The years I’ve spent in video game journalism have made me a skeptic. In the months, sometimes years preceding a game (even indie titles on Kickstarter), hype-filled promises are made that such-and-such game will change your life, redefine the genre, innovate the face of gaming forever, etc. How disappointing it is, then, when games that promise you the sun, moon, and stars fail to deliver on those lofty promises. A prominent example is Peter Molyneux’s Fable, an ambitious game that simply couldn’t live up to the endless promises of its outspoken creator. With so many games trying to be transcendental revolutions, I sometimes wonder if the straightforward joy of simply being a fun game is getting muddled. Don’t get me wrong, like everyone else I’m always looking for the next big shake-up, but I hold respect for games that simply aspire to be good experiences and deliver on that front. It is with this in mind that I present my review of Kelvin and the Infamous Machine, an entertaining point-and-click indie that offers a smooth playing experience that stays true to simply being a goofy, classic-style adventure game. Because the game doesn’t try to overreach and be this grand, epic experience, it winds up being a more appealing product because of its fluid and refined execution.
Kelvin and the Infamous Machine stars Kelvin, a bumbling lab assistant who works alongside the lovely and intelligent Lise, for the genius inventor Dr. Lupin. Dr. Lupin has made the ultimate scientific breakthrough and invented a time machine. Unfortunately, this time machine is ridiculed by the scientific community because it looks like a shower. This last straw causes Dr. Lupin to snap, and he is now flitting about through time to prevent geniuses from creating their magnum opuses, only to steal them himself so he can be the only genius in history. This reminds me of the book Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, in which Prof. Poopypants’ brilliant inventions to eliminate world hunger and pollution were ridiculed because of his preposterous name. Therefore, he hatched a plot to give everybody in the world a name as preposterous as his — because if his name was going to get laughed at, so would yours! That book always made me giggle, so the whole theme of a well-intentioned scientist who eschews common sense in favor of ludicrous extremes in the name of foolishly distorted principles resonated with me in Kelvin and the Infamous Machine.
As you might expect, it’s up to Kelvin to save history. Logically, Lise is the better choice for this task, but she needs to run the equipment back at the lab to support Kelvin, while he does the legwork and makes stupid wisecracks about everything. The plot sees Kelvin blunder his way through time and space across period Austria, England, and Italy to coax a slumping Beethoven, Newton, and Da Vinci to create their masterworks and restore history to its rightful continuum.
The story is neither very involved nor very long (I finished the entire game in a weekend), and its humor is quite clichéd, but the skilled voice acting really brings everything to life. As is common in the voiceover field, some actors voice several characters, and each voiced character is played very well and sounds distinct. In games or movies that take place in different countries, I normally balk when some characters don’t speak with regional accents, but the inconsistency of accents did not bother me at all in this game. In fact, Robin Hood speaking like a baked California surfer dude somehow works in Infamous Machine. I hope to see the voice talent from this game get more work in the future, because the performances here are pro quality.
Infamous Machine employs a cartoony sense of style with comical hand-drawn elements. The sepia-toned drawings during the loading screens were lovely to gaze at while the game booted up. The game may not win awards for flashiness, but its vivid colors and simple, clean lines look slick and give a sense that the world and its inhabitants belong together. I’ve played too many games where it felt like the polygon or sprite characters were just superimposed onto the world, like stickers, but not here. Yes, despite being an oddly dressed guy from the future, Kelvin integrates wonderfully into this game’s world and looks like he belongs.
After a brief, yet adequately informative introduction, players are thrust right into the puzzle-solving fray. Gameplay is what you would expect from a graphic adventure: interact with hotspots and NPCs, pick up items, use those items on hotspots or combine multiple items in the inventory, and guide Kelvin toward saving history. Each chapter’s puzzles increase in difficulty and some do involve lateral thinking, but none are needlessly complicated or obnoxiously obtuse. In fact, it was my own instincts as a player that led to illogical moments: Given my instinct to combine random items or use them on random hotspots, I often solved puzzles before interacting with the appropriate NPC to put them in context, leading to initial nonsense that became clear ex post facto. Mercifully, Infamous Machine’s puzzles don’t rely on the pinpoint pixel hunts that tend to hold the genre back, as the touch of a button highlights hotspots. Unfortunately, the hotspot radar didn’t always highlight travel locations, so I had to mouse-over doors or screen edges to know I was able to enter or exit those places. Other than that, the interface itself is clean, simple and intuitive, so players should be able to dive right in.
What I like the most about Kelvin and the Infamous Machine is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This fun little game doesn’t try to be more than a fun little game, and the end result is a smoothly refined experience that doesn’t really do much wrong. Even the few niggles I pointed out are ones that I’ve seen plenty worse of in acclaimed titles in the genre. Kelvin and the Infamous Machine may not reinvent the genre or make you contemplate life’s philosophical conundrums, but it will provide a weekend of puzzle-solving fun. Blyts’ first point-and-click outing has me looking forward to what they’ll do next.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer’s opinion of the game or its final score.