Submachine Legacy review on Adventure Game Hotspot


Mateusz Skutnik’s excellent Flash series re-emerges to live on in an enhanced, cohesive singular adventure.

If the name Submachine conjures up fond memories for you—if you spent the decade between 2005 to 2015 spelunking through the subnet and trading theories while you waited for the latest installment of the original free Flash series—then you likely already know all you need to about Submachine: Legacy, the revamped and updated omnibus of designer Mateusz Skutnik’s semi-legendary trans-dimensional odyssey: that it unites the ten original chapters into a single cohesive package; that the graphics and puzzles have received a fresh coat of paint and quality-of-life tweaks; that this new and definitive presentation will allow Submachine to persist in a post-Flash world.

If none of that means anything to you, though, don’t worry: Legacy ought to be as accessible to newcomers as it is to die-hard, there-from-the-start devotees. Though the original is now almost twenty years old, Submachine: Legacy is no museum piece; it’s an astonishingly intricate and beautifully crafted journey into a strange and unexpected setting that shows almost none of its age. If you like your puzzles difficult, your obstacles frequent, and your narratives ambiguous, you’ll understand right away why it’s endured for so long.

The story begins with the (silent, nameless, faceless) player character stepping into an elevator that travels deep underground, letting out in the basement of a subterranean lighthouse. Your immediate goal, insofar as you have one, is just to explore and find out what makes the place tick. There are odd devices and mechanisms everywhere, and solving the complex puzzles of their function produces clues to a larger picture. Scattered about, you’ll find notes by a mysterious person (or persons), alluding to somebody named Murtaugh, formerly the lighthouse’s keeper. It seems Murtaugh made a shocking, paradigm-shifting discovery, the nature of which is initially unclear but which concerned an energy he dubbed karma.

Harnessing and manipulating karma allowed Murtaugh to enter the subnet: a vast, otherworldly network of buried mechanical structures—submachines, short for subterranean machines—linked together by portals of karma energy. Murtaugh became obsessed with exploring and mapping the subnet, and led numerous expeditions to that end. That was long ago now, though; his current whereabouts—along with those of his many team members—are unknown. While he and others can, at times, communicate directly with you—both by leaving notes and, occasionally, via computer terminals you stumble across—you appear separated by space, time, and other more mysterious factors. Eventually, of course, you’ll find your own way into the subnet, and it’s only by following in Murtaugh’s footsteps that you’ll have a hope of seeing the surface again.

As in the lighthouse, there are notes laying out scraps of Murtaugh’s story tucked away throughout the subnet. Many of these are entirely optional to collect, and easily missed if you don’t keep your eyes open. The more you read, the more familiar you’ll become with some of the subnet’s other (unseen) explorers—most notably Elizabeth, Murtaugh’s dearest friend and philosophical opposite who became entangled in his grand plans—but your progress is rarely dependent on how much you’ve pieced together about your predecessors. Either way, you’ll probably finish the game with plenty of questions left over; Submachine has had a very active community for almost twenty years, and they’re still posting theories about what it all means.

With narrative taking a backseat, the game’s primary emphasis is on exploration and puzzle-solving. The subnet itself is gigantic—the game’s marketing promises a mindblowing 1900 rooms—but the process of exploring is rarely too daunting, with a first-person slideshow presentation that makes it easy to move from room to room. It’s also its own reward, with Skutnik’s lushly colored backgrounds blending bold, almost Beardsley-esque linework with a barely restrained cartoon sensibility that evokes Gahan Wilson, all without sacrificing the legibility of explorable environments. Meanwhile, the ambient score by The ThumpMonks and Marcus Gutierrez thrums and buzzes like an unseen electrical current running beneath it all, periodically bubbling up to life in moments of ethereal awe.

Making your way through is straightforward thanks to a simple, one-click interface typical of the Flash era that produced it. Your cursor glows over hotspots and screen exits, letting you click to interact. A right-click pulls up an overlay displaying your inventory, where you can select an object to bring out onto the main screen or (via a context-sensitive cursor within your inventory) examine a note you’ve picked up.

Occasionally, and with no apparent rhyme or reason that I could discern, your cursor will transform over certain hotspots to resemble a specific object you have to use there: the glowing silhouette of a hammer, for instance, or a screwdriver or other tool. If you don’t yet have the object in question, it’s helpful to know what obstacles you can’t tackle yet, but it’s inconsistently applied and adds little enough to the game that I’m hard-pressed to explain why it’s there.

The lack of a “show all hotspots” feature can also lead to a fair amount of pixel hunting in the subnet’s more cluttered crannies (especially if you’re trying to rustle up all the game’s many secrets), and there’s no way around that besides perpetual vigilance. Still, most chapters are geographically restricted enough that retracing your steps to figure out what you’ve missed isn’t too taxing. (The massive final chapter is another story, but more on that in a bit.)

More inconvenient are those screens where an exit blends too well into the background, but since the game lets you navigate with the arrow keys as well as the mouse, it’s not as big a problem as it could be. (Pressing an arrow moves you automatically to the next screen if that direction is available—whether you as the player know how you got there or not.) Some might have preferred more explicit signposting to begin with, but to me it feels in keeping with the subnet’s inscrutable character that movement itself should prove puzzling from time to time.

And puzzling is certainly the operative word here. Submachine: Legacy is jam-packed with puzzles, in such volume and so many different varieties—elaborate locks to tease open; strange, busted contraptions to reassemble and operate; logical challenges to unravel strand by strand—that it can sometimes feel necessary to make a checklist, lest you lose track of which found object or number sequence you need for which arcane doohickey. If you’re stuck on one obstacle, there’s almost always another to ponder just a few screens away. You may struggle for a time with how to solve them, but you’ll never lack for places to try.

Some puzzle types are unique to particular chapters. Chapter 3, for instance, involves using a gadget to navigate the X-Y coordinates of a seemingly endless series of looping corridors. Chapter 4 sees you tracking down three-digit codes to activate a network of teleporters that unlock isolated locations. There are frequent inventory puzzles, as well, ranging from straightforward find-valve-to-open-pipe types to ones that require more creative thinking. With very few exceptions these are logical and well-constructed; the few that truly stymied me usually hinged on the realization that I could take something I’d mistaken for a background detail.

As I mentioned, there are many, many secrets to uncover. Some of the notes shining light on Murtaugh, Elizabeth and company are hidden in a way that defies immediate notice, and the moment you spy one is immensely satisfying. There’s also, however, a sort of unspoken secondary mission baked into Legacy that many players might overlook entirely, as the game itself never tells you to go looking for it. This involves collecting a number of “micro stabilizers” hidden carefully throughout each level, which, when united, unlock secret areas containing strange monoliths. The more monoliths you activate, the more you’ll be able to access in the optional level “Shattered Quadrant,” which is available through the menu. This level, based on a side game in the original Flash series called Submachine Universe, offers a huge number of locations to explore via teleporters (similar, but not quite the same as the ones in chapter 4). Taken alongside three other optional levels—likewise accessed through the menu—it can add significantly to the main game’s roughly fourteen-hour runtime.

There’s no doubt that Submachine: Legacy offers both quality and quantity, but…well…there really is an awful lot of quantity in some places. The tenth and last of the main chapters is bigger and longer than some full games, with what I’d estimate to be a few hundred screens to traverse all on its own. (If it turns out I’m wrong about that, then I apologize profusely for not counting myself, with the caveat that I won’t do it next time either.)

While this allows for complex, multi-stage puzzles that span many locations and require thoughtfulness, creativity and careful attention to solve, it also makes for a tremendous amount of backtracking. There’s no map, no fast travel option, and few shortcuts; the game more or less sets you loose and trusts you to figure out for yourself how to keep it all straight. I’d highly advise taking notes and/or mapping it out yourself as you go; it won’t make you have to backtrack any less, but it will help keep you oriented and might make you feel a bit more like a real adventurer.
Final Verdict

Submachine: Legacy asks a lot of the player: a lot of attention, a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of travel. In return, though, it has an incredible amount to offer. The narrative is both intriguing and unobtrusive, allowing you to take or leave as much as you want while you get down to puzzle-solving. The puzzles themselves are almost uniformly excellent, while the art and music are perfectly suited to the aura of mysterious foreboding that infuses each chapter. This is not a game to be approached casually or without the full complement of one’s faculties, but the subnet contains such an embarrassment of adventuring riches that it’s no surprise people have spent so many years jumping at the chance to vanish there.

Submachine: Legacy combines and brings all the episodes of Mateusz Skutnik’s classic Flash series into the 2020s with updated graphics and puzzles, trusting players to overcome its difficult-but-fair challenges and showing the world just how richly deserved its cult following is.

87%

by Will Aickman



Easter Egg 2024




redesigning SCG card back




the Process of Parabiosis


I wrote first part of this story in 2017.
I just wrote the ending to this story now, in 2024.
This comic book will be drawn and released at the earliest in 2028.

Don’t ask me how to write.
I don’t know.



the Blend




Daymare Morphs eBook


 




2023 wrap-up


This is it. The peak.

Submachine: Legacy was released. Thank You everyone for reading! See you next year!

Jokes aside, let’s take a closer look at what happened in 2023.

Submachine Legacy. Finishing and releasing the game on Steam. Please remember that finishing all in-game puzzles is not the end of development. After that comes entire late-development phase, which includes adding all notes (yeah, I still haven’t decided how to display those, that’s why it’s pushed back to the later stage of development), creating intro, outro, cinematics between chapters, also let’s not forget entire sound design that I have to do with ThumpMonks on board. So there is still a lot of work to do. Be patient. I know you are. Be more patient. It will be worth it. I can’t wait either.

The thing that wasn’t listed above is the Shattered Quadrant, an entire new chapter in the Submachine saga derived from already existing Subnet locations, few room designs I created randomly live while streaming and few completely new locations. I wanted to use literally EVERY SINGLE room design I ever created for Submachine in this remaster. This information was kept from the players before game release because I wanted it to be a surprise for returning players. I wanted to make sure that even if you played all Submachines ten times before the remaster, you’d still find something new and never seen before in this game. The game was released in October, on Friday the 13th nonetheless.

Submachine Card Game. Plan minimum here is creating Kickstarter campaign and seeing what comes of it. Then plan and execute accordingly. I know, all I’m saying here is  sweet nothings, but hey. I’m neck deep in the Legacy and don’t think about this project that much. Some progress will be made here. Maybe.

Yeah, nah. The word “maybe” turned out to be the operative here. Let me explain. I forgot about something. I forgot that after releasing a brand new game on Steam you spend approximately an entire month still working on the game, fixing all bugs found by players, correcting typos in notes, adding stuff you forgot, creating new builds of the game daily. I have to change my approach to this in the future. No matter the amount of testing I do myself, there’s no way to catch it all. So I spent entire next month fixing things. There was just no time left in 2023 to do this. This caused the Kickstarter campaign to remain in dormant form, because, not sure why, but I feel making a campaign right before holiday season in December is not that good of an idea. Maybe I’m wrong here, but hey.

Blaki 5. Yes, a comic book. Would you believe it. I want to at least try to come back to the idea of drawing a comic book. Try to remember how to do it, at least begin painting that new album. At least try. You know, this entire album is already written and sketched out. All I have to do is draw and paint it. That’s all. So little, yet so much. Just try to begin. You can do this. One page. Maybe just one, single page for the new album. Is that too much? Let’s wait and see.

Sure, a comic book that I’ll create in 2024. I did try to begin, I looked through all those scripts, ideas and story beats I already have, I kind of prepared mentally to sort it into proper  sequence to fit a comic book album, but I haven’t drawn a single page yet. I can’t rush this process. But I drew TWO unrelated comic book pages! One is the end of year Santa comic (this counts, right?), and the other one is a project that’s still top secret and I can’t really talk about it. More info coming soon probably.

 >> Speaking of things that were done but weren’t on the to-do list >>

Daymare Stray. In march I took a short break from submachining and dusted off old flash engine skills and remastered Where is 2010? into lore-friendly Daymare Stray. To be remastered again in the main Daymare remaster.

Daymare Cat 10-year Anniversary edition. These decades are flying by quicker and quicker. This is scary. Anyway, this game needed a bit of love, I changed some animations, especially main character running. I added a bitmap background testing waters for the future Daymare Town remaster. You guys seemed to like it, so now entirety of DMT will look like this and it’s all your fault. Read more.

Slice of Sea major update and overhaul to version 2.0. After releasing Submachine: Legacy I immediately wanted to update the older game with new UI stuff I created for the remaster. And this is how Slice of Sea got full controller support, new cursor showing hotspot regions where an inventory item can be used and update to entire code, rework and refactor of all mechanics in the game, making them more robust and unbreakable, just like in Submachine: Legacy. Read more.

Daymare Town remaster. Well, this one needs a bit more explanation. You see, I work alone, you know that. Of course, ThumpMonks are making music and sounds, but the rest is me. When you release a game (Submachine remaster in this case), your brain is working on 150% of it’s capacity. Before the release you have to oversee literally EVERYTHING (and more) concerning the release process, and after that there’s this forementioned month of fixing the game on the spot daily. During this process you’re fully enlightened and completely in the zone, you know everything there is to know about your code, how you wrote it, the architecture, design and so on. This knowledge fades in time once you step away from the game. Once you turn the oven off, it’ll take some time to reheat. So, the best thing to do is just to NOT step away, but pivot into new project and keep running, never stopping.

This is how Daymare Town remaster enters the fray. I wanted to transfer everything I still remembered about creating a good point and click mechanics into this new game while I still had all that knowledge in my head. This process also leads to even further improvement of the point and click code engine, previously thought to be bulletproof, but now reaching new heights of coding prowess. I’m pretty sure I’m on the tippity top of my abilities and I’m only half way up. Been that way since 2005 really. That’s so fascinating about writing code actually. You can only draw or paint as good as you trained yourself to, but coding? Sky’s the limit. There’s always something new to discover to make all your previous work obsolete. I love it.

So December was spent creating a Daymare Town prototype, available over at Patreon. It has all major mechanics lifted from Submachine, it even has entirety of Daymare Town 1 backgrounds added to it. I never even intended this project to start this year, I remember saying something about taking time off, like a vacation or something (funny, I know), but here we are, already ankle deep in the next remaster.

Since I already started talking about future projects,  let’s take a closer look at 2024 – the year of the return of multi-project multi-tasking. There’s this saying about too many cooks in one kitchen – how about one cook in two or more kitchens?

Plan A

Daymare Town remaster. Also known as THE LAST remaster. I don’t want to remaster anything else after this game, I want to get back to creating completely new games. So this remaster requires expanding all remaining backgrounds and adding shop and stash mechanics. That’s the minimum for 2024. We’ll see how far I’ll be able to go with puzzle design this year. Looking back at the Submachine remaster, recreating all puzzles was the most misjudged milestone time-wise of the entire process. It’s entirely possible that I’ll switch to remastering small platform Daymare games to add them into this project as well, mainly Daymare Cat, Stray, Invaders and kite. Having said that,  I don’t think I’ll be able to finish and publish this remaster in 2024, but we’ll see. There is a Steam Store Page already live, go wishlist it today if you haven’t already.

Blaki 5. Yes, I’m coming back to comic books. This year for real. Starting with this book, because this series has a nice round anniversary coming up this year, as it’ll be a full round decade since the previous entry in the series, which, yes, I can’t believe it either, was published back in 2014. Which is insane. Luckily I have lots of story bits for this book already written. Now it’s a matter of putting them all in the right order and painting it all.

Plan B

Submachine: the Engine. This one will take few years to finish, so don’t get your hopes up just yet. This is also why I’m making the last remaster now, I’ll just combine the repetitive work of remastering with creative work of designing a completely new game. In 2024 I want to at least write a part of the story of this game, the how, the why, the where, maybe create sketches of some locations, maybe do some puzzle design. I already have few ideas on my mind, however this is not something I can hurry up. This process will take a long time to finish. Luckily we’re not in a hurry.

Submachine Card Game. I’m in the middle of preparing Kickstarter campaign. All other plans for this project are depending on the outcome of this campaign, so there’s nothing much more to say at this point. The minimum plan would be to have a successfully funded campaign, print as many decks as to satisfy all backers and that’s it.

Plan C

Streaming on Youtube. Two things that can and will be streamed: DMT remaster process – at least the first phase of resizing and redrawing all backgrounds to 1920×1080 format. (Original games are in square ratio). The second one is painting the Blaki comic book album.

Daymare Morphs eBook. This is a collection of 46 short stories on over 250 pages written by Nikodem Skrodzki and put to paper by me. Just to clarify here, Daymare Morphs were a Patreon milestone back in 2016. Now I’m just putting them all together into one eBook for easy access to my free patrons, since that’s a thing on Patreon now and I want to give those people an incentive to maybe become paid patrons of mine. This eBook will be free of any charge.

Revolutions eBooks. At some point I want to have my entire Revolutions series in eBook format in English available online. I feel you guys are missing a large chunk of the expanded Skutnikverse without these books. They will be sold in my shop and also offered as free perks for my patrons.

~~

There’s so much to do this year. Or maybe I’m just getting old, because 10 years ago this entire list would probably be done in half a year. There were years with brand new Submachine, new Daymare Town and a full size comic book in one year. You know, the good old times. Oh well.

Let’s get to it.

See you next year.



Where is Santa 2024?




Daymare Town Steam Store page release time stamp






Submachine: Legacy is Overwhelmingly Positive


Nov 1st 2023 timestamp:
561 reviews
558 positive / 3 negative
99% positive


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