Retro Machina is the newest release from Orbit Studio, a small development studio based in Brazil. Retro Machina delivers a unique world filled with puzzles and mysteries to solve, but sadly, this charming and stylish world is covered in a thick layer of frustration that may prove too off-putting for some.
Retro Machina is based around exploring the ruins of humanity, with structures now filled with various automatons. The player controls a nameless robot who is deemed defective in the game’s opening moments and is exiled from their city. In order to fix itself, the robot must explore various biomes to find what they need while simultaneously piecing together a narrative of human desperation.
One of the game’s core mechanics is the ability to control other robots. When in range, robots can be linked to the player and operate in tandem, simulating a co-op approach to puzzle solving and combat. The puzzles that involve this mechanic are interesting, varied, and offer some pretty creative solutions, but its use in combat isn’t really practical. The time to lock onto another robot and sync up provides countless opportunities to be hit and actually controlling another robot feels slow, clunky, and unnecessarily risky since the player and controlled robot share health.
Easily the best part of Retro Machina is the art and sound design. Orbit Studio seems to have put in a painstaking amount of time and effort into this world, hand drawing every environment and asset to stay true to its vintage, Art Deco aesthetic. The sound design and score is expertly crafted, the former making each step and hit feel impactful and the latter providing a diegetic experience that oozes emotion and mood. These elements work together to provide a sense of curiosity, loneliness, and melancholy that drives the desire to explore.
Retro Machina offers a semi-open world that requires a lot of back-tracking to unlock new areas and puzzles. Most of the time that process is fairly painless, but its map makes navigating a bit confusing. The map is condensed and inaccurate, made worse by the huge player location marker which takes up most of its on-screen real estate. The result is looking like the player has remained in the same spot when, in reality, they have gone through two or three sections of a given area. While the puzzles are the best part of the game, they only provide temporary relief from the frustration it took to get to them.
Retro Machina‘s biggest issue is its combat, and there’s a lot of it. The robot is armed with a wrench and a handful of abilities but never feels as strong as it should, piling on grueling experiences that feel low-powered. Enemies don’t effectively telegraph when they will attack or which attack they’ll perform, and dodging feels a bit useless as it offers no invincibility frames or any other leeway that’s expected of this mechanic. All these issues fill the dense, Hades-like combat arenas with multiple deaths that feel unfair – and when the player does eventually win, it feels less like an achievement and more like a relief.
If it wasn’t for the weak combat mechanics in a game filled with combat, Retro Machina would be a wholly fun and unique experience. Retro Machina is all-in-all a great debut for an upcoming studio and clearly shows the time and effort put into crafting each area, puzzle, and piece of the overall narrative. While the back-tracking puzzle game isn’t for everyone, those who do enjoy this sort of genre entry will find themselves hooked into this particular world.
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Retro Machina is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Screen Rant was provided with a Nintendo Switch download code for the purpose of this review.
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