â€œPuzzleâ€ is perhaps too strong a term for what youâ€™ll find in Botanicula. Much more accessible than previous games like Machinarium and the point-and-click adventures of yore, there are very few obstacles that canâ€™t be surpassed by fiddling with them for a minute or two, giving something the right item, or simply clicking everything on the screen and watching what happens. Citing a lack of challenge would certainly be a valid criticism in most cases, but players going into this game looking for one might be missing the point. Think of it as less of a game and more of an interactive art exhibit, a room full of toys that want to be played with so badly they wonâ€™t make you work too hard to find and enjoy them all. In a world where companies will always eagerly license every popular childrenâ€™s property to churn into awful games, Botanicula shines bright as an enjoyable experience truly suitable for any age or skill level.
There are a very specific set of skills necessary to create appealing characters without using words or traditional narrative. I donâ€™t know exactly what these skills are, but to quote former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: â€œI know it when I see it.â€ Of course, he was talking about hard-core pornography, but the sentiment is the same. It takes a strong command of visual language to successfully pull off something that communicates mostly in abstractions. Itâ€™s what put Pixar on the map, and Amanita Design deserves the same accolades.
On starting the game, youâ€™ll be introduced to five protagonists who would otherwise look at home scattered on the forest floor: mushroom, nut, twig, feather and lantern… thing. A short introduction sets the journey in motion: a strange corrupting force is disrupting the status quo of their botanic landscape and they set out to correct it. Certain points in the game will require you to select one for a task at hand and watch what happens, with the results ranging from cute to delightful. Generally there is only one character who can solve each obstacle, but watching each member of your little entourageâ€™s failed attempts is half the fun. Itâ€™s such a satisfying, highly visual and tactile simplification of the â€œband of adventurers each with a unique skill necessary to attain the goalâ€ theme that by the end of your quest you canâ€™t help but feel attached to all their tiny victories and defeats throughout the game.
The sound design goes a long way toward making a memorable experience as well. The enchanting soundtrack, provided by Czech musicians DVA, combines the evocative dreaminess of Brian Enoâ€™s â€œAnother Green Worldâ€ with the ethereal beauty of Sigur Ros. Instruments fade in and out as you come in contact with different characters, making the visual and audio elements of the game mesh together so well they become difficult to divorce. Although there are no lyrics, the soundtrack is not devoid of a human voice. Most of the sound effects in the game are produced using only a mouth and microphone, including a fair share of weird chanting, melodic buzzing, pops, mumbles, taps and squishy noises that give even more character to the bizarre menagerie. The end result is charming, a three hour trip to a strange and memorable otherworld that always has something interesting to share with you.
Botanicula is a game Iâ€™m entirely unsure how to pronounce. Itâ€™s the newest member of the tricky, elusive class of words we see written before hearing properly pronounced – â€œepilogueâ€, â€œtaupeâ€, â€œPhoebeâ€ – and silently hope we wonâ€™t make an ass of ourselves as they leave our lips for the first time. Perhaps thatâ€™s the same way I feel about attempting to neatly sum it up: it displays such a raw, unbound spirit of creativity and independence that Iâ€™m afraid to describe too much and condense it as something fully effable. If traditional video games are sentences on a page forming a narrative, Botanicula is the swirling maelstrom of potential nouns, verbs, and linkages that fires through an oratorâ€™s neurons as they tell a passionate story for the first time.
Or maybe not. Maybe itâ€™s just a massively imaginative point-and-click game with an incredibly unique art style and a perfect complimentary soundtrack. One of the greatest joys of indie games comes from the fact that they often have small teams who labor completely from passion. Instead of trying to appeal to as many 16- to 35-year-olds and shareholders as possible or figure out what advertising strategy will get the most “Likes” on Facebook, they snatch the freedom to create exactly what they want and dictate how it will be created. When games like Botanicula have such a strong unified vision, itâ€™s hard not to romanticize the industry this way. Regardless, Amanita Design has certainly earned a few of your measly bucks as entry fare to their garden of unearthly delights.
Release Date: April 19, 2012