Starting its life as a PC and Wii U game before eventually making its way to mobile devices and finally Switch, Human Resource Machine is the rare type of game that feels at home on almost any platform. This is due in large part to its unconventional gameplay, coupled with an adorable art style that lulls its players into believing that what lies beneath the surface isn't quite as devious as it just may be. On the exterior, what appears to be a charming game about life as an office worker is actually hiding a much darker and more demanding reality.
While most puzzle games hand their players a series of mechanics right from the beginning and task them with solving their way through each stage, Human Resource Machine flips this concept by making the mechanics part of the puzzle. Rather than controlling your character, you control the code that makes your character move. Less of a game and more of an assembly language simulator, the puzzles here require that you create functions to guide your character – as if your existence is nothing more than a computer program run by those in positions of power above you. If that explanation sounds complicated, that's because it is, especially if you're not one of the more mechanically minded among us.
Beginning with simple two-step processes, such as moving files from your virtual inbox to the outbox, stages gradually build off of each other until you find yourself creating strings of commands that are more than 30 functions long. Each stage represents another year in your life as an employee at an anonymous mega corporation, slowly working your way up the ladder. As you age and more of your life is devoted to being a corporate drone, your supervisor assigns you new responsibilities and new skills are added to your repertoire, allowing for more complex functionality and puzzles to solve. Between the fun of office work, stages are punctuated with story vignettes that gradually reveal life outside of the office between break room chitchat about day-to-day minutia and sips of stale coffee.
The stage progression makes sense from a storytelling standpoint, but it also leads to an expedited tutorial for what grows into an exceedingly complex game. Rather than allowing you to master a concept before moving onto the next, the game instead rushes through introducing new mechanics until you have the whole array open to you. This causes some of the puzzles to become very frustrating early on and as a result it doesn't prove to be an overly welcoming experience.
Par for the course with Wii U and mobile crossover titles, the primary control scheme is touch based. All of the menus and gameplay can be navigated with taps and swipes, making for a simple and intuitive experience. The option to play on the big screen or in tabletop mode also exists and is activated by removing the Right Joy-Con from the Switch console, prompting you to use the liberated controller as a pointer. This option is not as smooth as the touch controls, but works well enough if you're trying to keep your tablet screen fingerprint free. You can also - thanks to an update - play with another in co-op using both Joy-Con controllers.
New to the Switch release is access to the game's full soundtrack right from the menu screen. In keeping theme with the visual style, the soundtrack is full of upbeat tunes that stand in stark contrast to the grim story being told. While a nice touch on the finished product, it's a shame that this extra content isn't integrated into the game in any significant way, such as allowing you to pick and choose the background music during gameplay. It's more of a novelty menu option that probably won't receive too much of any player's attention.
While Human Resource Machine attempts to do something unique with its gameplay, trying to maintain this through nearly 40 stages is where it tends to fall flat; the further that you make it through the campaign, the more tedious the tasks become. Stages also don't boast much replay value outside of later puzzles in which you may want to try simplifying your string of commands. You're essentially trying to figure out the best way to break the game in order to streamline the challenge thrown your way, but the challenge isn't always clear. It's definitely not an easy game, but it can nevertheless be very rewarding if you're willing to stick around long enough to master it.
Human Resource Machine is a grim reminder of what life can be if you allow yourself to waste away and become part of the corporate machine. Beyond that, it's also a decent puzzle game if you're interested in simple coding and assembly language. This Switch version doesn't bring any significant changes along with it to make it stand out from previous platform releases, but it still manages to deliver a unique puzzler experience that will leave you scratching your head if you don't throw your Switch against a wall first. If nothing else, Human Resource Machine is reassurance that even if there is no escaping the soul-crushing banality of reality, at least we have videogames!