Botanicula review (sort of)
Botanicula is a cute and weird little game from Czech indie developer Amanita Design available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It is also my favourite game so far this year.
It has no voice acting, no 3D graphics, no guns, no written text, and it’s just a few hours long. But it’s also beautiful, fun, happy, charming, full of character and gives you a very living (and quite bonkers) world to explore.
This article could well have been called “Why videogames matter”, but that’s a tad pretentious, and I think it will come through anyway in my description of this game. Call it a review, if you will.
Botanicula is a point-and-click adventure game. You point at stuff, click it, and things happen. Usually happy and/or funny things. All to the tune of some of the best sound design I know of, and backed by a beautiful soundtrack composed by a Czech band called DVA. I don’t really know more about them, since all I can find is a Myspace page with some music and concert dates on it.
The setting is: You’re in a very lively tree that has some very special fruit at the top. One of the shadow spiders creeps its way up and starts devouring the fruit, all except one which escapes through means that are probably magical. It falls down and bonks poor mister Nut on the… nut, before dragging him into a vision of what must be done, after which he calls on his friends, tells them there is adventure to be had, and hides the fruit inside himself, causing him to glow slightly.
The entire story is told through images and sounds. Whenever someone “talks” they’re just uttering little non-lingual sounds and pictures appear above their heads to illustrate what they’re “saying”. It’s cute and charming and somehow conveys more character than a lot of AAA constructs.
Exploration is a big factor in Botanicula. There is the stuff you need to do, and then there’s the stuff you can do. You can click on little stems to cause flowers to sprout and attract bees. You can click on insects or other little creatures to prompt them to action. You can click eggs or cocoons or make them hatch. You can drag sticks or creatures to try to trigger something. Most times you get a little card as a memento of the creature you saw or the thing that happened. And there are of course puzzles to solve.
Among my favourites are the scenes where you need to pick one of the five to complete a task set before you. Only one of them will actually succeed, but a lot of the fun comes from seeing how the others fail. Sometimes the failures might even gain you another card for your collection.
There is no ultimate failure in this game though, no way to “die”, so never be afraid to experiment. I will admit some of the puzzles had me stumped for a while, but I found my way to the end eventually, and sat there grinning like an idiot while the ending and finale song played.
I have already mentioned the music, but it is definitely worth mentioning again. The soundtrack is so good it’s worth buying the game just for that. This is a very cheesy way of saying it, but it taps into the part of my brain that is only able to feel absolute glee. It fits the game so well, but is still a delight to listen to on its own.
See, games like this are what remind me why videogames matter and are worth defending, no matter how much idiotic stuff the bigwigs at Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft etc. pull off. In spite of the prevalence of DRM, online passes, forced multiplayer, ridiculous “micro”-transactions, gritty grey-brown landscapes and endless sequels, we still get little gems like this that keep feeding you little rewards of happiness as you play and explore.
In the interest of fairness, I should probably try to come up with some criticism for the game. Well, it can at times be a bit unclear exactly what you are supposed to do, and there are a few areas that almost fall into pixel-hunt territory. There was nothing that really annoyed me while playing though… nothing that stuck in my mind, at least. I just want to play the game again, even though I know all the puzzles now.
In conclusion, I am quite confident that this game will remain in my top three of the year. It’s short, cute and memorable, and costs only $10 if you get it directly from Amanita’s own website.
My recommendation: Unless you hate happiness, I highly suggest you give this little gem a try.