In MachiaVillain, you are a bad guy. You command a group of minions to collect resources and build a spooky manor. Once you have it up and running, you invite over civilians under various pretenses, murder the bloody hell out of them, collect their blood, brains, and bones, clean up the mess, and get ready to do it all again.
Sounds a lot like Dungeon Keeper, no? (Or Evil Genius, or War For the Overworld, or whatever your preferred villain game is). Superficially you are right. MachiaVillain does turn over-the-top theatrical evil into a silly, banal base-builder. Once you start thinking about it though, it’s entirely its own sort of beast.
Those aforementioned games are about expansion. While there’s quite a bit of that in MachiaVillain, more of your time will be spent managing the routines of your minions and adapting to trouble because they sure can’t. In that respect, it’s a lot more like RimWorld or Prison Architect. Improvement always comes at the cost of your daily routine, and the key to good management is figuring out what you can spare.
And figure it out you shall. There’s a lot in the way of tutorials and help, but MachiaVillain will lead you to a ton of trial and error. Little mistakes can be game-ending, and in a genre that requires so much planning ahead, very little about MachiaVillain is intuitive.
Mind Your Manors
Eventually, you will want two parts of your evil manor. A normal, albeit spooky section, and a section for all your mummies and ghouls to do their dark work. Instead of establishing this at the beginning, the game spends a lot of time layering on cutesy but unfunny jokes. Then it asks you to build an office. That’s it. Logically, you’ll place your office near the road, and possibly by some resources. By the time you realize that’s a huge mistake, you’re at least an hour into your game, and it’s probably easier to just start again. When you do so, and you try to cut down an evil tree, that’s total party kill and probably another good time for a reset.
But evil trees! That’s genius! When you try to cut them down they fight back. And inevitably slaughter your weak minions because they are incredibly powerful. That’s a microcosm of the entire game. The underlying management ideas are clever, sometimes funny, and always in service of the evil mansion theme. But the implementation is lousy, sometimes game breaking. I love the evil trees. I don’t like how easily they bring the game to a halt.
The cutesy style permeates almost every facet of the game. It’s never so egregious as to disgust me; it’s more like when your baby cousin tells a bad joke. You roll your eyes but chuckle at the effort. When you try to place an object in an invalid spot, the icon isn’t a red X, it’s a big “NOPE.” The music and sound are whimsical. The graphics look like something from a Klei Entertainment game but even more pared down and adorable. I wasn’t entirely charmed by the style, but that seems more of a personal preference. It certainly didn’t make me shut the game down.
That’s because there’s a really clever and unique game in MachiaVillain. I was excited to design my murder mansion full of secret trap doors. I love zombies and vampires and wanted to do right by my minions. It was the opaque rules that kept me at arm’s length. The ideas in this game are enough to make me want to tolerate a lot, but not this much. Ultimately, MachiaVillain needs a lot of cleaning up, explanations and balance fixes. Then maybe we can all come together to have a bloody good time.
** A PC game code was provided by the publisher **
- Unique mansion building
- Fun monster mash
- Evil trees
- Unintuitive, confusing progression
- Poorly balanced costs for building
- Jokes are not funny