After reviewing Machinarium a few months back, I felt such an affinity with the style that I was compelled to check out what other works of wonder Amanita Design had previously come up with. And not only did I find a back log of creative gorgeousness, I also prepared myself for their newest release, Botanicula.
But not before trying out the free to play samples on their website. Here I first tried Samorost, a free point and explore game from 2003. From here it’s easy to see where the grass-roots of Machinarium and Botanicula were formed. Even in AD’s early stages as developers, they managed to graft together a scrumptiously unique world. Splicing stock images of organic wood textures, aged gears and valves, overlaid with hand drawn interactables and characters.
Although painfully short and in some areas lacking resolution, Samorost set a nice benchmark for its sequel Samorost 2. You can also play the first chapter of this game for free here, well worth a try.
And now AD pitches its newest characters into a beautifully unforgiving world of tiny point and click adventures. Mr. Lantern, Mr. Twig, Mr. Poppy Head, Mr. Feather and Mrs. Mushroom, a loveable bunch. Set on an adventure to safeguard the last seed of their home tree and to stop the corruption of an evil parasite that’s spreading through their world.
I tripped six kinds of balls playing this game. Be prepared for nothing to make any kind of sense, and to be able to make a lot of seemingly wrong and pointless interactions, with amusing sound effects.. Botanicula takes puzzle solving to a new level by making your goals simple, but how to achieve them very difficult to understand. You’ll be asked to find keys, turkeys, conker babies and a host of other bizarre objects, even where to use them becomes very obvious. But how to obtain said objects.. Utterly incomprehensible and very trial and error based.
Unlike Machinarium, you engage more with your surroundings, hovering and dragging some objects as opposed to just clicking and consuming them. And when most of your environment reacts to your cursor, it becomes challenging to know just where to start, so click, drag and hover over EVERYTHING!
Also unlike Machinarium, you’ll not be given any kind of in-game hints to decipher the cryptic tasks at hand. But cleverly, all interactions count for something in the grand scheme. Throughout the game you’ll be presented with cards for every creature you successfully interact with. And with one hundred and twenty-three cards, you can tell there’s an impressive amount of character design gone into this game. And the more you collect, the more prizes you’ll be presented on completion of the game.
Botanicula is just so endearing! The seer amount of immersion you can have with this game, coupled with a multitude of strange and wonderful characters really gives Botanicula a charm that quickly dissipates the frustration of not knowing where you should be going or how to find what you should be looking for. And instead flips it into curiosity.
The map feature, coupled with basic symbols that roughly sum up what goes on in each map section will quite easily guide you through the twisting maze of branches, roots and general foliage. Without this it would quickly become confusing navigating from place to place. Becoming accustomed to the set up is very easy, it even gets relaxing to play through once you’ve begun to understand the inner workings and methods of the game.
The critters you’ll meet all through your journey have their own little duties to perform, helpful, hindering or just for their own amusement. Constantly check what unique items you’ve procured on your travels, eggs, beach balls, idols, worms, they’re all useful in one way or another and as a bit of a hint, you’ll only be able to drag them off the tool bar once you’ve entered the right scene you need to use them in.
Something I’m very glad AD changed about the game play is the speed at which the characters move. Guiding Josef on his journey through Machinarium was at times frustratingly slow. But these critters move very quickly across the map, allowing you to explore much faster.. Easing the irritation caused by not know where you need to be and what exactly you should be doing.
It has the tell-tale flare of AD’s masterful blending of textures, but with a much brighter and cheery atmosphere than its predecessors. Even after a quick play through you’ll come to appreciate the effort AD’s small team of graphic designers have put into yet another master piece. These games really are an art form, akin to something cooked up in the mind of Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam and his legendary cut-out animations.
With this much raw talent for story telling without conventional verbal means, it’s difficult not to get drawn into the plot. Another game well done.
Look out for Samorost 3!