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Backlog Impressions | The Machine

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Life moves on. Whether you want it to or not. Regardless of the choices you make, regardless of the people you meet, and regardless of whether you live or die. At least that’s the outlook for those who live in The Machine. Because within this mechanization of society, we’re all just cogs, and as long as we fit in and do our part, it’ll keep on running.

In The Machine by Ben Jelter you follow Girt on his journey through a hierarchical populace where corruption runs rampant, and his choices determine if he lives, dies, or rises to the upper echelon of the hulking contraption he calls home. However, will we be dragged down by the Man as we strive for a better life, or will this new age retro game deliver on its ambitions?

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New indie games pop up all the time, but it’s not every day that you see a brand new game being released for a retro console. Well, it’s probably more common now than it ever has been, but still, it makes me excited to know that there’s still potential left in those old electronics that bring back so much childhood nostalgia. Especially consoles like the Game Boy.

So when I caught wind of The Machine, and its darker off-beat narrative, I knew I needed to check it out. It seemed like a game that you wouldn’t typically find on something like the Game Boy, which was more often than not, geared more towards children. That and without the restrictions of it having to be “Nintendo-ized”, meant there was tons of potential for something truly unique. And that more than anything had me excited!

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Since we only have access to the pre-release build of the game, we aren’t able to comment on its performance if played on real hardware, but it always impresses me what developers are able to do both visually and mechanically in Game Boy games. And The Machine is no exception! Although the character designs are a bit wonky, and their animations are a bit simplistic with only having a max of 2 frames of animation, the environments themselves are quite impressive. With a ton of attention to detail and even features animated tile sets. Add in some unnerving giant organs pulsating in the middle of each area’s central hub, and you can’t help but want to explore every nook and cranny of this dystopian world. That is if you can stand the game’s repetitive, and slightly grating soundtrack long enough to do so. I do however very much appreciate the full screen, and animated cutscenes that occasionally accompany various story sequences, as well as the off-beat yet concise writing.

The game itself is rather simple, with you primarily exploring each tier of The Machine, speaking to its residents, uncovering hints that will help you on subsequent playthroughs, and attaining a multitude of jobs that’ll have you completing an array of simple tasks. All of which will eventually, depending on your choices, lead you down a variety of narrative paths resulting in either good, or for the most part bad, endings. One thing that truly stands out however, is the unique assortment of dialogue paths you can go down. Making each playthrough, although they have similarities, feel distinct. Especially if you make wildly different choices like becoming a dirty cop, or by passing the aptitude test and becoming a secret government agent!

The narrative and slightly bizarre premise definitely keeps you wanting more, but my absolute favorite part of the game are the myriads of fun little mini-games that you’ll often find yourself playing while completing your objectives. Like a shooting range while training to be a police officer, or even visiting the local arcade to play a crane game for prizes. I always appreciate things like that in games, and The Machine offers more than enough of them to keep me satisfied.

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With The Machine being built for the Game Boy, as well as it potentially changing before its full release, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the limitations of the game, from the limitations of the console. Making it a challenge to judge what should or could be improved. I mean, the Game Boy was a monochrome 8bit piece of electronics, so it wasn’t very powerful and developers had to get very creative to make their games look and feel bigger than you’d think possible.

That said, the core foundation of The Machine feels solid, and the engine used to build it makes this contemporary retro game feel modern! That includes its dialogue system, its ability to autosave, and the fact that subsequent playthroughs are seamless and don’t require you to reload or enter a password. Something that seems out of the realm of what you’d think a Game Boy game could do!

Taking all of that into account, I do wonder why the Game Boy. I mean The Machine doesn’t feel uniquely Game Boy-esque, outside of it using sprites, a monochrome palette, and four channel chiptunes. And removing the limitations of the hardware would mean you would have more flexibility to expand upon the universe of The Machine, its narrative, and all of the interesting little quirks that make it great! However, I can’t really argue the aesthetic choice of building a Game Boy game, and the fact that you ACTUALLY made a Game Boy game. That by itself makes it stand out. I guess what I’m saying is that The Machine is a cool game, and making it more accessible to those who would want to play it, would only be a good thing!

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The Machine was truly a unique experience from top to bottom, and it’s always amazing to see new development for consoles that bring me back to my childhood. With a dark story, impressive design, and philosophies not often found on this classic piece of hardware, we think that it would be a standout addition to any Game Boy enthusiasts collection!

If you’re interested in checking out The Machine for yourself, then keep an eye on the Incube8 Games website for more information on its release, pricing, and availability!