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Human Resource Machine (Switch) artwork

Human Resource Machine (Switch) review

"Human Resource Machine will put skilled puzzle fans through their paces, but is that really enough?"

This might seem a little odd, coming from someone who has spent hundreds of hours coding without ever earning a paycheck for it, but I don't particularly enjoy the process. I wouldn't bother coding at all, I don't think, if it weren't for the amazing things a person can build with a little patience and skill. Video games, for instance. And web sites like this one.

The developers responsible for Human Resource Machine seem to like coding a great deal more than I do, to the point that they've essentially created a video game all about it. They wisely dressed up mundane subject matter with some cheery visuals and (barely) disguised the whole affair as the tale of a young mail room worker. It's a little like "The Hudsucker Proxy," only with robots. By playing the game you can learn the fundamental concepts that drive computer coding, and that's supposed to be sufficiently satisfying that you'll pay $10 for the privilege.

Human Resource Machine (Switch) image

The game is divided into basic stages that you access from a similarly basic menu. Each one finds your boss sitting behind a desk near the upper right side of the screen. Tap him and ask for hints if you like, but he's not usually very helpful because he tends to tell you what needs done but not how to actually do it. On the left side of the screen, you'll see your Inbox. A series of blocks are positioned along a conveyor belt, with numbers or letters on their face. To the right from there, you have a large floor space that is typically divided into a grid. Then, further to the right, there is the Outbox, which is just a belt that will send the sorted cubes on down the line. You'll manipulate a lot of mail on your way through the game's campaign.

When I began playing the game on the Nintendo Switch, I thought something might be wrong with my controller. The title screen came up on my TV and the game's main theme piped cheerily from my speakers, but I couldn't get any further. I decided the game may use touch controls, so I removed the pad from its dock and my suspicions were confirmed. I soon found out why that was, too: Human Resource Machine is definitely not the sort of game that would play efficiently with a standard controller.

Human Resource Machine (Switch) image

Once I got comfortable with the idea that I would need to use my fingers, I had little trouble adjusting. Sorting the mail requires the player to manipulate each piece with an assortment of commands. For instance, you can pluck it from the Inbox, make a copy of it that you drop on the floor, or even set up looping routines as the volume of incoming messages predictably increases. You accomplish all of this by dragging commands from the mid-right portion of the screen to the far right side. From there, you can drag some more to rearrange their order, to scroll so that you can see more of your progress and so forth. Since there's no timer, you can take as long as you like without penalty.

When I'm coding on my computer, I like to have as much screen real estate available as possible, so that I can see the contents of each line more easily. Human Resource Machine limits the player to fairly simple scripts, but there's still nowhere near enough space. That means you have to scroll a lot, and it's a bit too easy to accidentally grab a command and shift it elsewhere on your list. There is an "Undo" option, at least, and you can eventually apply labels to important spaces to remind you what all they do. Still, I found the process rather annoying overall.

I also didn't like that much of the game's difficulty comes from your poor selection of available tools. Stages ask you to multiply, for instance, but you can't simply write a formula like you would on a computer. Instead, you have to make copies of a value, then keep adding it to itself while checking the growing tally against another variable to make sure that you don't exceed the desired total value. As the game throws in additional rules, it all gets to be a bit much, not even halfway through what starts to feel like a needlessly lengthy campaign. It's true that when you are working as an actual coder, you might not always have the tools you would like and will need to find workarounds (or create them). I appreciate that the game encourages creative use of pathetic resources, and in a reasonably accessible manner. I just wish that approach didn't feel quite so tedious. It simulates things just a little too well.

Human Resource Machine (Switch) image

Stages are meant to be played more than once, a lot of them. That's clear by the availability of size and speed challenges. You need to clear a challenge with only 8 individual commands, for instance, or produce a script that solves the puzzle in 36 or fewer steps. Both tasks are completely optional. Sometimes, you can tend to both at once. Elsewhere, you'll need to make separate attempts. But since there's no particular reward for nailing the optional objectives, I stopped worrying about them. I got a lot of them just by sheer luck, but I didn't tend to others and I'm perfectly okay with that.

If you would like to learn some of the general logic that goes into computer coding without learning how to put together working scripts, Human Resource Machine could actually serve as a decent starting point. A lot of the principles are sound, even if they feel awkward compared to working with a simple programming language. And if you find that this sort of material interest you, I would suggest that as a next step, you build a free web site or play around in GameMaker or Unity. At least then you have the chance of building something that will potentially evolve into a project you can feel proud for creating. Here, about all you can do is say "I got good at a game." It just feels like too much work for such a meager reward...


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 23, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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bwv_639 posted March 24, 2017:

Niche coding-like games with a focus on assembly language have been in vogue of late, but be it The Great Permutator (my favorite one), TIS-100 or SpaceChem, they have never reached consoles.

And for good reason. All people who can enjoy coding-like activity, what's more as a pastime, will have a computer.
This one seems of lower quality but less tough; let's see how it sells for the Wii U/Switch (I have noticed reviews by Steam players, all positive, while on forums for Nintendo console players people complain about the off-chart difficulty).
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honestgamer posted March 24, 2017:

A lot of sim games suffer from that flaw if they approach reality: you start to think about what else similar efforts could get you, how much those other results might enrich your life (that's one reason I stopped playing a number of Facebook games: because with similar effort, I could spend my time elsewhere and have something to show for it).

Games are supposed to be fun. And while some people enjoy doing all the work with little or none of the pay, because they like rising to the challenge (I do get why some people might feel that way bout coding), I know that life has plenty of challenges to offer me. Whenever possible, I would like to chase those challenges that have a reward waiting me at the end. Put another way: if I have to choose between a vanilla sundae or a sundae that has all of my favorite toppings, and the cost to me is essentially the same no matter the choice, why would I choose the one without the toppings?
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hastypixels posted March 24, 2017:

I sat down with this one for about twenty minutes and haven't gone back to it. If at the very least it had intriguing story to tell I might have returned, but this has all the glamour of real office work. I didn't pay much for it, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to, either.

A missed opportunity.

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