Botanicula is an extremely charming adventure game from Amanita Design – the studio who released Machinarium in 2009 and proved to the world that point and click adventure games need not be dead – and it is as fantastic as it is charming.
Botanicula is a point and click adventure game, but where the genre staples are often defined by cerebral and challenging puzzles, Botanicula defines itself through its unique character and setting.
I would absolutely hate for someone to pass on this game because of a preference for or against certain genre conventions, because more than anything, Botanicula makes me happy. Starting a new game for the sake of this write-up, the opening sequence fills me with a simple, innocent joy.
That’s the only word for it – joy. It is a lovely, joyful celebration of nature that also happens to be a video game, and if you don’t have time in your gaming schedule for that, then I honestly pity you.
The story of Botanicula is told through simple cutscenes, music and sound. There is no text and the only dialogue is a sort of cute, placeholder mumbling, similar to the Lego games.
The plot goes that in the pseudo-mystical forest world that the game takes place in, some sort of evil, black presence is sucking the life out of the trees. This presence is trying to devour a particular seed, but in escaping the seed hits a chestnut on the head and passes on its divine prophecy – he must gather his friends and take the seed down to the ground where they can plant it and continue the cycle of life.
Gameplay consists of sending your cute band of plant people around the tree, figuring out puzzles so you can progress on your way down to the ground. There’s no fail state, and – apart from a small number of relatively-cerebral feature puzzles – the puzzles consist of simply clicking anything that responds to your mouse cursor and choosing the right plant person for whatever job you’re currently faced with.
The funny thing is though, that you’ll want to click on everything anyway even if it isn’t a part of any puzzle, because the whole world of Botanicula is buzzing with life. You never know what you might be greeted with after clicking a bug or a leaf, but you can be guaranteed that it will be charming.
You’ll also want to pick the wrong one of your little plant people every time you come across a puzzle, just to watch them fail in various entertaining ways before you get the solution. It’s actually disappointing to get it right the first time – a design philosophy that I think a lot of games could borrow from. Games shouldn’t be about winning, or even simple progress, they should be about finding yourself in a world that is so utterly compelling that you don’t care about arbitrary progression.
The sound and music deserve their own proper mention because they form such a fundamental part of what makes Botanicula work so well. Czech band DVA provided the music, and it works perfectly with the style of the game. The soundtrack is made up of subtle, ambient instrumentation, body percussion and lyric-less singing, with a main refrain that has the Pavlovian effect of making you smile each time you hear it.
As well as DVA’s superb soundtrack work, the sound design in general just does a brilliant job of reinforcing the natural and joyful nature of the visual design and gameplay.
Every element of Botanicula works on its own, but more than that the alchemy of the game brings all of these elements together perfectly. It’s less a point and click adventure, and more of a joyful, natural experience that need not be pigeon-holed.
We need more games like Botanicula.