There Are Little People Inside You
HIGH Lovely illustration style.
LOW Uninteresting outside of the animations and visual design.
WTF Little guidance leads to a frustrating puzzle experience.
Ever wonder how the human body works? The question has an unexpected answer in Homo Machina.
Drawing inspiration from the illustrations and scientific writings of the scientist Fritz Khan (1888-1968), Homo Machina imagines the body as an industrial machine powered by little people — the mouth is a conveyor belt of chomping knives and buzz saws, sight is played on a projector in a movie theater, and the brain is the president of the company’s office.
Although originally a simple and cute iOS puzzler, I played the Switch version that displays in a vertical ‘portrait’ configuration and makes use of the touchscreen. It seems better suited to mobile as the Switch is clunkier than the average iPhone, but the larger screen does work well for Homo Machina as there’s a lot of tiny detail.
The creators, Mark Lustigman, Noah Roubeh, and art director Olivier Bonhomme envision Machina as an educational experience. It’s accessible for younger folks and fairly easy to play, but the metaphor of a body as a machine controlled by tiny people lacks usable information. Furthermore, besides a short biography of Fritz Kahn, the player doesn’t necessarily learn anything about Kahn’s theories or illustrations.
In terms of play, the premise is unique and Homo Machina gets far on style and concept alone. The graphics are attractive flat color illustrations with soft, airbrushed shading that show off the team’s talent in wonderful homage to Kahn’s work. It’s pleasantly dated, as well. The aesthetic of the game and the machines in the body are inspired by the ’20s and ‘30s—the eardrum has a phonograph that listens to sound waves, the telephones acting as nerves between parts of the body are rotary, and the little people staffing the body wear old fashioned clothing.
While there’s much to be said for its simplicity and style, Homo Machina is an underwhelming puzzler as there isn’t much for the player to figure out beyond sliding levers, pressing buttons, and moving tubes around. It’s wonderful to watch the animation, but there’s little challenge.
When the game is difficult, it’s largely because the rules and parameters haven’t been explained, and so it’s unclear what’s needed to solve the puzzles. At one point I spent a long time trying to start a movie reel, but I was missing a lever I needed to pull — it was impossible to see because the area was too dark. I ended up tapping on everything until I could determine what I needed to do, often stuck and frustrated with what were ultimately simple solutions.
Apart from the visuals and unsatisfying puzzles, there are lovely narrative interludes between chapters that tell a brief tale about the president of the company (i.e.- the body) getting ready to go on a date with a woman that ends with a hand-holding puzzle. It adds a sweetness and purpose to Homo Machina, and the interactions between the tiny people in each system are endearing.
Homo Machina is short, it can’t offer a noteworthy puzzle experience, and it also fails as an educational piece, but it’s a thoughtful little experiment that survives on style alone.
— Gabriella Santiago-Vancak
Disclosures: This game is developed by Darjeeling and published by Arte. It is currently available on iOS, Switch, Android. This copy of the game was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E.There’s nothing controversial here! It’s a totally sweet and innocuous experience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is easily played without sound. There is one puzzle that includes a sound element but it also accompanied by visual elements. It’s easier to solve with the audio but can still be done based on visual information alone. All dialogue is subtitled and cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game uses only the touchscreen and is not remappable.