Written by Chris Price
13 Sunday 13th May 2012

Thatgamecompany’s desert struggle Journey, and Polytron’s 2D 3D-‘em-up Fez have both hit mass awareness lately through their pure determination to confuse gamers looking for ‘the beef’ in the title (“What do I shoot? How much energy to I have left?”) On console, arguably the likes of Bejeweled cracked open the mystique of downloadable titles, which allowed Limbo to be accepted into the hearts of many console gamers. Yet PC owners, with the likes of Flash games and all manner of curious download-only titles have had their hands full for years. Amanita Design’s Machinarium was one such title, the story of broken robots in a wonderful, illustrated world of scrap and discovery. Their follow up Botanicula seeks to continue their unique gamest.

One of the most impressive things about Botanicula is the way it conveys its entire story so effortlessly, without a jot of dialogue. While not the most complex of tales, the journey of a group of five seeds (named Mr. Lantern, Mr. Twig, Mr. Poppy Head, Mr. Feather and Mrs. Mushroom) burdened with the task of replanting the last seed of a mystical tree is laced with equal amounts of excitement and intrigue as what’s on offer from far more luxurious titles.

In a kind of horticultural point-and-click adventure crossed with Stand By Me, the adventurous group convey their emotions by little more than Nintendo-esque mumbling and whimsicial cardboard cut-out animations. But these two simple ingredients, aided and abetted by a fantastic otherworldly ambient soundtrack courtesy of Czech synth composers DVA conspire to deliver a delightfully personable adventure.

The point and click interface is rudimentary, with interaction from your cursor affecting the environment the plucky heroes wander through – and while the tasks you’re presented with for advancement generally aren’t prohibitively challenging, trial and error interactions and success are equally surprising, rewarding and endearing.

Botanicula’s concept might provide the kind of interactive feedback extension loop that would signal it ‘gameness’ – but the pacing, difficulty and irregular narrative appeals far more to that of an interactive story – one that needs to hurry up with its iPad development.

But in its adventurous nature, it succeeds. This is not only a adventure for the protagonists, but the player too – led blindly by the characters and impish poking of the world therein to learn abilities of each creature, new environmental challenges and flowery dialects.  Its point-and-click structure is not dissimilar to such dollar-hungry Facebook games as Gardens of Time – in a more perfect world, Amanita Design would be dispensing their creativity through this format. And the world would be a more beautiful and inspiring place as a result. For the moment though, enjoy Botanicula for what it is – surprising, delightful and stoically awkward to pigeonhole.


Botanicula is available now for PC and Mac for $10 (or equivalent)

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