If you thought Human Resource Machine would be about a robot who hires and fires people, nobody would blame you, but you'd be wrong. Instead, you're put in the shoes of a drone at a mega corporation, helping to sort their mail using the unlikeliest of methods: computer programming.
Human Resource Machine features a single mode. In it you're tasked with creating what are essentially scripts - written in what resembles programming language - to create a workflow that matches the goal set out by your supervisor. The goals are all very simple, but when it comes to programming nothing is as simple as it seems.
For a person taking an item, comparing it to another item and, say, moving the larger of those two items to another location would be simple. For a computer, which thinks only in ways it is told to think, however, things become much more complex. For instance, to complete the task mentioned above in Human Resource Machine you would need to first retrieve the first item using the "inbox" command, then copy the item you picked up to an open space, return to the inbox to retrieve the next item, then subtract the number you previously copied from the number you currently have; then you would use conditional jump commands to specify what part of your script to continue at based on the result of that subtraction command.
It's all a bit complicated, and that might be the biggest thing holding Human Resource Machine back. While technically savvy players will likely revel in the coding challenges, those who are less into what's happening behind the curtain, so to speak, might feel confounded or even frustrated by the puzzles on offer.
Human Resource Machine can be played exclusively on the Wii U GamePad as all the controls are mapped to the touchscreen. Once you select one of the game's 38 levels you'll be given a list of functions you can use to achieve your goals. If you're not familiar with what's required you needn't worry, as the first four puzzles teach you about the various tools at your disposal.
Don't be fooled, however - even after the game's explained itself to you, Human Resource Machine can be extremely challenging. Understanding the functions' individual jobs is helpful, but understanding when and where to use them isn't something that will necessarily come naturally to every player. If you have a programming background it'll be significantly easier, but you can also get a bit creative with your scripts as the game challenges you to solve each puzzle using as few functions and steps as possible. It's at its best when you're one or two steps away from achieving an optional objective and carefully going over your code to see where you can optimize it. In that sense, Human Resource Machine is rather like the real world job of creating software.
Mercifully, it offers three tabs on which to compose and test your scripts, which makes troubleshooting, debugging, testing and optimizing code much simpler. Once you find a working formula, if you need to you can then switch to a new tab and attempt to pare down your code to reach your goals if need be; as any programmer would tell you, that's extremely convenient.
This game is also visually appealing, too. It's created by the same team behind cult hits Little Inferno and World of Goo, so it comes as no surprise that we get to enjoy a similarly well-delivered package here, too. Human Resource Machine's soundtrack is also great, the exuberant sound of the title track perfectly contrasts the gloomy idea of being a cog in the corporate machine, and the serene music that plays during puzzles serves the purpose of giving you something to listen to while not distracting from the task at hand well.
Human Resource Machine is one of the most difficult puzzle games we've played in quite some time. It's not difficult for difficulty's sake though, it's difficult because it's different. It requires you to think less like a gamer and more like a developer. One of Human Resource Machine's only major fault is that there are far too few puzzles; its 38 puzzles go very quickly once you have the hang of how to program, leaving a game that could be completed in under an hour depending on your skill level. For those with no programming background, these same puzzles could take hours of your time. It's an excellent game, it'd just be better if there was more of it; that's not a bad problem to have.
By their nature, the puzzles in this game are going to limit its potential audience, and the explanations the game provides don't do the best job of conveying how to order commands and do little to advise on how to optimize your code to achieve secondary objectives. That's appealing for some, but is worth acknowledging as a potential drawback for others.
Human Resource Machine is a good game, bordering on great. It's just missing a few little tweaks.