Sawbuck Gamer

The Ruins Of Machi Itcza

Exponential Crisis

Collecting keys has never been as daunting as in The Ruins Of Machi Itcza.

By Matt Kodner • August 14, 2013

Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap game ($10 or less).

There’s an old fable concerning the creation of chess. The game’s inventor shows it to a king who is so impressed that he offers a handsome reward to the nerd. Waving aside dancing women and jewels, the inventor asks to receive one grain of wheat, double the next day, double that the day after, and so on, for as many days as there were squares on his chessboard. The king agrees, but soon finds himself struggling to keep up with the exponentially growing payout. If paid in full, he would have owed the chess nerd well over 400 billion grains of wheat. The king was probably really angry. The lesson is clear—don’t underestimate exponential growth—and The Ruins Of Machi Itcza teaches that same lesson in an unsettling way.

This simple-looking exploration game drops you in an ancient temple. Chasing after the meaning of life, you’re out to collect 13 keys hidden around the joint. Your adventure begins in a single room sporting exits that wrap-around Pac-Man-style— moving off the screen from the left teleports you to the right side. The first key is easy and getting 12 more seems like small potatoes. But after you snatch a couple, walking off the screen brings you somewhere new. The map has inflated, and now, there are eight rooms to explore. The temple continues to bloat as you make daring jumps and avoid arrow traps in your quest for keys. While Machi Itcza never gets harder, it cultivates a harsh despair as the temple grows. Though its ending sports a twist that’s a little too similar to Anna Anthropy’s game Redder, it’s a strong reminder not to mess with the exponential, or there could be hell to pay.

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16 Responses to “Exponential Crisis”

  1. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    I like games that mess with the player’s sense of space (Antichamber fanboy over here!) so I might have to come back to this one when I’m not at work.

    While I’m here, though, that screenshot remind me of an Atari game, or maybe a lower-res version of VVVVVV.

    • Matt Kodner says:

      It’s got a very low-key VVVVVV feel to it. There’s not much daring platforming going on, but the exploratory feeling is definitely there. 

  2. NakedSnake says:

    I really like the graphical presentation. They do a lot with a little here. My gaming experience begins with the NES, so to the Atari folks out there: could any Atari games have looked as good as this one?

    Overall, this was a pretty good game, but honestly I feel it would have worked better as a pure platformer. All the messing-with-the-player stuff I just found distracting from an otherwise solid experience.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Atari was manufacturing both game consoles and fairly powerful home computers until the mid 90s, so yes.

    • Girard says:

      An Atari 2600 game? No. Possibly one of the Atari computers, though. (Or a similar pre-NES gaming computer like the MSX1 or something)

  3. Cornell_University says:

    Seriously, does anybody have Teti’s number?  His mailbox is full so now the mailman is just dumping his White Slavery Today! catalogues all over the floor in the foyer.  The other residents are getting pretty upset.

  4. William Burr says:

    “Collecting keys has never been as daunting as in…” Stop you right there. Cauldron (1985).

  5. Marozeph says:

    OT: There’s a new Humble Bundle ( ) – not an Indie Bundle though, but a special Origin Bundle. As you might expect, (almost) all games only work with Origin. The included games aren’t bad though: Mirrors Edge, Dead Space 1 & 3, Medal of Honor, Crysis 2, Burnout Paradise. If you pay more than average, you also get Battlefield 3 and Sims 3. And all the money apparently goes to charity, not to EA.

    • MintBerry_Crunch says:

      Wowie! Thanks for the heads up. 

    • Please note that only The Sims 3 includes a Mac version, the rest are Windows-only. As ready as I am to plunk down another dollar on Burnout Paradise, it’s not worth firing up Parallels for that alone.

    • stepped_pyramids says:

      I was so excited at the idea that it was the good Origin, not the evil Origin. I hate the non-indie bundles with a passion, but I’d have given them a pass if there was an Ultima/Wing Commander bundle…

  6. boardgameguy says:

    I enjoyed this quite a bit, although now I feel like I shouldn’t play Redder since I can guess at how it would end.