Opus Magnum – My favourite of Zachtronics many idiosyncratic machine building puzzlers.

It’s rare to play a game that provides such intense satisfaction, driven by a perfect balance of clearly defined and self-driven challenge. Flexible, intricate, demanding and deeply fulfilling, this has to be one of the very best puzzle games of the year, if not the decade. The machines you build move and shift with satisfying, mechanical clunks that help make the 2D art pop as they operate. That mix of science and magic reinforces the idea that anything is possible, but it’s going to take work to figure out how.

Magnum is probably most similar to his first and best-known, SpaceChem, in which you build chemistry machines. He went on to make games about electronics (Shenzhen I/O), computer chips (TIS-1000) and creating factories for aliens in the first-person Infinifactory. But despite Opus Magnum’s fantastical setting, in which you play an alchemist caught between warring Germanic families, it’s probably his most accessible yet. Every puzzle gives you an alchemical product to create and near-infinite freedom to build a machine that creates it. There’s no mandatory score target you have to hit and no goal beyond creating a functioning machine, but that doesn’t mean Opus Magnum doesn’t challenge you. This time you’re an alchemist (and a haughty, smart-arse one at that). You build transmutation engines on a hex-based grid using mechanical arms, pistons, tracks, and so on, bonding atoms of salt and water together to make new alchemical products and pooping them out at the end of it all. Atoms can’t collide and some components will get in the way of others. In the world of Opus Magnum, it’s a relatively simple process. All the player must do is configure the machine to apply a special upgrade element to a molecule of lead five times and gold is made. My solution, seen atop the post, is a little rough. Or perhaps something complex, but unfathomably fast? The direction you take is entirely up to you; the game only tells you “there’s a better way of doing this.”

It might be booze to bolster an elderly soldier’s courage or a ladder to help stage a robbery, but whatever you’re making, it’s a set configuration of elements—air, water, fire and earth—and various types of metal. It’s your job to combine them from a predefined set of elements and components, transmuting air into salt, quicksilver into higher and higher grades of metal. Sometimes, going faster means spending more money, while building small often means moving slowly. So Opus Magnum becomes a game of careful optimization toward each of the tips of that triangle. I would be satisfied if it was only the first handful of puzzles. Not sated, but satisfied. It also feels like a good entry point for anyone toying with the idea of Zaching around. Visually, it’s a lot more understandable than say TIS-100. There’s no language you have to learn, save for the symbols used to give the machine parts their commands. Here the player must bond three elements into a single structure in order to create the final product. Tools and elements are dragged from the left side of the screen onto the board.

The Verdict –

I can watch my machines’ dances of arms and pistons, patterns of elements slotting perfectly into place, forever. And, naturally, you can generate gifs of them at a click of a button so everyone else can appreciate your genius. That simple feeling, of personal pride in a creation plugs into the very best qualities of not only the puzzle genre but all of the creative play. It’s also managed to create a community around itself, one that encourages both competition and collaboration while ensuring Opus Magnum has no shortage of new challenges even after I had my fill of its campaign.