Unmechanical has been available on iOS and PC for a few years now, but we at Destructoid have sadly neglected it for all that time. I have even personally looked at emails, thought “that looks neat,” and then put it in the back of my mind until it was no longer relevant. It’s time to rectify that.
Unmechanical: Extended is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It features the same three-hour experience as before, with an additional episode that adds another half hour or so of helicopter robot puzzle gameplay.
Unmechanical: Extended (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox One)
Developers: Talawa Games, Grip Games
Publisher: Grip Games
Released: January 30, 2015 (Xbox), February 10, 2015 (PlayStation)
In Unmechanical, players control a mute robot that propels itself using helicopter blades attached to its head. Getting around is a cinch, as simple as pointing in a direction and letting the little rotor rev up to go. The rest of the controls are similarly simple. There is basically one other thing the robot can do: activate and deactivate a tractor beam in order to pick up, carry, and drop objects.
The simplicity creates an elegance in the gameplay. With only the abilities to move about and grab objects, the focus is placed on the puzzles and the silent narrative. Unmechanical could theoretically be played with an NES controller. That it manages to feel like a full experience with that limitation is impressive.
The puzzles run the gamut from mundane (repeat patterns of Simon-like colored lights) to clever (combine an eye hook, a metal beam, and an electromagnet to open a passage) to obtuse (exercise the four color theorem without being told that is the goal). Fortunately for the latter, there is an in-game hint system that can provide some guidance.
Sections of the underground world are broken up and walled off such that the items necessary to find a solution are never too far away, but even then, I spent a fair amount of time floating around aimlessly, sure that I had missed something. About half the time I just hadn’t considered all of the possibilities. The other half, I actually did skip an entrance or an item in the dark, unsaturated environment.
Though they can obscure puzzle solutions, the visuals are impressive in a way. Despite the muted tones and general lack of color, each of the areas is visually interesting, marrying machinery, electronics, and hard earth together. Some of the images shown here are the exception to the rule, standing out with bright light to starkly contrast the rest of the mechanical dungeon.
The environments also help to tell the story of the unnamed robot. Unmechanical relates its narrative entirely without text or speech, instead relying on puzzle outcomes and background scenes. A lot is left open to interpretation, and some questions remain unanswered.
The story behind the new episode found in Extended is easier to follow. Two robot friends are hanging out, one gets sucked underground by a terrible machine, the other follows in a rescue attempt. It plays on more traditional videogame tropes, providing a clearer, less thought-provoking narrative.
The puzzles found in the Extended portion are some of the best of the bunch, with fewer throwaway challenges and smaller arenas to cut down on second-guessing. In the time after the original release, the developers got a good sense of what worked well and what didn’t, and it shows in the design of the new episode.
In that sense, it is a bit of a shame. Extended is stronger than the original game taken as a whole, but it is a fraction of the package. Where Unmechanical takes a good weekend evening to get through, Extended can be completed easily on a weekday afternoon.
Still, I would rather a game be strong throughout than overstay its welcome, so the length isn’t Unmechanical‘s biggest issue. The main problem is the variable quality of puzzles throughout the adventure. Some require critical thinking and creativity while others are retreads and slight tweaks of puzzles seen in other titles.
Overall, Unmechanical: Extended is a cute little experience. The stories are told in a way that takes at least a little bit of effort on the player’s part. For those willing to put that effort in, and the effort to get through the puzzle rooms, escaping from the tiny robot gulag is a worthy way to spend a day.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]