When I started playing Botanicula, it reminded me of a game I played years and years ago as a kid. It was the CD-ROM version of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. Basically the game saw you clicking things on-screen to hear various sound grabs from the movie, along with a spattering of basic puzzles to progress through the narrative. Even as a kid who loved Monty Python I could sense what I was “playing” wasn’t very good, in terms of actually being a game. Botanicula does much the same thing as the Monty Python game; you click on things and they make a noise or move around in addition to some basic puzzles and item collecting. In terms of being a game, Botanicula has a pretty bare bones offering, but the audio and visual elements of the game are so undeniable charming that it transcends being a mere game and becomes a beautiful experience.
Feel free to listen to the above song from the game’s amazing soundtrack while reading this review.
Botanicula is a point and click game and a very basic one at that. As mentioned there certainly are puzzles, but they are never hard. I don’t think many people will get stuck for long while playing. In between the puzzles and mini-games that make up the “game” part of Botanicula you will poke your mouse around the screen looking for bugs, leaves and other whimsical things to click. It might not sound like much, but Amanita Design has used this “mechanic” so well, that every screen positively pops with life.
As well as being a source of constant joy, finding all the …things (for want of a better word) gives you a “score” at the end of the game. Each thing, whether it is a nut that barks like a dog, a grub, or a soothsaying mushroom will, when interacted with, give you a collectible card. These cards track all the creatures you meet and will unlock extra animations at the end of the game. This isn’t a particularly laborious exercise, I had found most of the creatures without really trying by the end of my game. The cards are a nice way to encourage a little more poking around the lovely scenes presented by the game.
When I reviewed “To The Moon” last year, I wondered if the story presented in that game would have worked better in a different medium. With Botanicula I have no such doubts. It’s such a simple story: a group made up of a couple of seeds, a stick and a mushroom stop a life sucking spider from devouring their forest. The story works because of the added depth it gains by being a game. The clicking and exploration not only tell a story, but give you an experience of being part of the weird world the game is set. No other medium could possibly translate the experience of being a seed wandering around the different communities existing on a tree in such a way. The world is fundamentally weird and alien but it is possible to comprehend because being a game un-shackles Botanicula’s story from other mediums need for words and explanations while still maintaining meaning.
How does Botanicula create this experience so deftly? Through near impeccable art and sound design. For example, much of the time you will be on the branches of a tree. Rather than making this branch appear as wooden and solid it appears translucent, with veins and cells visually flowing through it. We know it’s a tree branch, but because of the way it is represented in the game we see the tree branch as a seed would see it: it’s alive, feeding the ecosystem around it. Nearly everything that the player encounters feels pumping with life so when the game shows us the devouring spider sucking the life out of things around it we understand what’s at stake.
As well as giving extra meaning to the world, the art is gorgeous and strange at the same time. Recognizable parts of the natural world have been changed and warped to fit into the environments of Botanicula. Exploring the game’s world will take you to a variety of otherworldly locations which are all a visual feast.
The stand out star of the game, and what ties the whole package together so perfectly, is the music and sound design. The sound effects wash over you, immersing you in the forest (Or nut, beehive or any other area you travel to). A vast majority of the sound effects are done by a human voice box which bring Botanicula pretty close to exploding with cuteness. The sound track is also amazing and fits the theme of the game perfectly. As well as sounding great, sound is used so effectively as to give a tactile sense to the environments as you interact with it.
As much as the puzzles and item collecting are intuitive, avoiding being arcane or obtuse, there is always going to be screens and collectables you miss. There is room for this to happen in Botanicula and this can cause the player frustration. I guess that’s just a part of the territory of point and click games though. There could have been a more puzzles to fill the game up , but I suppose that’s just because I’m greedy to see more of Botanicula’s world.
Botanicula won’t take you long to finish. Even if you get stuck somewhere along the line you’re only going to get a few hours gameplay out of it at the very most. In my opinion that doesn’t matter one iota, because Botanicula is a few hours of the most engrossing gaming experience I’ve played. It’s a short, sweet and beautiful game that wouldn’t make sense as anything other than a game. If you play it and don’t fall in love I can only imagine your related to the soul sucking spider eating up the forest, Botanicula gets a healthy 5 out of 5 stars.