So while googling for new info on the Monkey Island 2 special edition I came across a glowing recommendation for Machinarium, a traditional point-and-click adventure from Czech developer Amanita. You can play the first few screens for free online, and it's a $20 download, which I bought. Here are my thoughts.
First of all, the visuals are breathtaking. This game is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life. It looks like a really gorgeous picture book, and the quality of the animation is impressive as well.
The game is so incredibly wondrous to behold that it just makes me wonder once again what LucasArts could possibly have been thinking when they made Monkey Island 4 in 3D. 3D adds nothing to an adventure game, and in the case of Monkey Island 4 it also just looks like total dogshit.
Anyway, back to Machinarium. The graphics are fantastic, and the puzzle design is generally pretty good. I didn't want to spend too much time playing it, so I was looking up the solution if I got stuck for more than about fifteen minutes, and the majority of the time I felt like I should have been able to figure out the solution on my own.
There are some big problems with this game though. The first is the interface, which is horrendous. You have to be standing right next to an object in order to interact with it, which makes it inordinately difficult to locate hot spots on the screen, and makes it a chore trying to use inventory objects with the environment. You can also make your robot taller or shorter, but if you then try to walk somewhere he walks really, REALLY slowly, which is just ridiculous.
There's also no text in the game. All the conversations are conveyed through little cartoons, which is definitely an interesting choice, but half the fun of an adventure game for me is the amusing dialogue. A bigger issue with the lack of text is the confusion that sometimes results. Once or twice I ended up with an item in my inventory and I had no idea what it was supposed to be, especially if I hadn't played the game for a while and couldn't remember where the item had come from. In a typical adventure game you could hover your cursor over the item and some text would identify it for you. Also in a typical game your character would give you text/verbal feedback on whether you were on the right track or not. For example, the character might say, "I can't reach it." In Machinarium your character just shrugs all the time, so you're never exactly sure what he's unable to do and why not.
The biggest issue for me is that the game is full of stupid "brain teaser" puzzles, and they get more intrusive and time-consuming the further into the game you get. If there's anything I HATE in adventure games, it's action sequences and brain teasers, and this game has both. (By brain teasers, I mean stupid "rearrange the colored blocks" type puzzles that have nothing to do with the characters or story.) If I had known how much of the game was going to be brain teasers, I would never have played it in the first place, and I finally got so fed up with them that I gave up on the game and just watched the remainder of it on YouTube ... though it turned out that I was almost at the end anyway.
Apparently this game was made by a few guys on a shoestring budget, so I'm inclined to cut them some slack. The good parts of the game are absolutely superb. The brain teasers killed it for me, but if you actually like that sort of stuff the game is definitely worth checking out. It was a lot of fun to play a new adventure game, something I haven't done in years.