Starting its life as a PC and Wii U game, Human Resource Machine makes the jump to the Nintendo Switch, just as Tomorrow Corporation’s other games have, Little Inferno and World of Goo. Just like their other games, it is short, simple (in how it plays), original and feels perfectly at home on the Nintendo Switch and its portable nature.
Human Resource Machine is a game that makes you work, literally. You are given an Employee ID and your goal is to climb the corporate ladder within the company. It doesn’t exactly seem like a game you would want to play when you put it that way, but it’s much better than it sounds.
That’s because it isn’t like any other puzzle game you have every played before. It is basically a set of programming puzzles that at first can seem quite daunting, although the game does set you off with very simple puzzles which you would expect considering that is true for almost any puzzle game ever made. For those who have any programming experience, you will feel right at home and should understand most of what the game has to offer, especially the early levels. For those with no programming skills whatsoever, as previously mentioned, it starts off very simple so it’s easy to grasp a basic understanding of how it all works, but you may start to struggle after you get past the initial few puzzles. Considering programming can be such a complex thing, it’s all credit to Tomorrow Corporation that they have managed to create such an accessible game out of this idea.
For the most part what you will see is a conveyor belt and a bunch of numbers and letters. The game then gives you a task and you must choose from a group of commands (effectively writing lines of code) to complete said task. To give a simple example you may have a bunch of number 1’s on your left conveyor belt which is the Inbox and you have to send over all of the number 1’s to Outbox, which is the conveyor belt to your right. Your command list would say INBOX, OUTBOX, JUMP. All you have to do here is drag INBOX and then OUTBOX to your list and then use JUMP to make it loop around. This is a very simple example and the puzzles, of course, get much more difficult and more advanced.
The UI is very easy to understand and handle. New commands get constantly added so after the first few puzzles you will start to come across commands such as ADD which makes additions and SUB which makes subtractions, these are quite straightforward but you end up getting some really complexed commands that you really have to wrap your head around how exactly they work. Once you do understand how the commands work, you will be able to do wonders with only a handful of commands. All it takes is a bit of getting used to, but that in itself is rather difficult.
This game will make the cogs in your head turn and for the more casual puzzle fans out there, that might be an instant turn off, but stick with it because whenever you finish a level, you will feel the sense of accomplishment and reward. There is a steep learning curve here and you can quite easily be stuck on a puzzle for a while and because of the nature of the game, there isn’t really an easy solution to any of the problems. Sure there might be a few ways you can finish each level, but you can’t really just throw a load of commands together and hope that you will get the correct result, you have to really think about what each command will do if you put it in your final list.
If there is one fairly big flaw, it would be the low replay value. There are a decent amount of puzzles to get through but once they are done, that is it, there is nothing else to see or do so you can move on to your next game. You can always try and go back to complete a stage in fewer steps than you did the first time around, but because there isn’t any reward for doing so, it’s quite frankly a pointless task.
With this being the Switch version it can be played in a few different ways. The best way to play the game is to use the system in Handheld Mode and play using the touch-screen controls, which is how the game was originally played back on Wii U. You can also use the motion sensor when playing on the TV or Tabletop Mode but it just feels really awkward and I would personally avoid this way of playing if you can. Of course, this version has the added benefit of taking it anywhere with you and for this type of game that is a real plus point.
In what is now quite emblematic for Tomorrow Corporation, this game also uses a very distinctive visual style that I personally really liked. It’s certainly not a masterclass in graphical fidelity but it has its own charm and it’s hard not to take a liking to it.
Human Resource Machine is a really smart game and one that makes you feel like both a mastermind at times and, well, quite the opposite too. It throws a unique spin on the puzzle genre which many fans will love but also at times grow frustrated at due to the difficulty spike. In many ways, this game is almost a parallel to the subject matter in hand in that it is easy to learn, but it is very challenging to master. If you are a puzzle fan, I would strongly advise you to try this out because it’s highly unlikely that you have played a game like this before.