Indie Platformer Marathon: Unmechanical

Please remember that you can click on images for larger versions. It’s worth it for these, trust me.

So, it turns out that Unmechanical is not really a platformer. I knew it was about a little flying robot, but I thought it would be similar to Nimbus in that the robot would constantly be fighting against gravity as it navigated through the areas in the game. This is not the case; the robot is happy to remain perfectly stationary in mid-air when I stop pressing the arrow keys. The only similarity with a platformer, then, is the side-on viewpoint. I didn’t let that stop me, though, because Unmechanical charmed me from the get-go, and didn’t stop until I had finished the game.

With platforming out of the picture, I suppose I would classify Unmechanical as a puzzle game. The cute little robot protagonist is innocently flying along with its robot friends when it gets sucked into a pipe and pulled underground. It wakes up in a cave, and must explore its surroundings to find a way out. Its only tool is a short-range tractor beam that can be used to pick up and carry objects. You know what that means: puzzles!

The puzzles themselves are a little uneven, unfortunately. At their best, they are big, multi-stage affairs with interconnecting parts spread over an entire area of the weird, underground world. At their worst, they are simple puzzle cliches, like a “repeat the pattern” puzzle or a color-matching brainteaser. Most are somewhere in between; logical hurdles that appear in isolation and are only moderately interesting in and of themselves. But it would be unfair to judge Unmechanical solely on its puzzles, because the real joy comes from exploring its bizarre, beautiful world. The puzzles are just some things I did along the way.

While the robot can only interact with the world on a two-dimensional plane, the world itself is rendered in full 3-D, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s also wonderfully varied — caverns with underground lakes, tunnels fused with strange biological parts, vast arrays of whirring gears, ancient tangles of metal piping, metal-walled chambers filled with huge circuit boards… these are only some of the places I visited, and every one was a joy to explore. The occasional dull puzzle did nothing to diminish my curiosity about what weird locale I’d uncover next. The audio is excellent as well. The moody score matches the feel of the strange environments perfectly, and the sound effects are brilliant. The soft thrum of the robot’s helicopter rotors is calming when traversing an expansive chamber, and its cries of dismay when it bumps into things (not to mention the satisfying “clunk” of the collisions themselves) are endearing.

Controlling the robot feels great too. It has just the right amount of momentum, and the handling changes appreciably when carrying a heavy object, which weighs the robot down and can cause it to swing about like a pendulum. The inevitable physics engine that governs these objects’ behavior works well and isn’t overused. Plenty of puzzles take advantage of it, but it never felt like a gimmick, instead fusing into the rest of the game naturally. Once again, it just feels right.

Unmechanical, then, is a game to play for the aesthetics. The visuals, the sound, and even the tactility of the game are superb, prime examples of masterful craftsmanship. There’s not much in the way of a narrative, and what narrative there is remains mysterious, but to me that just added to the charm. Unmechanical is an enigmatic thing, something that’s sensory rather than cerebral. Over its short few hours of playtime it took me to a strange and intriguing place, and I loved every minute of it.

Unmechanical can be purchased digitally from a variety of digital retailers, and I recommend you do so. It is also available for iOS in the App Store. I didn’t have any problems running the game (it’s made with the Unreal Development Kit which runs on pretty much anything) but I did notice some aliasing which I was able to fix by forcing antialiasing in my graphics drivers. Developers Teotl Studios (who, it turns out, also made The Ball, a game I’ve been meaning to play for some time) clearly have some strong artistic chops and I look forward to seeing what they do next. [EDIT: Turns out the game was co-developed with Talawa Games. My fault for not giving full credit where due.]

EDIT: The Indie Platformer Marathon is now complete! See all the posts here.

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