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Archive for October, 2009

garden growing

Amanita Design‘s latest is the adventure game Machinarium. Like their earlier games it is also a point-and-click adventure with a lot of puzzles thrown in. Unlike, say, Samorost 2, the action revolves more strongly around the game’s hero, the little robot Josef, who possesses many qualities useful in an action game protagonist: He has telescopic hands and a body that can be adjusted either higher or lower, a lot of storage space and most importantly has a mission.

Josef’s adventure begins at a waste deposit outside an aged robot town. As the game progresses you find out that the city is being terrorised by a group of evil robots, who refer to themselves as the Black Hat Society. They plan to blow up a tower in the city and have taken Josef’s girlfriend as a prisoner and are using her as a cook. The plot may sound like the archetypal videogame tale of princesses with men trying to save them, but there are many details that set Machinarium apart from any other video games you might have played.

the cafe

First off the setting. All the game surroundings are handdrawn and look stunningly beautiful. Screenshots of the game, mind you, do not do the game justice: There are so many small details hidden within every area you stumble into. Instead of just static backgrounds there can be a small waterfall, or some funny character animations.

There is a surprising amount of depth to Machinarium’s robotic characters as you find out throughout the story. Instead of dialogue or text, all communication between Josef and the other robots is relayed with a bubble that plays a simple animation, which can tell the player what is needed to solve a puzzle or appease a certain character and sometimes simply tells us more of them. The animations detailing Josef’s relations to the evil robots especially come to mind.

jailcell

Another thing I was taken aback by in the game was how emotional and engaging the story was. There is something very cute and moving about Machinarium’s robots. It is the heartrending imagery of the Black Hat Society committing increasingly evil deeds and also the animation and subtle sound effects that help in this. Also every new area, especially towards the end, began to create a feeling of awe.

And awe is the word best describing Machinarium.  Everyone who has played a point-and-click adventure at some time or who likes puzzles will love this game. People not fitting the earlier description should try the demo out, but keep in mind that the three first levels don’t give a good picture of the sweetness toward the mid and end-parts of the game. An instant classic. Go play it already.

band

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At the church

Over on Offworld, a great blog on videogames, there was a feature some time ago on Machinarium. I finished the game last week and have to say that it is definitely something different. Anyone who likes their adventure games should definitely try it out. Also in the post on Offworld there are links to most of the projects of Amanita Design, the Czech indie-studio behind Machinarium. The skecthes are also interesting. I will see if I get around to posting a review here of Machinarium, but while you wait for that go check the feature out. You can also try out the first couple of levels here.

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Run! I mean swim!

The newest episode of Tales of Monkey Island brings a much needed change of scenery to the series. The two first episodes repeated each other with an island setting and both even had a forest maze. Compared to them a giant manatee’s stomach is very original.

In the end of Siege of Spinner Cay Guybrush, his sole crewmate and pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay got swallowed by a giant manatee. In its mouth our heroes find treasure hunter Coronado DeCava who is also after the Lesponga Grande, which will fix the voodoo pox infecting Guybrush himself and other pirates . The problem Guybrush faces this time is the ear of the manatee. A part controlling its sense of direction has been stolen and is being held by DeCava’s mutinous crew of four. They have formed a brotherhood which Guybrush must join if he wishes to heal the manatee and get the sponge.

Piratehunter

The game world being essentially a stomach the area in which to walk and interact is a lot smaller, solving a lot of the problems with the control scheme, a big problem in the earlier episodes. Walking up and down the same staircase because of a wronglytimed press of the mouse, as often happened in Siege of Spinner Cay, is gone. Also gone is the time consuming running around. There is even a possibility to use tubes  in the manatee’s stomach (don’t ask me) for speedier travel.

With the control problems all but gone the player is free to concentrate on what makes Monkey Island so good: The dialogue and humor. When it comes to these two Telltale ups the ante considerably. Lair of the Leviathan presents four new characters and they’re all very funny, my personal favorite being Moose, sort of a surfer-type hippie pirate. A friend from older Monkey Islands also makes an appearance.

Coronado DeCava

Different from the earlier episodes is that the characters have a lot more facial animation and many of the jokes involve more facial expressions, instead of only leaning on dialogue. Piratehunter Morgan LeFlay for example grows very disappointed in Guybrush as the episode progresses and makes faces to Guyrush each time he walks past her. The episode even includes a competition of making scary pirate faces, or just downright dumb expressions.

AHOY, SPOILERS AHEAD

Many of the puzzles deserve an honorary mention. Guybrush playing the part of a wingman to the giant manatee with the help of a manatee speaking horn was my personal favorite. As it happens the horn is a tourist edition and the player needs to figure out which available answer fits best with a female manatee’s comments. With choices varying from “I have nothing to declare” to “I want to go to the theater” this is not necessarily an easy task. In a way the puzzle is a reinvention of insult swordfighting, without the grind. While many of the puzzles were amusing, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’s puzzle in LeSinge’s lab remains my favorite in the series.

END OF SPOILERS

An old friend

Lair of the Leviathan, with very little to complain about, is the funniest episode so far. At some points I actually paused and thought something on the lines of: “Damn, that was amusing”. Perhaps because I was not stuck in the puzzles for as long as in the earlier episodes I also thought the pacing of the game was a lot better. If you have doubts about Tales of Monkey Island on the whole at least play Lair of the Leviathan.

(Here’s a link to the walkthrough I used, from Roger Davies.)

The official trailer:

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mereneläviä

Hayao Miyazaki’s films often feature the sea. Porco Rosso’s aerial battles took place above the sea and his hiding place was a sandy beach hidden away in a cove. But never has the sea been such an important part of Miyazaki’s films as in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Most of the movie is spent either underwater or then sailing.

The sea as a setting is in many ways a good fit for Miyazaki. It gives him a chance to show his drawing skills and the viewer is treated to some stunning underwater vistas and sea-creatures. It also gives the chance for a few opinions concerning pollution of the seas on our planet, a very important topic. Especially one of the side-characters, who left humanity for a life underwater precisely because of pollution and the carelesness with which many treat nature and especially the sea.

The story of Ponyo, a magical sea-creature who wants to turn into a human, can be seen as reflecting human nature, especially our selfishness. Ponyo casts a spell that allows her to turn into a little girl, but the spell has bad consequences and the balance of the world is put in danger. A selfish act results in terrible consequences. Isn’t that the biggest problem with us and nature? Reaping the bounties of mother nature with a concern only for short-term gain.

Juokse

I may of course be adding too much thought into the movie, as it is at its basis a children’s film. I can safely say that kids are going to love this movie, younger kids at least. But there is a lot to like for a more adult viewer as well. The beauty and life coming from Miyazakis pen is something amazing and proves that handiwork beats digital animation in many ways. Pixar’s Finding Nemo perhaps looks more realistic but the more artistic and occasionally painterly approach of Miyazaki does not look dated at all in comparison.

Ponyo by the Cliffs by the Sea is Miyazaki at his best. The plot is not too complicated, which is a problem with many of his films. The animation is some of the best I’ve seen from Miyazaki. With Ponyo he combines the childishness of My Neigbor Totoro with a message against pollution. Definitely a must-see for anyone who is in touch with their inner child, failing that at least take your kids to see it.

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