By Mitsuo Takemoto |
Playing Botanicula reminds me of being a child and seeing epic fireworks displays. Despite knowing explosions were coming, and repeatedly thinking I'd seen the coolest setup yet, I still found myself regularly awed. Likewise Botanicula, despite inundating me with cute characters, adorable visuals and delightful music all within the first few moments, never ceased to charm and surprise me right up until the end of the credits. It's an audio and visual journey unlike anything else out there right now – something everyone should play, if for no other reason than to remember what it's like to experience wonderment in a video game again.
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Botanicula comes by way of Amanita Design, the team responsible for the indie hit Machinarium. Like its predecessor, it's a point-and-click adventure game. You play as a team of five plants and insectoid characters, taking them through a perilous journey to save their tree from life-sucking parasites. That's all you need to know going in, the rest is best left unknown.
The simple premise betrays the depth of Botanicula. Yes, a large part of the game comes down to clicking around the environment in an effort to find interactive points, and, yes, these tedious parts temporarily detract from the joy of exploring the bizarre environments, but Botanicula has many more smartly designed parts. At no point are you given a tutorial, it's simply up to you to experiment to find out what you're missing. Every action in Botanicula comes down to clicks and cursor movements, but Amanita figures out clever ways to keep you guessing. Sometimes you might have to use your cursor to push objects around the environment, while other times it might be as deceptively simple as clicking and dragging on some part of the world. You never know going in, and Botanicula inspires creativity while daring you to try whatever it is you're thinking, often rewarding you when you do.
Let's be clear: Botanicula maintains a pretty slow pace from start to finish. Puzzles range in challenge, sometimes coming across a bit too obtuse. Other times the solution is so easy it's hardly a puzzle, but instead an excuse for you to click everything until some bizarre action eventually takes place. A great majority of the environmental puzzles you encounter sit right in a happy medium, though, making you feel intelligent for parsing them out.
The aforementioned occasional tedium that comes from pixel hunting in an environment, or the sometimes overly simplistic puzzles, are some of Botanicula's few issues. The only other substantial complaint I had during the six or so hour story was that the video options are incredibly limited. Botanicula's art looks good even at low resolutions, but there's no real way to get it to operate at full screen if you have a larger monitor. Playing with black borders is tolerable, but it'd be nice to see this updated if possible.
The use of colors create quite the spectacle.
It's surprising to say, but, despite being a point-and-click puzzle adventure, these features take a back seat to Botanicula's audio / visual experience. Solving a puzzle gives a little ego boost, and often comes alongside an unpredictable and impressive sensory barrage. One second you could be mindlessly clicking a sphere only to have it burst open, turn into a series of planets, and then have music fill your ears that sells the beauty of the moment. Or perhaps your little troupe of would-be heroes wanders into a den of a great genie, leaving you to experience a taste of each of their greatest fantasies. Just what do the fantasies of anthropomorphic seed, fungus and insect people look like? You have to see it for yourself, because instances like that are what make Botanicula so special.