Tomorrow Corporation’s Wii U launch title Little Inferno was something of an enigma. What it had in exceptional art, storytelling, and music, it rather lacked in compelling gameplay, and some fans were disappointed that it didn’t have the clever puzzle solving to make the game come together like a previous title of theirs, World of Goo. Well, with Human Resource Machine, Tomorrow Corporation lost none of the brilliant aesthetic and atmosphere that made Little Inferno so good, all while adding back in layers of brilliant puzzles. Unsurprisingly, the result is great – though the puzzles do have some issues.
In Human Resource Machine, you are a worker sent to work at a big company, working your way up the ranks, all the while mysterious happenings occur outside: robots are coming. The story is simple, told mainly through cutscenes every few levels, and while it is an endearing one, it’s not the main draw. That main draw is the way the game pokes fun at corporate life, which leads to great humor spread throughout the game’s dialogue.
Visually the game is fantastic. It’s got a Burton-esque look to it, as characters exude personality and charm. Levels themselves tend to look very simple, but the vivid design of the few characters on screen make it all come together. The music is also superb, as it switches from upbeat and catchy to moody and sweeping seamlessly from level to level.
Now, the key to making great puzzles – and thus, a great puzzler – is to make the solutions simple. A puzzle should be something that the player has to work to figure out, but once the player figures out the solution – or looks it up – that player is amazed that the solution didn’t come sooner. And if puzzlers really do come down to that oh-so-challenging-to-achieve mix of simplicity and challenge, then Human Resource Machine is at times up among the best – and at others, nowhere near.
So let’s run down what you do in Human Resource Machine. Essentially, you are given a room. On the left side of this room is the “Inbox”, on the right side is the “Outbox”. In the inbox are blocks with a variety of numbers on them. In a given level, you need to get certain boxes from the Inbox to the Outbox while fulfilling certain requirements, like not adding any 0s to the outbox, multiplying your number before sending it to the outbox, or other, far more complicated objectives.
To do this, you are given a set of commands with which you can “program” your worker to achieve the correct results. These commands start simple, like >Inbox (take an object from the inbox) and Outbox> (send an object to the outbox). Then you can copy your boxes to and from tiles on the floor. You can add or subtract those copied tiles on the floor to what is in your hands. You can loop your commands, or only loop them if certain conditions are met, or jump to another part of your list. You have to put these – and many other – commands to use in a variety of creative ways to achieve the desired results.
It’s honestly brilliant. The game is done in a way that you have to strongly think about how to gain the desired effect with the limited commands available, and it’s not easy. You’ll really have to think about and examine what the consequences of everything will be. As your character plays out your commands, you can examine everything he does to see where things go wrong, and step back to debug. It leads to a lot of trial and error, but it works; it is simply fun to code your character into doing the right thing using the limited commands. And when the puzzle is done, as you look back at all your hard work, the result is set up in a simple set of commands, and you wonder how didn’t figure out the answer before.
Unfortunately, not every puzzle works quite this well. See, sometimes you are given an objective and you just cannot figure out what you are supposed to do because the objective has no apparent relation to the commands you have; in other words, it’s too hard of a puzzle. I hesitate to complain about too much challenge when it comes to puzzlers, and surely many will enjoy the extreme challenge that pops up, but the game is so complex at times that your average player may be frustrated with how much there is to cope with, and how much he/she is expected to know. The game is like small-time coding, yet it’s a bit too much like coding for its own good.
Levels are set up in a direct path; that is, one level leads directly to the next. Sometimes there will be branching paths, and you can try your hand at some extra-hard levels by taking these bonus paths. There are added objectives you can attempt as well, like finding a solution that uses a minimum number of commands and doing it in a certain amount of steps.
Now, the TV is kind of pointless for the Wii U version of this game. Everything is shown on the Gamepad as well as the TV, and since you control everything with the touch screen, the TV becomes moot. You will look almost exclusively at the Gamepad. That’s fine, of course, but it is worth noting that you won’t be seeing the gorgeous visuals much on your big HD television.
Human Resource Machine is great. The gameplay is superb, finding the perfect middle ground between complex riddles/simple solutions wrapped in an stellar set of gameplay systems. The visuals are expectedly gorgeous, clever, and unique. The music is stellar, and the story, world, and characters are engaging. There’s even some well done humor thrown in. The puzzles may get too complex at times, but Human Resource Machine is a game anyone with an interest in challenging puzzlers should play.