Wot I Think: Botanicula

By John Walker on April 19th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

I'm not sure any game has been so consistently gorgeous.

Amanita’s Botanicula is out in one hour, and you’re going to like it very, very much. But, er, we recommend your hold off on purchasing it until 6pm. All the pics in this review can be clicked on for full-size versions, which if you’ve any sense will be gracing your desktop immediately. I’ve played it through and fallen in love, and you can find out why via the magical process of my saying Wot I Think:

My wife doesn’t like games. I don’t know what’s wrong with her – perhaps she’s missing a vital part of her brain, or maybe a copy of Arkanoids hit her on the head when she was a baby. Whatever the reason, it means that there’s a fairly hefty gap in our interests, where I sit upstairs enjoying the vivid and wonderful worlds available in gaming, while she, er, I dunno, complains about stuff to the cat probably. So it says something pretty enormous about Botanicula that there was no doubt in my mind that she’d love it.

She loves it.

As do I. It’s a ludicrously lovely thing, a celebration of joy and happiness, as five little plant-based creatures thwart the efforts of some malevolent spider-beasts to suck all the life-force out of their enormous tree. It’s incessantly gorgeous, fixing an unflinching grin of glee on your face from start to finish, as you experience the onslaught of imagination and creativity from Amanita Design.

It’s also an interesting diversion from the team’s previous game, Machinarium. The robot adventure was quite a diversion from their usual style, and Botanicula brings things right back home, focusing more on exploration and experimentation with an organic world, rather than straight puzzles and narrative. Which is to say, you’re given dozens and dozens of beautiful, living scenes, and you click on them to make cool stuff happen.

That’s over-simplifying. There are puzzles here, but they’re almost always about manipulating the environment, and the creatures that live in it, the game’s crude inventory used only about five times throughout. It’s much more about sweeping the mouse around the screen, watching as plants and animals react to it, spotting patterns, and gathering lost items. But the rewards come in spades, every tiny detail so lovingly created, and so joyfully presented, that Botanicula becomes a non-urgent experience of just playing.

Each scene, a static screen you explore for areas where the mouse becomes a cursor, is bursting with life. The tree’s branches are arterial, flowing with organisms. Almost every bud or leaf will react to the mouse’s being passed over it, while many will unfurl and deliver superbly funny animations when clicked on. Despite it being unknown if that reaction is part of a puzzle, or simply part of the playful experience, weirdly doesn’t frustrate. Either because its behaviour is so winning, or because the craft behind the game manages to signal when there’s no progress to be made.

That’s not to say I didn’t get stuck. Perhaps the one notably backward step from Machinarium is a lack of an in-built hint system, and while none of the puzzles are nearly as difficult as their last game, that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating when you’re not sure what it was you missed, nor on which of the very many screens available at any point in the game. However, trying to actually articulate that frustration while be assaulted by loveliness is an interesting challenge. And importantly, I cleared the whole game without needing a hint – just persistence of exploration is enough. (Although I should note that a bug at one point did leave me stumped and annoyed – I’ve reported it, and hopefully it’ll be gone from the released game.)

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with any of Amanita’s projects, from Samorost onward, that the music is not just exemplary and adorable, but also an integral part of the game. Fortunately, not in a way that’s prohibitive to the more atonal player – there’s no tiresome pattern repeating, for instance. Instead little play-puzzles may ask you to use timing to get a whole screen of apostrophe-shaped bird-creatures to harmonize together, by clicking on them all rather rapidly. The result is a wonderful sound, which is a sentence you can apply to just about every screen.

Everything reacts with noises, and most of them are created by humans. Buzzing, chirping, squawking and chattering are mostly mouth-made silliness, some I’m convinced done by what sound like an extremely entertained group of children. It adds charm like a bulldozer adds salt, amplifying the bursting happiness of the whole experience even further. And if it’s not someone enthusiastically enunciating “BZZZZZZ! BZZZZZ!” then it’s the soundtrack flitting from blisteringly cheery hand-claps to strange, organic grumblings and chirruping.

The music isn’t by Amanita’s usual Tomáš (Floex) Dvořák, who instead works as a production assistant on this project. This time it’s by multi-instrumentalists, Bára Kratochvílová and Jan Kratochvíl, under the name DVA (that’s Czech for Two). And it’s a perfect fit. Matching Dvořák’s style, but perhaps more varied, with greater extremes, it frequently reminded me of The Books in all the right ways, and I’m writing this while the soundtrack plays because there’s little else I want to listen to just now. There’s a reason Botanicula won the Excellence In Audio award at the IGFs this year. There’s a reason nothing else stood a chance.

My only major criticism is the pacing. The game is divided up into large sections, each made up of around twenty separate screens, and for the large part this works extremely well. But it can leave things feeling a little wayward occasionally, and while it’s a very satisfying length, the ending is peculiarly abrupt. It makes sense, you know you’re reaching it, but the very final moment didn’t make sense to me. Although saying that, it was still insanely delightful. And discovering that my score (I had no idea I was scoring as I played) unlocked extra little animations featuring the main cast was a fantastic bonus.

That’s the sense you get throughout – constantly being offered little bonuses that only make things feel more happy. Occasionally as you play you’ll find a section which requires selecting one of your five creatures to tackle a challenge. That’s just a matter of clicking on the one you want. But the only sensible way to play is to try to guess which ones won’t be the right choice, just so you can watch the gorgeous ways they fail.

There’s no question over whether you should play this. Your $10 will buy you a few hours of utter joy, and flipping heck, why wouldn’t you want that? It’s infectiously lovely, smartly inventive, and plastered happiness all over my face. And even my game-ignoring wife’s face, whom it was a pleasure to watch play. That’s a high compliment.

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65 Comments »

  1. Sic says:

    Brilliant. Can’t wait!

  2. Tom De Roeck says:

    ahhhhh…. me and the kids have been waiting all day for this one :D :D :D

  3. Lambchops says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, glad to hear it’s as lovely to play as it looks and sounds in the trailers. Definitely will be purchasing

  4. nibbling_totoros says:

    Seems great! I’ll probably wait till they port this game to iOS before picking it up

  5. lukka5 says:

    Yes! Finally :)

  6. Ginga121 says:

    If you are in the UK get it on GOG once they have their site working properly for it. It’s $8.99 which amounts to something like £5.50 :D

  7. KingCathcart says:

    Finally, a game I can play with the missus. I’ve been waiting years for a game that she might enjoy and… wait a minute… spider-beasts?

    Never mind.

    • Skabooga says:

      Hey, you can always play a nice game of Skrim . . err . . . Penumbra . . . hold it . . . Legend of Grimrock . . . well . . . System Shock 2 . . . no, wait, that has spiders AND invisible spiders . . .

  8. lukepilkington says:

    Where can we buy this in UK? I cant see it on GOG only here: http://www.gamersgate.co.uk/DD-BOTANICULA/botanicula – but ive never heard of gamersgate

    • Torgen says:

      Gamersgate is Paradox’s game distribution/retail company.

      Note: I”ve purchased several games from them with no complaints at all. In fact, if I”m not buying a game on Steam, I’ve probably bought it on GG or GoG.

  9. reyke says:

    if this is half as good as machinarium ill buy :)

  10. Torgen says:

    “every tiny detail so lovingly created, and so joyfully presented, that Botanicula becomes a non-urgent experience of just playing.”

    I’ve been pining for weeks for something like this. Something beautiful that I can de-stress and relax to, and not feel rushed.

  11. DrGonzo says:

    “My wife doesn’t like games…here was no doubt in my mind that she’d love it.” That made me more than a bit worried.

    “It’s a ludicrously lovely thing, a celebration of joy and happiness” That’s when I knew I would hate it.

    • Paul says:

      You sound like you are depressed a bit, you should REALLY get this game.

    • Enzo says:

      YEAH MAN, FUCK HAPPINESS

    • Armante says:

      So I take it you only like man-shooters? Blowing things up? Horror Games?
      Personally I like some variety, and I enjoyed their previous games, especially Machinarium, so I’ll be getting this one.

      • f1x says:

        Well its important to note that Amanita games are not happy-joyful in a “kawaii” or “hello kitty” way, I would hate them if it was like that, but its different

        definitely worth a try even if your passion is manshooters

        edit: That was meant to DrGonzo

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Reading the article, I was thinking, “Man, if I was an Internet Person, the ‘my wife likes it’ thing would really turn me off. Thank god I’m not an Internet Person.”

      So, um…hi, Internet Person! What’s it like being too cool to enjoy fun?

  12. liquidsoap89 says:

    Is it available through steam (or WILL it be), or just through their website?

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      Nevermind, Gamersgate still had a preorder up (just in time!).

  13. Brun says:

    Is this an indie title? It seems like it is (adventure/platformer).

    Regardless, this isn’t really my type of game.

    • Torgen says:

      Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to post in a thread about a game you aren’t interested in, to tell us you aren’t interested. We were all on the edge of our chairs, unable to continue until we knew this.

      • Brun says:

        If you took the time to read the entire post, I did include a question that, so far, neither reply has answered.

        • Syra says:

          Gosh that’s a sense of entitlement. It is an indie title (JUST LOOK AT IT) also it’s humble bundled so duh. It’s a pointy clicky adventurey. Amanita design through and through.

    • durns says:

      Thanks for… sharing? I guess?

      Machinarium was beautiful and delightful, and this looks like more of the same. Did these guys do Samorost too? They really see to get the idea that ‘wacky non-real worlds’ are way more interesting than ‘lets try and make things as real as possible’.

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      its not hard to skip read to find out, but then again you say its not your type of game so you already know.

    • Scrawnto says:

      As mentioned in the article, it won an award at IGF (The Independent Games Festival) for Excellence in Audio. So yes, it is an indie title.

    • Armante says:

      Do you have a rule about not buying indies?
      Are all adventure/platformer games indies?
      TL/DR is a damn lazy way to skip an article and post a question

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Fact: Indies have bad hygiene and should get a real job! I throw rocks at them!

        Just kidding- I throw money at them.

  14. Duckee says:

    Go here to get it guys. http://www.humblebundle.com/

    Includes soundtracks + more excellent games!

    • Max.I.Candy says:

      just donated $20 for the bundle and charity!

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      They should base download speeds on what you pay.

      • Contrafibularity says:

        Re: Sparkasaurexmex

        No they really shouldn’t. I don’t look forward to people complaining that they paid 50$ for premium download speeds on a 10 Mbit/s connection, because, inevitably, they will. Anyway if you want to download it faster at peak times (such as launch day) then I suggest you use the bittorrent downloads as they will easily max out your connection (always does for me, but mileage may vary depending on how unscrupulous your ISP is).

  15. Maldomel says:

    I can’t read this article because of those gorgeous screenshots.

  16. Syra says:

    OH MY GOD.
    I’ve been playing it for a while and really the only word is truly..
    DELIGHTFUL.

    I’m giggling like a child A LOT.

  17. Contrafibularity says:

    Just watching the trailer (again) and it gives me goosebumps and giggles every single time. I wasn’t immediately aware April 19 had arrived already or else I would’ve pre-ordered on GOG, but this Humble Debut will do just fine.

    I love Machinarium and the Samorosts, this looks amazing, I can’t wait. Had I been a richer person I would’ve gladly paid 50€ for this, but 15$ will work too, and that Kooky animation looks stunning!

    If someone had told me 5 years ago game development would be so incredibly awesome I would’ve gone into it sooner, but oh well, will have some catching up to do soon.

  18. pilouuuu says:

    Oh, so does it have a RGB ending? From now on I’ll call unsatisfactory endings, red green and blue endings. What’s the matter with developers that they can’t do good epilogues?

    Besides that this seems all kinds of brilliant!

  19. Scrawnto says:

    I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t like the visual style of this game.

    It’s odd, since I’m usually a huge fan of distinct visuals in games, and I’ve heard so much about how gorgeous this game is, but every time I look at it, I can’t see what the fuss is about. It doesn’t look like it has a cohesive aesthetic. Some bits are airbrushed, others look painted, and still others are blurrily sketched, and they don’t seem to fit together to me, even in a Terry-Gilliam-esque collage sense. On the other hand, I loved the aesthetics of Machinarium and Samorost.

    I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Or perhaps it’s something in the colors that I’m missing due to my mild colorblindness.

    • pilouuuu says:

      Yes, I agree that colours should be more saturated, but maybe it’s different seeing this in motion. I’m not very amazed by its screenshots either.

      • Scrawnto says:

        I’m not saying that the colours should be more saturated. I don’t know anything about the colours. Like I said, I’m colourblind. I thought maybe the colours were already awesome, and I just couldn’t see it. It’s everything else about the graphics I don’t care for, so I thought maybe colour was the strong point that I was missing.

        • pilouuuu says:

          You’re not missing out in my opinions… The colours are quite dull. I don’t know why but games used to use colours so much better in SVGA times. I agree that the graphical style doesn’t seem so special, but I think once you see the game in motion it may be much, much better.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      There’s some lovely parallax- it does indeed look better in motion, because there’s a very different style for the foreground/background elements. It doesn’t come across as Monty Python.

  20. mlaskus says:

    I bought it twice already and I don’t regret it!

  21. Space_Masters says:

    Wow, straight to the Humble Bundle. http://www.humblebundle.com/

  22. BatmanBaggins says:

    Would the bug you encountered happen to be in the same area that that kitchen screen shot was taken? The game seems to get stuck there for me, and I can’t even load a save. I have to restart the game. Since I need something from there, it’s sort of game breaking.

  23. pertusaria says:

    I haven’t played much of it so far, but the earliest bit doesn’t quite suck me in like Machinarium. A bit more like a grown-up Samorost, which (if accurate) is still a really good thing.

  24. baby snot says:

    Has anyone worked out if there is widescreen support? I’m sure Machinarium has it so I’m a little flummoxed that it I don’t see it in the settings.

  25. Thants says:

    Is there any chance of getting rid of that silly java-script thingy when you click an image? My browser is already designed to open images. What’s the point of this fancy system that does a worse job and breaks the interface conventions?

    • Dozer says:

      I’m not getting any weirdness. I’m running Firefox with Adblock, but set to whitelist RPS, if that helps you.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        The main problem is that the only way to close an image and get back to the article is to click the Close button in the upper right corner. I guess it works if you always browse fullscreen on a 1920×1080 display, but if the image is larger than your window (or screen!), the button gets pushed out of the window and you have to resize everything just to go back to reading. If you could dismiss it by hitting Escape or clicking on the image, it wouldn’t be a problem.

  26. Reapy says:

    Not sure if this is worth mentioning, but I just got to a point in the game where you have to bump a red seed thing around (while getting keys). I looked online and they said the red seed should repel from your mouse, but it only falls to the ground when I mouse over it. You can somewhat bump the other guys floating around with your mouse, but it is wildly inconstant, one moment they react and repel from the cursor, the next they fly back the other direction.

    I found this hugely frustrating and quite out of place from the rest of the game. It feels very buggy like something is screwed up honestly. Either way I had to put the game down after trying for 15 minutes to understand how the stupid things are moving around and knock the seed through several holes.

    • Xiko says:

      I am having the same ‘bug’. You can use the bigger ball as a bounce to the red ball.

    • Xiko says:

      Alright got it from the Amanita forums from Karlos:
      “Ok I looked over on the GOG forum and ppl posted another solution – just change the window size to 60%. I just did that and the puzzle is actually wonderful. It just doesn’t work with 100% window.

      I only wonder if there are more broken puzzles like this further in the game.”

      Yep now it worked as it should be =D

      • Reapy says:

        Ahhh awesome thanks. I knew it felt way out of place considering the pace/polish of the rest of the game. Will give that a shot later today.

      • Jupiah says:

        Thank you, that bug was frustrating me as well.

  27. squirrel says:

    So glad some dev still remember that kids have the need of games, too.

    Such games won’t bring hot cash but, glad someone still is willing to make those.

  28. wuwul says:

    Why the **** didn’t they render this in 1920×1200 at least?!?

  29. pertusaria says:

    Just finished. There were one or two bits that really frustrated me, but I very much enjoyed the game as a whole. I’m a botanist, so I loved the plant / nature theme and thought I could recognise one or two of the less crazy creatures.

    I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Samorost (either one), but if the only Amanita game you’ve played is Machinarium, I’d suggest you give Samorost 1 (free) a go before buying this. If Samorost leaves a big grin on your face, this is worthwhile.

  30. pertusaria says:

    Drat, went back to Machinarium after this and all my savegames were gone, again. I think I must have changed my Firefox settings sometime in the months since I last played. *So* glad they seem to have written Botanicula in such a way that this doesn’t happen (to me, and I haven’t heard anyone complain so far).

    • archagon says:

      Yeah, saves are now stored in a separate directory instead of the default Flash cache. (And you can right-click too! What has the world come to?)

  31. archagon says:

    This is definitely one of the best adventure games I’ve played in years, with a similar whimsical/explorational feel to Windowsill. Insanely imaginative, too: you never know what bizzarre creature or environment you’re going to bump into next. This is the kind of game that made me fall in love with video games in the first place.

    • noogai03 says:

      Have you played Machinarium yet? Because it’s even better in my opinion.

  32. noogai03 says:

    I’m stuck at a bug getting the keys where the white thing does not appear :(