Botanicula review
The Good:

Unique, surreal game world with outstanding art, animation, sound and music; vast cast of imaginative characters; challenging but interesting gameplay; numerous puzzles of many varieties.

The Bad:

Main cast poorly-defined as individuals and never work in tandem to solve problems; zero instructions and experiment-based gameplay may alienate inexperienced players.

Our Verdict:

A creation of obvious love and care, Botanicula is a must-play for those seeking a truly imaginative and entertaining adventure game.

A glowing seed blossoms into a beautiful tree even as the calm, almost meditational music lulls you into a warm, secure haze while you play idly with the brand new buds, unprepared for the sudden, vicious attack of an amorphous, spidery blob that mercilessly chomps and stomps through everything in its way. A lone seed slips through its grasp, and fortunately lands on a gentler soul, a leaf-shaped tree-creature that instinctively knows what it has to do: gather his friends – a seed, a winged insect, a stick flower and a toadstool, and embark on a race against time to save their tree, home to an entire collection of flora and fauna both adorable and repulsive, harmless and predatory. Botanicula, the newest offering of indie Czech studio Amanita Design, is a surreal adventure that follows the five protagonists on their grand quest, tracing their journey as they use their capabilities and resourcefulness to fend off the parasites before they suck the tree and most of its inhabitants dry.

You’ll sense you're in for something special the moment the installer launches with a cheerful whoop chorused by the little guys, and as the game unfurls its fabulously illustrated canvas with nary a word of greeting, you know for certain this is no ordinary game. The story is simple, built on the comfortably familiar theme of good versus evil, and it allows you to swing into action without meandering about on moral dilemmas. The bizarre tasks, which cover a wide variety from object collection to arcade sequences, are surprisingly logical despite the eccentric appearance of the game itself, and range in difficulty from very easy to reasonably tough. The real challenge arises from the style of gameplay: an uninstructed, fairly non-linear system which leaves you to fend for yourself in a sizable, often maze-like playing area. This may overwhelm you initially, but you soon settle into a rhythm, drawn in slowly but surely by the organic world with its fantastic shades and sounds, and the vast menagerie of cartoony, anthropomorphic characters, both plant and animal. The parasites are more than a worthy adversary, aggressive and fearsome, and together with the innovative and often tricky obstacles, will demand that you bring your A-game to this adventure.

Amanita's distinctive method of intentionally skimping on instructions – there are essentially none in this game – makes Botanicula a game that takes some getting used to. Right off the blocks, you're on your own, without the slightest inkling of what to do. A novice to this format, I spent the first couple of minutes staring at the starting screen of the graceful tree, waiting for something to happen, before I realised that I had to make things happen. During the engrossing, unstructured adventure that ensues, you're compelled to experiment, evaluate and devise ways to interact with the environment before you can get to solving the actual problems facing the tree and its residents. Unfettered by the restrictions of instruction, you're free to cavort around the game world, trying anything and everything to find out what works and what doesn't.

This experiment-driven gameplay multiplies the challenge of its deceptively simple approach by requiring you to first decipher the micro-objective, then determine how to achieve it in terms of sheer mechanics ( click more than once? rapidly click repeatedly? click and hold? click, hold and drag, perhaps?) till you eventually elicit a result or discover a pattern. Once I grew accustomed to the quirky format, I relished the experience, to the extent that I think rushing through this game using a walkthrough every time you're 'stuck' would significantly lessen the immense enjoyment you can derive from actually deducing how to extract yourself from the sticky situations.

You're not restricted to an ordered sequence of tasks, but the game world is broadly divided into four segments – the upper, healthy half of the tree, where you start; the lower half, ravaged by the parasites; underground around the roots; and finally into the core of the 'infection'. Each area takes about an hour to complete, and you're free to explore in any direction, barring obstacles and enemies. Arrows mark the directions in which the Five can travel, though there are many other ways they can arrive at their destinations: falling off surfaces, being carried off by other creatures, flying via an ingenious helicopter, or even submerging in a living submarine. Early on, you collect a leaf-map, which sketches out areas as you visit them and indicates your current location, making it easier to keep your bearings around the convoluted landscape.

Botanicula is chock full of puzzles of every sort. The inventory-based quests are straightforward in concept – the Five must scour the tree and its environs for certain items indicated by silhouetted forms in the inventory atop the screen. Some tree-beings they encounter en-route offer their help in exchange for favours, like procuring bait for a fisher-thing or retrieving the lost children of a distressed mommy-critter. These requirements are indicated via graphic thought bubbles which appear above the askers' heads, then enlisted in the inventory. Often, groups of scattered items have to be collected, like five keys or fourteen running ostriches, all of which must be gathered before they can be used. Objects sit in their reserved spots in the inventory until needed.

One of the most interesting aspects is the way the objectives lead from one to the next, initiating intelligently-devised chain reactions of actions and consequences that nudge, shove, or hurtle the Five to their victories. There are a bunch of logic-oriented puzzles which range in difficulty from nice and easy to delightfully clever to borderline aggravating, like organising a set of cup-flowers to direct a flow of water, bouncing objects around in proper sequence at correct angles, and clicking carnivorous tentacles in the right order to deactivate all of them. Some solutions demand discipline to unravel through trial-and-error, such as deciding which extending arms of a protagonist are the right ones to fetch an object, and at least one – constructing an animal from three randomly generated parts – seems to be based on pure dumb luck.

Several minigames involve varying degrees of mouse-control, such as one in which you have to carefully nudge lazily-floating orbs into holes, and another where you have to negotiate a beetle-race around a circular arena by rotating a centrally-placed handle. There's even a volleyball match of sorts, and some arcade sequences like a race through a convoluted maze while pursued by a seriously-annoyed larva, and a frantic descent through the belly of a monster while firing at creepy-crawlies and space shuttles. While none of these challenges are cripplingly difficult, some may require patience and a few rounds of practice to master.

It’s not like the Five don't make mistakes themselves, either. Their inherent exuberance often causes them to act without caution, and some quests involve extricating them from crises their carelessness or curiosity have landed them in. On occasion, you have to pick one of them to solve a puzzle based on their innate capabilities. Choosing the wrong one isn't fatal, or even a bummer; on the contrary, these erroneous decisions usually yield hilarious non-results that make it worthwhile to intentionally select clearly unviable options before settling for the correct one. That said, it's disappointing to never have the Five work cooperatively in tandem. There’s considerable frittered opportunity to creatively use combinations of their varied skill-sets, such as the stick flower's impressive elasticity, the winged insect's ability to fly, or the toadstool's plump, bouncy head, to resolve issues, or even establish a clear group dynamic. As it is, given the absence of back-stories and intra-group interaction, the Five usually remain clumped as a generic 'tool' instead of serving as distinct individuals in their own right.

Continued on the next page...





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Game Info

Botanicula

Platform: Mac, PC

Genre: Fantasy

Developer: Amanita Design

More Game Info »

Releases
Territory Date Publisher
Download April 19 2012 Amanita Design
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User Score

Average based on 37 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by Strav on Dec 4, 2012

A jack-in-the-box

You'd thought that a toy game is some kind of bad pleonasm but unfortunately, this is what I found in Botanicula. I must say that since the... Read the review »

Posted by Stefan on Sep 3, 2012

Solid game, but lacks story

There is no story whatsoever (there is the "save the planet" theme, but no dialogs or interaction). This is essentially a puzzle game. The... Read the review »



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About the Author
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Shuva Raha
Staff Writer

Comments

MoonBird MoonBird
Apr 19, 2012

No matter how great the game is otherwise, but those graphics make me puke instantly. I also knew the score without opening the article. No matter what Amanita spits out, it’s automatically 4½ stars. *sigh*

Jackal Jackal
Apr 19, 2012

No it isn’t “automatically” anything. Many people think their games are great. Deal with it.

Ascovel Ascovel
Apr 19, 2012

The art design (visuals and audio) is what made me pre-order this game instantly as soon as it was possible. I’m downloading it this very moment. The great reviews appearing today made me even more excited to play it.

Terabin Terabin
Apr 19, 2012

Fantastic looking game, fantastic developer, great idea to go with the Humble Bundle so that buyers can support the World Land Trust. They are putting what they stand for into action!

TrevorNZ
Apr 20, 2012

Having played Botanicula for awhile ....WOW what a cute and adorable game, I like the Dog like things, I wonder if they are barking in the right tree? Smile

Doobster
Apr 20, 2012

Played a bit.. what a game Smile Don’t want it to end !

dark_ixion
Apr 20, 2012

As usual no mention of it being available for Linux, which it is. Just says “PC, Mac”... a Mac is brand of PC, and PC isn’t an operating system, so both are inappropriate as “platforms”. I emailed the site a couple years ago about this but there was no response. Should be: “Linux, OS X and Windows”.

Jackal Jackal
Apr 20, 2012

And yet, somehow everyone knows exactly what the category means.

dark_ixion
Apr 20, 2012

“And yet, somehow everyone knows exactly what the category means.” That’s my point… PC doesn’t necessarily mean it’s available for Linux, and in most cases it doesn’t. Except in this case it *is* available for Linux, but there’s no mention of it. I accept most people see PC = Windows, and Mac = OS X, but despite those being inadequate terms for platforms, they’re not enough to cover other operating systems when those are supported too.

Jackal Jackal
Apr 20, 2012

I’m well aware what your point was, but the platform category refers to hardware only.

Strav
Apr 21, 2012

“platform category refers to hardware only”: I’m sorry but we all know that this makes no sense. We generally address software compatibility on the operating system basis. If you wish to be really specific about the details, you could list the processor architectures (X86, ARM, SPARC, etc.) but that would be pedantic in our context. dark_ixion is absolutely right to criticize this PC/MAC categorization and his point is clear: if you seek to find out if some game is compatible with Linux or BSD for that matter, PC means nothing to you. You could go on and ignore this fact, but another fact is that many indie game devs are increasingly considering Linux as a target platform, so well… I think it’s not really wise to dismiss his suggestion (it’s not like this site would have to be re-coded from ground up to is it?)

Jackal Jackal
Apr 21, 2012

This will be the past post on this subject, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the Botanicula review (or the game). The category is there to separate PC from Xbox, Wii, etc., not the minutiae of computer hardware and various OS’s people are using. We have and will continue to list Linux under System Requirements where we’re aware of them.

marcd2011 marcd2011
Apr 22, 2012

I did enjoy this, but it felt far too easy and far too short. The only time i was stuck in the whole game was when i had missed a screen which contained an item i needed. None of the puzzles required much thought and I completed it in one sitting, of about 3 hours, getting 111/123 character cards.

zane
Apr 22, 2012

Would i like the game to be twice as long? yes i would. But the game is long enough for its price, and more importantly it concludes well and satisfyingly. And even more importantly, it is ridiculously cute and atmospheric with a brilliant soundtrack.

Morave
Apr 22, 2012

I felt like being back in the kindergarten. And guess what, I loved it! My only complaint is, that it was far too easy, none of the puzzles took more than a couple minutes to figure out. But the graphics are lovely and the soundtrack works amazingly well. Worth every penny I paid for it.

Strav
Apr 27, 2012

Apparently, I’m not a child anymore. It felt like the Tiny Bang Story all over again but this time, with happy faces painted all over. I too, smiled here and there but after all, I’m only left with the impression to have been through a bunch of random, boring puzzles. Machinarium was a much more solid production.

Jelena Jelena
Apr 27, 2012

I love the ‘quirkyness’ of Botanicula, enjoying every minute of playing it!

Interplay Interplay
Apr 28, 2012

Just finished the game. A couple of thoughts: I thought the visual design and the graphics were really beautiful. They really pop off the screen. When the inevitable iPad version comes out, the Apple types are going to swoon over the visuals. I thought the sound and music fit the game very well though a couple of times I put headphones on because I realized the sound/music was probably incredibly annoying to the person in the room who wasn’t playing the game. Yes, it is short, but theoretically you could saunter over to the Humble Bundle and buy this game (and other great ones) for $1 if you chose so one can’t really complain. Overall, though, I think Machinarium is a much better game and remains Amanita’s high point. In same ways, this feels like a step back to their earlier Samorost-type games after they seemed to be making very interesting progress forward with Machinarium. Really, I think this game could best be described as a souped-up, longer, and more beautiful version of Samorost. Really, though, (and especially as long as the Humble Bundle is going on), I can’t imagine any regular visitor to this site wouldn’t give the game a try and make up their own mind about it.

inflikkt inflikkt
May 7, 2012

alot of people are hating, but i really enjoy these graphics lol. mechanarium had a bit more charm in ways, perhaps, but this gameplay is a bit smoother. i love the music and feeling u get playing through it. really creative game Smile

tsa tsa
May 9, 2012

I played Botanicula for a while but it isn’t for me. The lack of a story and of conversations with people makes it too ‘poor’ a game for my liking.

DrFrankenstein DrFrankenstein
May 22, 2012

Amanita Design delivers yet another excellent game which both clever and charming. These guys are the living proof that it’s not the budget which makes a game great, but putting some heart and creativity into it.

Excellent review by Shuva and a score right on target.

bai_ganyo
Jul 9, 2012

“No matter what Amanita spits out, it’s automatically 4½ stars.”
What could this mean? Maybe a conspiracy? Or Adventure Gamers holding stocks of Amanita Design? Amanita Design bribing Adventure Gamers with the copious amounts of money they most obviously have? As well as any other site I saw a review of this game?!
This must be really big.

Stefan
Sep 3, 2012

@bai_ganyo
I think he just means you’re biased. I haven’t played other Amanita games and I just don’t see the reason for 4,5 stars. I give it 3,5 stars. See my review for details.

For the official review: I didn’t like it. There is very little that will surprise you after reading it. The review is basically a spoiler and tl;dr.

Jackal Jackal
Sep 3, 2012

The reviewer hadn’t played any Amanita games before either.  Doesn’t matter what he meant; he was wrong.

Northest Northest
Sep 11, 2013

Oldish game which I’ve just got around to finishing and I’m glad to see it thought of so highly here. This game is delightful. I wonder if Amanita Design have claim to Nintendo’s crown as kings of charm.



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