Monday, August 19, 2013

Unmechanical (Talawa Games/Teotl Studios, 2012)

After playing through Bioshock 2, I was in the mood for something a little less heavy, but after playing through so many retro pixel games lately I was really enjoying the dark detailed graphics my underwater adventuring had offered. At first it felt like an unfortunate contradiction, until I remembered a quirky little game I once demoed on Onlive, and later picked up on a GOG sale after it spent months on my wishlist both there and on steam. It seemed like it would be the perfect balance of light gameplay and dark visuals. It was a lesser known game called Unmechanical.

Unmechanical is a 2.5D side scrolling puzzle game about a cute little flying robot trying to escape a mysterious contraption. I would say it also had Metroid inspired platforming elements to it, but can you really call it platforming when you fly everywhere? It's a game of exploration, a game of wonder, and a game of occasional frustration. Don't worry, I'm talking about the good kind of frustration, the kind you encounter in a well balanced puzzle game.

The controls in Unmechanical are simple and intuitive. You can move your flying robot around a 2D plane, and activate a small tractor beam to manipulate objects, and that's pretty much it. You could probably play this entire game with a USB Atari 2600 Joystick! The tractor beam is really the key to playing the game. With it you can pick up small objects, drag around larger objects, open and close hatches, and manipulate switches and other controls. You're never left wondering how to interact with something, which is useful because you'll need to focus all of your concentration on the puzzles.

The puzzles are incredibly imaginative, and always require a new way of thinking. As with God of War or Ico, Unmechanical never falls into repeating the same concepts over and over. The early puzzles are fairly straight forward as would be expected, and they get progressively larger (Some spanning several areas) and more brain-teasery (Is that a word? If not, it should be!) as you make your way deeper through the underground caverns of Unmechanical's world. Some of the puzzles really surprised me. My favorite essentially had you programming a drum machine to transcribe a random beat that played for you in order to unlock a series of doors. Various upgrades are earned along the way allowing you to traverse areas that were previously unavailable to you, and opens the game up to a small amount of backtracking, further implying a Metroid inspiration.

The progression of the puzzles is logical and makes sense, and never requires tutorials. In fact, there is no text or dialog in the entire game. Everything in Unmechanical is conveyed to the player through subtle visual clues, and occasional on screen action that some might consider understated cutscenes that never break you from your gameplay. Despite the lack of direct narrative interaction with the player, Unmechanical still manages to tell a story. Throughout the game, you'll really start to care not only about the small robot you control, but about other robots you encounter along the way, and eventually this mysterious world you are trying to escape from as well.

Unmechanical isn't a game about saving the world, rescuing a princess, or defeating a great evil. It's a simple relaxing game about dealing with your situation and coping with your surroundings. In that way it's a game that's much easier to relate to our normal every day lives. While it is an adventure game that takes you on a journey through an unknown world, you could consider it a casual adventure. It's not surprising that it's recently been ported to iOS, but given the nature of the protagonist, I'm surprised that it hasn't yet made it to the Android platform. It's not a terribly long game, but it's a fun time while it lasts, and I have no trouble recommending it to anybody who likes to think and explore at the same time, without having to worry about constant danger.

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