Published on June 19th, 2012 | by James Kulas
Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination: Botanicula
Being a funsponge isn’t all doom and gloom, occasionally something comes along so unashamedly joyful, it cuts through years of calloused cynicism to my gleeful child-like core. With a smile on my face, and a song in my heart, I’m here to tell you just how much you need to experience Amanita’s effervescent therapy for the soul.
Set in a dream-like botanical microcosm, we take control of an eccentric group of flora in an attempt to liberate their home from menacing spider-like parasites. What sets it apart from other point-and-click adventures, or anything else for that matter, is not only the exuberance of its execution but its reverent attention to detail. Leaves bristle or dislodge, key items are coaxed into your inventory, and a cornucopia of creatures are gently persuaded into life under the cursor. Interactions occasionally reveal puzzles necessary for progression, but the majority unlock character cards relative to the encounter. Each one with its own charming animation.
Instead of throwing up a series of roadblocks like its peers, Botanicula presents a few major objectives to pursue. Within each task you’re free to explore and interact with as much, or as little, of the world as you’d like. Unlocking cards is largely optional, deftly avoiding those stalemate situations common in adventure games, and helping to maintain a sense of momentum often absent from the genre.
Visually, it’s a real day out for your eye-holes. Amanita’s inimitable signature style is bursting with life, an intriguing collage of illustration and photography. Locations vary from bloomy high-exposure to dank and sinister, each adeptly atmospheric in combination with the score.
Inhabitants range from vegetables, insects and microbial creations to more familiar squirrels and pigs, each milling about their business with smile-inducing charisma. Say what you will about bump-mapping and teraflops, the amount of creativity on display here holds far greater weight than any brown corridor manshooter.
Due to recent equal opportunities legislation, your ears are also invited. A wonderful ambient soundtrack provides texture, accompanied by triumphant flourishes at key moments. Working in tandem with the visuals, pseudo-speech declares character’s intentions, desires or mood without the need for dialogue.
Perhaps its greatest triumph is how well all of these elements come together to tell a story in the absence of dialogue. Having done my fair share of interface design, I can appreciate the brain-melting challenge involved in creating a system based entirely on gesture and nuance.
From start to finish there’s not one word, not a tooltip, nothing. Absent superfluous noise, a wonderfully pure experience shines through, allowing the player to intuitively acquaint themselves with their environment and relate to the story on their own terms.What little interface is required, is integrated seamlessly. Silhouettes projected upon a backlit leaf serving as an area map are the closest you’ll come to familiarity.
Of course I couldn’t get through an entire article without giving a balanced account, and for all its sweetness and light there are a few minor niggles. One particular puzzle involving bouncing a key around was infuriatingly unresponsive, to the point I had to look up the solution. Turns out I wasn’t alone in my frustration, the item interactions were a bit iffy in places, but have mostly been fixed up at this point. Some of the puzzles can also be a bit obtuse, and if you’re as unwilling to accept defeat as me, you may find the odd one rather stressful.
Looking back, I think the last time I experienced a transformative event of this magnitude was 2009′s Machinarium. These uncharacteristically positive outbursts eerily coinciding with the Czech studio’s releases. If you’re still on the fence after over five hundreds words of me being unashamedly positive, and you’ve tried the free demos linked here for your convenience, I suggest you check for a pulse. If Botanicula is capable of warming my cold, dead, heart then I can only imagine what it can do for someone with genuine emotions.
Also included with the Humble Bundle was Samorost 2, which I’ve yet to tackle, and a charming feature-length film – Kooky – which I’d recommend to daft man-children like myself or anyone with young kids.