Wot I Think: Samorost 3

From the team most famous for Machinarium, Aminita Design, comes the third game in the Samorost series. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the first two – they were both tiny Flash games. Samorost 3 [official site] is a full-length, full-screen adventure that requires no prior knowledge. How does the adventure/puzzle game hold up at this scale? Here’s wot I think:

Samorost is where it all began for Amanita Design, and this return to the series, following their huge raise in reputation and awareness with Machinarium and Botanicula, is a stunning labour of love. Phenomenally beautiful, exquisitely animated, and constantly delightful and joyous, this is a lovely thing. But it’s also the hardest game they’ve made so far, and I’m not sure that’s always for the best.

Samorost 1 is a ten minute web game that introduced the main character, a little chap in a white onesy and dangly bobble hat – apparently only ever known as “Gnome” – who lives on a small organic/metallic island floating in space. By Samorost 2, things lasted closer to half an hour, and the art, animation and music had improved by considerable degrees (although the closing puzzle was a disaster). Samorost 3 makes both look like doodles.

It is without question one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, maintaining that collage look of machinery and nature, photography (I think) and wonderfully rendered artwork, with cartoon characters within. However, this time out the main character, his dog, and a few other peculiar creatures, are more carefully designed. They’re textured and detailed in a way that makes them less awkwardly different from the world. But the real magic happens when you meet the game’s animals, flora and strange bearded denizens, who are the most astonishingly wonderfully animated creatures. Each scene is alive with detail, hidden extras to discover, and esoteric puzzles to solve by interacting with everything you can find.

At the start, a horn descends from the sky outside our friend’s house. When he picks it up he discovers that it can be used to listen to specific objects and animals. Some of these noises are mad burbling fun, but others are little tunes that Gnome can play back (thankfully automatically – despite the hefty musical focus, there’s no core puzzle that requires playing back tunes) on the horn, causing animated thought bubbles to appear giving you hints about what you need to do, or initiating events in the scene. Via the horn you learn of a terrible series of events that occurred on other floating worlds nearby, where some sort of guardian person went rogue and began using a terrifying three-headed metallic monster to destroy local beauty and eat the souls of the land. That’s my interpretation of the wordless animations at least. So best put that right.

Gnome begins his journey by working out a new way to get off his home land (the red rocket was destroyed in Samorost 2, of course), which involves a perplexing series of puzzles gathering various items, then building a ship out of an enormous inflatable mushroom thing, and various bits and bobs stripped from the surroundings. Once that opening sequence is complete, you can land on any other islands within your current orbit – a simple mechanical restriction that prevents your flying off to the end of the game at the start.

Each new land is a sumptuous bounty. New creatures, new sounds, new puzzles, and perhaps most significantly in this game, new music to hear. Amanita have always used Tomáš “Floex” Dvořák for their games, and he’s never been short of amazing, but this time his work is on another level. The soundtrack is core to the way you play, so many puzzles rely on crafting songs by clicking on characters, building harmonies, or hearing music on completion. And none of them requires any musical ability on your part.

There is a sequence in which a smattering of maggoty-termite creatures are trotting back and forth across a series of logs. It becomes apparent that you can interact with them, turn them around, even trip them up. Or, if you wait until they’re stood on their back legs, have them start singing. A song so beautiful it moistened my eyes. Click on more of them and they sing in chorus. It’s a throwaway puzzle, an achievement-thing is the only reward, and it was so completely wonderful. I sat there and just listened, completely enchanted. And that really captures the atmosphere and effort of so much of Samorost 3. I’ve written this review with the closing tune looping throughout, and am not sure how I’ll ever manage to switch it off.

But as I said at the start, this is a difficult game, too. Surprisingly so, bearing in mind how accessible Machinarium and Botanicula were. Like Machinarium, there’s an in-built walkthrough so you can’t ever get stuck, but then it also never feels good to get past a challenge that way. I confess I used this a few times throughout, because I was dumfounded as to what the game wanted me to do. Too often it was about returning to areas I thought already finished, or repeating the same action two or three times despite there being no clear indicator this would be necessary. Other times it was poor flagging of puzzles.

One particular puzzle stands out as utterly bemusing to me, where once you’ve gathered a few types of fruit, you’re supposed to guess which location is the place to drop them into a bunch of holes, and then start off on a genetic journey of cross pollinating the flowers they grow to see what new fruits are created, and then further cross-breeding these to try to reach a particular – er – root vegetable. It is by necessity experimental – there’s no way to know what will result – and as a consequence you end up having to retrace your steps to gather the original fruits again and again.

It’s so peculiar that the original fruits aren’t an endless supply, forcing you to re-complete previous puzzles to get them back, and then wildly guessing how to use them. Or opening up the walkthrough (which involves solving a very, very simple ‘puzzle’ – nothing like Machinarium’s daft system) to see solutions for that specific location. These, again, are wordless – pictorial guides that can often be obfuscated by extra details, but will generally get you through.

It’s not fair to tar too much of the game with this. Many puzzles are extremely pleasant to solve, lots of them depending upon fun exploration of what’s possible, making combinations of objects that replenish to see what happens, guessing at where a sequence is heading. Others are straightforward – redirecting pipes, using objects in your inventory, and so on.

One puzzle stands out from the rest, a truly gorgeous challenge that involves placing a series of eight cards in different orders, such that the drawings on each animate in response to the order they’re placed. You’re trying to hunt four different animals for a couple of stickmen, and improvising with the fire, pond, weapons and creatures is absolutely joyful. It’s a shame this device is only used once, early in the game – it would have been welcome to return at any point.

And you can’t stay mad even when bumping against one of the few frustrating sections. Samorost 3 is so bursting with life, so lovingly crafted, that it’s impossible not to adore. I cannot think of a game whose soundtrack comes close to this, and few that are so pretty. Gnome’s yelps of delight, or enthusiastic dances, or the way he sometimes says, “Hop!” when he jumps, are idiotically adorable. It’s so alive, so intricate, and so graceful.

I wonder if the difficulty will see it be a less celebrated game than the last two, but it really is a thing of beauty.

Samorost 3 is out today on Windows and Mac.

From this site

30 Comments

  1. Plank says:

    Just watched the video. Stunning. I’d love to try this in vr. Imagine being surrounded by those environments and creatures while reaching out to touch stuff.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Your comment made me wonder if that was possible. While it would loose some of it’s cartoon feel, their film proved they could do the same kind of artwork in a 3d environment (though I assume it was puppets in the film).

      • nottorp says:

        They could do it, but it would cost as much as metal gear solid to model that world. Or maybe more, because I bet the scenery repeats way less.

  2. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    Can’t the cross-pollination puzzle be solved by just reloading from a save?

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      If that is the best way to solve it, then it’s a pretty rubbish puzzle.

      • soopytwist says:

        I’ve got three “A” fruits in my inventory, one “A” flower by the Poppy seed spaceship and one “B” flower on another screen (so cross pollination of the two is not possible) and no save game before this. How do I make a sad faced onion for the old man? If you tell me I screwed up and there’s no way to continue other than starting a new game I’ll uninstall it right now.

        • Rumpelstiltskin says:

          I think you need 2 different fruits from 2 screens other than the spaceship/poppy one, and 2 poppy flowers. If you pollinated one poppy flower into a fruit, just plant it and grow it back.

          • soopytwist says:

            I can’t pollinate anything new. There’s no way to plant another flower on the screen with the pissing anteater, the hole is occupied with a dead plant. By the spaceship there’s only only one “A” flower and I’ve got three “A” fruits. I think I’ve broken the game as it does not appear to be possible to reset everything.

          • Rumpelstiltskin says:

            if you wasted the fruits from the tea dude screen and the pissing anteater screen, then yeah, it’s possible that you are screwed. Maybe you can mail Amanita about it (or maybe they even have an official bug report forum for that)

          • thither says:

            I was in the same situation. (SPOILER) You can go back down to the lower puzzle with the parrot and anteaters and get another one of the yellow fruits, the white flower grows back.

  3. Fiatil says:

    Yesssssss. I’ve been waiting for this day since I beat Botanicula.

  4. Velleic says:

    This really does look amazing! I liked what they did with both sound and not having dialogue in Machinarium and Botanicula. Definitely getting this (after I play 1 and 2).

  5. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Replayed the first two last weekend just to remind myself how gorgeous and unique these games are. You’re right about that last puzzle too, a real stinker.

    I’m definitely going to make time for this, even if my backlog is currently stacked to the brim with other adventure games.

  6. Eight Rooks says:

    Here we go again – I generally can’t stand point and clickers and yet I’ll still buy Amanita’s work just like that, because people who make digital entertainment this jaw-droppingly gorgeous, ceaselessly playful and inventive deserve my money even if they’re working in a genre I’d argue is fundamentally flawed/has been for donkeys’ years.

    Going by the comments on GOG I wonder if the adventure faithful just felt Botanicula was too much of a casual thing, and this is Amanita’s attempt to make more of a “real game”? Still. It may well drive me to distraction, but I just… I can’t not pick it up. Thirty seconds into the launch trailer and I was just blown away yet again. Artistically there really is pretty much no studio like them, and few that come close to their level of craft.

  7. Donjo says:

    Crikey, I can’t wait

  8. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Sorry if this is mentioned in the article but asside from the “it makes the previous look like doodles” comment I can’t find a definite game length. How long did this game take you to beat, John?

    • Premium User Badge

      Jarmo says:

      I’m not John but Samorost 3 took about 5 hours of playing to complete for me. It’d mostly depend on how long you’re stuck on particular puzzles. I used the in-game help system a few times when I was stuck. I still have half of the achievements left after completion so there’s still new content to see (you can explore freely after the finale).

  9. Shazbut says:

    I want to be cynical but it looks so magical that I can’t.

  10. jnqvist says:

    Can’t wait to throw some money at them. Amanita are probably my favourite developers,and I don’t even play (other) point and click games.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Anyone else want to give their very interesting “I don’t like point n click games but” comment?

    C’mon. You haven’t said it. Or you.

    I like Amanita Design, mostly for what they did for Polyphonic Spree, but Machinarium was a bit too oriented to the table games for my liking. Not many puzzles, just 7th Guest like, which is a bit too old of a design. But the main problem there was that the template was Gobliiins, and that Coktel game was annoying already when it went out. There is no need to punish the player with these things, and adventure game design got rid of “limited resources” kind of puzzles for a reason.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      Oh, I can do more than I already did. They’re pointlessly obtuse, they invariably ignore half-a-dozen really obvious faster/quicker/more sensible solutions, they’re all basically hidden object games writ large, they’re not particularly well-written, they’re not usually especially funny (especially the ones that think they are – I don’t consider most Lucasarts games funny)… I haven’t played every last one of them, far from it, but I’ve played enough I’m pretty comfortable being That Guy.

      And yeah, Amanita do many of the same things every other studio does. It took me an hour to get past the intro to Samorost 3 because MILD, INTENTIONALLY VAGUE SPOILERS if I press a button and absolutely nothing happens I tend to assume that means I have to do something else first, not that the device is in a “null” state. But even if I did end up clicking back and forth across the same three or four screens for forty-five minutes longer than I should have, at least they were eye-wateringly lovely. And John’s quite right, that card puzzle is astonishing.

    • jnqvist says:

      I said it already,so for your daily hit of the abovementioned comment,I suggest rereading it.
      Have a nice day bruv!

  12. sleepless says:

    “One puzzle stands out from the rest, a truly gorgeous challenge that involves placing a series of eight cards in different orders, such that the drawings on each animate in response to the order they’re placed.”

    This is one of the best puzzles I’ve seen in an adventure game.

  13. Rumpelstiltskin says:

    A small hint: although I was starting to doubt it, the review is in fact correct about the absence of core music puzzles. You likely will encounter a pretty complex one at one point, but it just unlocks an achievement.

  14. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Love these games. More magic mushroom infused than Mario, and just bloody delightful. Can’t wait

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      And there’s no reason why you should – it’s already out since yesterday

  15. bill says:

    It seems a weird choice to make Samorost 3 difficult, because the main charm of Samorost 1 and 2 was that they weren’t particularly difficult.

    I loved 1 and 2 so I was so hyped for Machinarium, which looked beautiful, but then the annoying puzzles got in the way.
    My absolute favorite thing about Samorost was that each screen was basically self-contained, so if you were stuck on a screen you still knew that the solution was there somewhere.
    This solved about 90% of all the problems and frustrations with adventure games.

    Machinarium, on the other hand, inexplicably went into that frustrating “adventure game” territory where you spent 30 minutes trying to solve a puzzle on one screen only to later find out that it was pointless because you needed to have done something 3 screens over first.

    :-(

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      It didn’t seem like a huge jump in difficulty to me. Felt roughly around Botanicula’s level. Machinarium was definitely harder.

  16. MrBehemoth says:

    “Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the first two – they were both tiny Flash games.”

    That’s weird – for me Aminita Design have always been “those guys that made Samarost”. I know that Machinarium and Botanicula were bigger, but they were both games from the Samarost people, if you know what I mean. But I suppose the first Samarost came out back on the pre-industrial age internet, so it seemed more important at the time.

  17. Crayon says:

    Totally agree! I think of them as the Samorost guys!

    PS please change the devs in the post to Amanita instead of Aminita :)

    PPS I just made an account to post because I want these guys to get their dues