Botanicula

Genre:   Puzzle Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Amanita Design

Released:  April 2012

PC Requirements:   See review below.

 

 

by gremlin

 

What is it?

Everyone seems to be going organic these days; organic potatoes, organic apples, organic cotton T-shirts, organic clocks... anyone would think people don't realise the meaning of the word 'organic'. Now with a mini-rant of an opening paragraph like that, you might expect me to go off on another rant about organic games, but I won't. At least, not today.

Today, I'm writing about Botanicula, a game that doesn't claim to have been made with organic ingredients, but certainly has its roots in the truly organic world.

In 2003, a tiny Czech video game company called Amanita Design released Samorost for free on their website. It was cute, clever, not very long, but very loveable. Small, but perfectly formed. In the eight years between Samorost and Botanicula, Amanita Design have largely stuck to this theme. Botanicula fits right in with everything else I've seen from them.

Is there a plot?

The threat of destruction seems to feature heavily in Amanita Design games, and Botanicula is no exception. At the start of the game, we are shown that some black spider-like fuzzballs are sucking the life out of living things, and then we are introduced to a team of seedy characters who seem destined to do something to stop the black fuzzballs. No I don't mean characters that hang around dodgy bars and the backs of nightclubs; there's a little round hazelnut-like seed, a lantern-like seed pod, a mushroom, a tall, spiny sticky thing, and a flying sycamore seed. Each seed behaves differently, but for the most part, you just control the whole team and only on a few occasions do you select individual seeds to solve puzzles.

The game is set in and under a plant. You start at the topmost branches and work downwards. There are four or five acts within the game, but that's the only real linearity to the plot. The way you explore the environment within the acts is quite nonlinear, though some things can't be done until other things have been done.

How do you play?

Each act in Botanicula is focused on overcoming a specific obstacle, and the aim of the rest of each act is to make that possible, usually by collecting tokens or objects from the various screens. Some screens are very simple; perhaps a branch with a few leaves on. Others are more complex with animated characters or clickable objects in a variety of organic settings.

Puzzles within screens can be as simple as selecting the right member of your team of seeds to get past a particularly aggressive pest, or finding the right leaf to click. Other puzzles are more complex - finding the right sequence of actions, or being patient enough to find the right number of clicks.

Most screens have a 'game card' that is awarded to you when you solve the location. Collecting the cards gives your final score at the end, and opens extra animated sequences, but you don't need all the cards to complete the main story.

Controlling Botanicula is very easy. Everything is point and click. There is a menu across the bottom of the screen, and your inventory across the top, though both only appear when you move the mouse to the appropriate part of the screen. When you've been tasked with collecting a number of particular objects, it becomes very clear in your inventory how many are required, and what progress you've made.

The menu across the bottom of the screen is for the usual Save, Load, Settings commands and so on. Sub-menus pop up from the main menu as small, dark clouds. There aren't many options, just full-screen or windowed, graphics quality, sound volume and language (there are twelve!). But I found that I liked the ability to run the game in windowed mode rather than full-screen as this made it easier to dip in and out. Mind you, in dipping in and out whilst writing this review, I found myself drawn in to replay lots of puzzles again, and kept having to remind myself not to just do one more screen, just one more screen...

Notable Features

There are a few areas of Botanicula that differ from Samorost and its closer ilk. Principal among these differences is that the locations in Botanicula are much less detailed than earlier games. This game is about organic structures, plants and wee beasties of the creepy crawly world, where the earlier games had a more Heath Robinson look about them. You might take from this comment that I'm trying to suggest that people who are squeamish around spiders, worms and other small invertebrates should avoid Botanicula; I'm not. There is still plenty of 'cute' going on here, even if the little white suited dudes from the earlier game only show up once or twice, almost in cameo appearances, if you like.

Any other novelties?

A question that every software developer has to address, not just game developers, is what languages to support in your software. Amanita Design have an interesting solution for their games: there is no spoken language, or at least, not one I can recognise. They have invented a pseudo language for Botanicula based on small sounds, cheers, cries, and so on. Even when story elements are being 'told' the vocal part of it is a 'blah, blah, blah'-type of expression. Not that they've done anything as awfully bland as using 'blah, blah, blah' - the vocalisations sound like someone burbling a story that you just can't quite hear or understand, except for by the pictures that accompany it. This works just fine, thank you very much, and adds to the 'cute' effect of the characters depicted.

On the other hand, all the text in the game is rendered in your choice of language from a list of twelve, including English (phew!), Czech, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Slovenia and Botula - the language of the creatures of Botanicula - not that I can read that. Having said all that, there's really not a great deal to be read in the game. Most of it is graphical.

Now, I have to comment on the music. The music in Botanicula is unlike almost anything else I've heard. I think the nearest classification I can come up with is 'cute ambient'. It is multilayered, positive, quite repetitive but very pleasant on the ears. There are plenty of background sounds too, though I didn't realise they were there until I left the game running in windowed mode in the background!

The other area of the game I've found particularly difficult to describe is the graphical style. You've got animated seeds, tiny chickens, stylized spiders, other invertebrates like snails and worms, and a bunch of other creatures I've never seen before. The bulk of the game is in 2D screens, but a few are 3D. This doesn't in any way detract from the game - it doesn't look dated or low-tech. The colour palette is muted and translucent, but darkens as the game progresses and you head towards the ground and below it. Like the rest of the game, the look of the thing is quite unique.

Conclusions

So, Amanita Design have, I think, come up with another classic. Their organic-world-inspired festival of all things creepy, crawly and cute has caught me in its web of puzzles and life vs. dark conundrums (or is that 'conundra'?). Seeds can be heroes, and life-sucking spiders can be beaten.

The whole of Botanicula is quite maze-like, but there is a map. There are hundreds of puzzles, some linking to one another, but there are no tricky sound-based puzzles (despite a varied and imaginative soundtrack). The environment is simple, and whilst there are some pretty small targets to click on in some puzzles, there are only a few where timing is important. You cannot die and, despite my maze-like comment, there are no inescapable dead ends.

All in all, a brilliant little game, pitched just right. It may seem somewhat short, but there is replay value in trying to find all the game cards, so I've already gone through the whole thing twice. Yes, I think Botanicula might be a classic.

Grade: A

What do you need to play it?

Requirements

  • DirectX Version: 9.0 or above
  • Video Card RAM: 128MB
  • Processor: Pentium - 1.7 GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Operating System: Windows 7, Vista, and XP
  • Download Size: 900 MB

(I used a custom built 64-bit Vista Home Premium SP2 PC running on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual 5200+, with 6 GB RAM, and a Sapphire Radeon HD4670 512MB video card with mother-board sound card)

Botanicula can be purchased via download from the Amanita Design website, from GOG,  and from The Adventure Shop.

 

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