Review: Botanicula

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Amanita Design is one of those developers that I love to death, and in their case it’s because all of their games are so unrelentingly joyful. From Samorost’s kooky cosmic critters to the pleasant rustbuckets of Machinarium, their games exude pure happiness in the form of upbeat gibberish, uncomplicated puzzles, and positive themes no matter how dark individual moments may get. Botanicula is another notch in this merry belt, one that has no trouble juggling goofy vignettes with existential threats.

Once upon a time there was a very nice tree, full of little bugs and sprouts and assorted critters. Some spidery thing showed up and started devouring it all with a sort of creeping darkness, and a small band of the aforementioned critters escape with the tree’s last seed. Struggling to stay one step ahead of their monstrous adversary, the critters journey through a colorful arboreal world in search of a new home and a fresh start.

What this actually means is you have five little dudes who roam around as a unit, following your clicks from screen to screen and interacting with the many living things of Botanicula’s world. As an adventure game there’s very little player input, relatively speaking. There’s only left click (and on occasion mouse proximity has an effect) and only on specific points of interest like critters and items. You don’t move your team directly, but rather click on arrows pointing to different areas.

These limitations actually serve to benefit the game, especially as the scope of the gameplay expands. Botanicula’s world is strange and alien, and most of the puzzles wouldn’t work at all if they required more exact input. Instead, you can just click on little creatures to make them fly or yell or burp, and as long as you do it at the right time or in the right order or at all, you can make progress. The scenes your clicks produce are so funny and heartwarming I doubt anyone will have a problem with relinquishing control for them. And then later in the game you’ll get to pick specific critters on your team to do things, collect items to use in puzzles, and work through a few more nifty gimmicks.

The story is another strong point building on these basic mechanics, a remarkable feat given that it is told entirely without dialogue. The folks at Amanita have mastered the art of storytelling through action and expression and it does tremendous work here. All of the adorable denizens you meet speak in mumbly Sims-like chatter but get their points across through wild gesticulation and the occasional visual aid. This hands-off approach both heightens the impact of events (good and bad) when they occur, and also keeps the game feeling lighthearted and silly the rest of the time. You’re also encouraged to experiment with everything you meet, because interacting with new critters earns you collectible cards that can score you extra scenes at the end of the game.

You’ll experience the world of Botanicula through a mix of vector art and photoshopped works, a finely-blended style that gives everything just enough weight to seem real, without losing its fanciful, dreamlike energy. The peppy soundtrack follows suit with all sorts of cutely and folksy tunes to keep you engaged. The artistry on display here is rare and unique, and makes the game feel like a real treasure from its simple beginning to its unexpectedly epic conclusion. Botanicula makes another excellent entry in Amanita Design’s lineup, and an unforgettable title for any fan of point-and-click adventures.

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