To say that Botanicula is a point-and-click exploration game doesn’t really do it justice. The great minds at Aminita Design who brought us the likes of Samarost and Machinarium, have once again created a game that is massively minimalist, like a small yet incredibly dense cake, with an equal mix of charm, brilliance and intelligence that delights every sense (except for taste, so maybe the cake metaphor isn’t entirely apt).
You take control of five botanical creatures that are trying to protect a special seed from spider-like parasites that suck the life out of the immense trees that serve as your home. As you progress through the game, you’ll come across old mushroom-like creatures that reveal the history of the trees and its people, and why the seed is so important. While the game features no spoken dialogue, the use of sounds accompanied with pictures, video and actions gives characters, even those you only interact with for a few seconds, a level of character most games can’t achieve with hours of play and voice-actors.
While the visual design of Aminita Design’s games have always captured and bolstered atmosphere, Botanicular manages to outdo all of its predecessors. The contrast of the dark, earthy colours of the creatures to the translucency of dead plant life, and again to the deep black parasites with plain yellow and bright red for eyes, speaks to the most primal part of us, and in this way, Botanicula brings symbolism to life.
Botanicular’s story is split into several different levels, each of which requires you to solve increasingly complex puzzles to reach the next stage of the game. However, the shift between different areas isn’t jarring or immersion breaking; you simply cannot reach the next area until something is done about the object blocking your path, or the contraption is able to transport you, and so on.
Despite the linear nature of the point-and-click genre, Botanicula’s streamlined method of progression, along with puzzle locations -- ensuring you see every area of the game -- make you feel like you’re actually exploring rather than going through the motions with the next stage of the game simply waiting for you to arrive.
The level-design, while beautiful and involving, becomes more and more honeycombed and elaborate as the game progresses, and you have two options to figure out where you are and how to get to where you want to go: exploring and remembering like some kind of genius elephant, or looking at a leaf that has a very basic map drawn on it with a marker. Looking at Aminita Design’s history and developers, it’s pretty safe to assume that all the leaf-maps were actual leaves that were actually drawn on with a marker. While this does lend to the aesthetic appeal to the game, it’s not entirely useful or helpful.
Botanicular’s puzzles are incredibly fun, and require you to be both thoughtful and diligent (unfortunately, this is not a choice, it’s both or nothing). At times it’s a double-edged sword. The reward you feel knowing you used more than two brain-cells to progress through the game is sometimes matched by frustration when you haven’t investigated an area to its full and utmost extent, which will result in you going round and round in circles till you finally stumble across what the hell you’ve overlooked all the time. More often than not, this is followed by a feeling of sadness, because you realise you’re not quite as clever as you’ve always suspected. While Botanicular isn’t quite as complex as Machinarium, a hints section would have been appreciated.
I think the game’s strongest point is the use of sound and music. Without it, Botanicula would be a great point-and-click title, with it, however, Botanicula is an experience
, not just a game. Every click turns Botanicula into an orchestra; a musical; a song. The game feels alive in the truest sense of the word, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Aminita’s ‘Sound Maker’ (what a title) Tomáš (Pif) Dvořák, and Composer Tomáš (Floex) Dvořák, have added a layer of genius to Botanicular.
Interacting with this bright and soulful world is a deeply involving experience, and you’ll find yourself continually finding excuses to play for just a few more minutes... only a few more. Maybe another 15-minutes. Soon an hour has passed and you have no idea where the time went. If you own a PC, you should own Botanicula.