This is a great game. It's beautiful beyond what a 2D adventure game that was made in Flash should be. It's challenging, but not to the point of being exclusionary. And you'll have fun the entire way through it. Best of all, when you're done, you'll remember the game. And hopefully, 10 years from now you'll think back and smile.
We've all played a Katamari game by now, because if you haven't played Katamari you're not a real person. So deeply and disgustingly ashamed of not having played a Katamari game you'd be more akin to a heartless monster hidden deep within a mountain, never to see the sun again. Luckily we don't have any such monsters around Destructoid!
BUT, if any of those monsters somehow wandered out of their filthy caves though, today is their lucky day. They can go out and buy Katamari Forever, the first iteration of the franchise to be released on the Playstation 3, the most monstrous of consoles coincidentally. The game will undoubtedly melt anyone's heart and fill it so full of love juices that they'll be forced to run naked in the streets exclaiming their joy and passion for everything, forever. Hell, that's probably how they got the tag-line “Forever” in the first place!
So if you've got an interest in what's new with The Prince and the King of All Cosmos, keep on scrolling, and you'll find my review of Katamari Forever.
Katamari is what it is, and it's never going to change in that respect. The original Katamari Damacy was intended to be the only Katamari, and though the lure of cash monies eventually won out, the sequels are all but clones. Spice up the graphics, create a bunch of new maps, add a new story, throw in some unlockable costumes and playable characters. You've got a Katamari sequel. Just like your favorite dessert though, it may look the same, it may taste the same, but it's still absolutely delicious.
While Microsoft called dibs on the first high definition Katamari (Beautiful Katamari), the series has never looked better than now. In stunning 1080p every cell-shaded detail shines magnificently. I spent the first fifteen minutes of gameplay sitting entirely too close to the television so I could pick up every little detail. After those fifteen minutes though, I came to the realization that the high definition graphics didn't really enhance my experience. If Katamari Forever was built on the graphics engine of it's PS2 ancestors, this game would suffer no ill consequence. It might even be true that it's lost some of that classic charm.
Should it be important to you that you see vividly all you roll up with your Katamari, the precision detail will help you out. King Cosmos' package has never bulged quite so... adjective (insert your own mad lib!). But those with Katamari experience know that it isn't what you roll up, it's how fast you do it! So beyond that one bullshit level where you have to amass a certain degree of temperature without picking up cold items, the graphics aren't pertinent to the gameplay. You'll still have no idea where the damn cousins and presents are until you roll them up accidentally.
And the gameplay, I'm happy to state, is still just as clumsy and fun as always. Push two sticks forward to roll, and if you want to turn, too bad. I'm kidding of course, advanced Katamari rollers will quickly recall the intricacies of turning your clod on a dime. A double stick click will turn your Katamari 180 degrees, and the alternating stick waggle sets up a dash move. New to Katamari Forever is the Prince Hop, where a quick snap of the controller upwards will have The Prince leaping through the air. Sadly, I could never get the damn thing to work consistently, especially when I needed it. I learned after I finished the game that you can also click a shoulder button to use the skill. Damnit.
The point of Katamari is still to roll up as much of the world as possible. The scope of the levels will increase dramatically as you get closer to the end, with a few surprises mixed in the bunch. From creating a snow man, to demolishing a giant robot, Katamari will keep things different enough so as to avoid repetitiveness. My favorite is still force feeding the sumo wrestler until he can defeat the much larger yokozuna. This is possibly a result of my unending battle with bulimia (JOKES). New to each map is a “King Shock” item, which will create a vortex that sucks in all edible items from the area around your clod.
After beating the game the first time, you'll begin anew in Katamari Dash mode, where your Katamari will roll exceptionally fast, and the time limit will reflect that. As you beat each level in Dash mode you'll unlock Forever mode on that map, and after that Classic mode. Forever is much as it seems, allowing you to explore a map at your leisure, while Classic returns you to the games roots and takes away the Prince Hop ability, and the King Shock items.
All of the missions you'll roll through are at the beckon of the King of All Cosmos, and new-to-scene RoboKing. This new robot tyrant is built to replace the King, who is deep asleep after a blow to the head. And thus, you are bounced between the real King's levels, which are memories from previous games, and RoboKing's levels to replace all of the stars in the sky. As you proceed through the game, you'll unlock movies that push the “plot” along. As usual, the plot is a lot of fun, but it's not as “wtf” as the first game (“Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!”), and it's not as back-story rich as the second game. How can you deny a giant robot King Cosmos though? You can't.
Even with the robot King, the odd shaped cousins, the mushrooms and red pandas, the true beauty of Katamari has always been the music. Katamari Forever's soundtrack consists of remixes of past Katamari songs. While initially that might be disappointing, you'll be happy to know that all of the remixes are excellent. If you want to know more about the OST, head over to Japanator and read Zac Bentz official recommendation: Japanator Recommends: Katamari Forever OST.
Even though Katamari Forever turns out to be a generally solid incarnation of the franchise, you still have to sit back and ask yourself if this game adds anything the the series. Katamari Forever takes no risks whatsoever, and it isn't until you hear the Japanese title of the game that you realize the real point of this game. In Japan, Katamari Forever is titles Katamari Tribute. A game created for the nostalgic feelings that most of us share for the previous games. With the lack of new content I have to ask: are the game's producers are paying tribute to the game and it's players, or are theye asking you, the consumers, to pay tribute to them?
Either way, Katamari Forever is what it is. If you've never played a Katamari game before this iteration will blow your mind. You should purchase it and have a gaming experience unlike anything you've had before. The rest of us, the Katamari followers, have the tougher choice of whether to pay for more of the same. Should we hope our dedication to the franchise will be rewarded? I hope so, because with each “tribute” I play my enthusiasm is dwindling.
An instant message pops up from a close friend, “hey rory. looking at vidcards and wanted to know your brand name preference. ati vs nvidia?”
It's not the question that surprises me, but my reply.
“[Persuade] Nvidia has always been reliable for me, and there's some amazing deals showing up for cards in the 200 series. What's your price range?”
Hey wait a second, did I really just write that first bit? Either my skill in “Persuade” combined with my charisma modifier has afforded me new conversation options with this friend, or I've been playing too much Knights of the Old Republic.
In his next message there is no [Success] or [Failure] notation, and he either ignores or never notices my odd addition. Perhaps he's never played the classic Bioware game, or perhaps he's merely forgotten. I would remind him, but Bastila is waiting for me inside the Jedi Enclave.
Certainly Knights of the Old Republic hasn't faded into the past like so many '90s-or-earlier games, but there are different ways to be forgotten. Diminished by the lower quality Knights of the Old Republic 2; overshadowed by the more popular Mass Effect; and retooled into the upcoming high-profile MMO The Old Republic, Knights has gently fallen into the esteemed group of, “Bioware's Classics.” Not so bad of a resting place, but I'm not willing to let it go quietly into the the night just yet, and neither should you.
One of the progenitors of the now overly used moral choice system, Knights turned your everyday conversations into an inner battle between the light and dark sides of The Force. A system perfectly fitted for the setting of Star Wars, where every character is either good, evil, or still trying to decide where they belong.
Perhaps the inherent flaw in many modern moral choice systems is the distinction between good and evil. Yes, good certainly saves lives where evil would kill or destroy, but is there any meaning or background to either side? In Knights, and Star Wars beyond, you've got a history of Jedi protecting justice and peace, and the Sith opposing that, constantly searching for power and the means to control. Each side has meaning beyond the simple choices you've made in your conversations, and the people you've saved or killed. It's something Mass Effect or Prototype or any of the others haven't fully grasped yet, and something Knights thrives on.
The conversations you'll have throughout Knights aren't solely a means of measuring your morality though. Every character you encounter can reveal details about your surroundings, other characters, and important events, but only if you ask them the right questions. The rich background of every world you travel to can keep you engrossed for hours without even encountering combat. The stories your party members will tell are much deeper than the casual NPCs, though they'll require you prod them for information as you proceed through the main storyline. Moments such as the Twi'lek party member berating our Wookie friend for the disgusting smell of his breath will fill those empty times running around town.
It all comes together for an engaging, deep story line, which Bioware takes much pride in. CEO of Bioware Ray Muzyka states there are “key pillars” to every role-playing game. The fact that story is one of those pillars, and that Bioware will afford as much attention to plot and conflict as to combat is distinct among games. It's a sign of maturity and respect for the audience that you won't find often, despite it's selling power.
So when you pick up Dragon Age: Origins this fall, or Mass Effect 2 next spring. When you're reading up on any new information for Star Wars: The Old Republic, make sure to remember the game that came before. Pour one out for Knights of the Old Republic, which doesn't get mentioned in “Greatest game ever!” lists, but considering all these gems that have been made in Knight's vein, it should be. Hell, in fact:
[Persuade] Go buy Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic off of Steam RIGHT NOW for only $9.99. You really should own it.
[Lie] Plus it will make your sex life ten times better.
Mythic: Developers of Dark Age of Camelot, and currently running the reasonable big MMO Warhammer Online.
BioWare: Developers of Baldur's Gate, MDK2, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age. Currently making one of the most anticipated games of 2010, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
NOW THEY ARE ONE (kinda)! Yes, EA has decided to merge Mythic and BioWare into a new powerhouse MMO/RPG group. In what is supposedly a restructuring of MMO/RPG developers within EA, the Co-Owner of BioWare Ray Muzyka will take over as Group General Manager, while Mythic's co-founder and General Manager, Mark Jacobs, is... GONE. Yes, his last day is yesterday. Someone dropped the ball on spoiling that bit of information.
I can't say for sure, but it doesn't look like either of the companies will go through any excessive changes. There will just be a number of management changes, a new name for the division, and hopefully a little more organization between developers as a result.
Does this seem absolutely insane to anyone else? Think Marc Jacobs got the axe for Warhammer being underwhelming? I sure hope this doesn't mess up the release schedule of anything...
I just wanted to say happy birthday to Destructoid in my own special way. I was jealous of everyone's fancy alphabet pictures and wanted to add something own my own. What's this that I found? PAINT PAINT PAINT PAINT. I invite everyone to paint something incredible for Destructoid and post it in the comments. As you can see, I set the bar pretty high... *cough* BRING ON THE PAINT.
PAINT PAINT PAINT. As underwhelming as my paint-ings are, Destructoid holds a special place in my heart. AS well as a special place in my pants. Here's for another three more years! To all my fellow community members: <3 Thanks for keeping Destructoid fucking awesome.
The Unreal Engine 3 can create some damn amazing effects, so when you hear that Raven Software, the creators of HeXen, Soldier of Fortune, and the 2009 release of Wolfenstein, is using the engine for their new game Singularity... you can expect a high quality game.
Take up your Time Manipulation Device, conveniently attached to your left arm, and unravel the mysteries of, "Katorga-6," where the Russians have left some of their old toys and you have to prevent the next Chernobyl. As if nuclear fucking bombs wasn't enough though, you'll be sent back in time to fight the communists in their prime, and then sent to the future where you'll fight what must be the next step on the communist evolutionary chain, monster aliens. And behind it all a mysterious substance called, "Element 99," an energy source Stalin discovered and then quarantined.
This game looks mind blowing, to say the least. Does it have the depth to be memorable though? We'll have to wait until fall to find out.