Nature can be cruel, nature can be beautiful, but if nature was more like Botanicula, I guarantee kids would be poking and prodding at trees from dawn until dusk to savour the weirdness.
It’s not so much an adventure game as the result of Monkey Island and Terry Gilliam falling into a vegan’s blender – a gorgeous-looking mix of point-and-clicking surrealism, whipped together out of nature, discovery and adorable humour.
Botanicula is set in a gigantic tree filled with talking chestnuts, little villages, small creatures and larger bullies, and adorable creepy crawlies under threat of invasion by, oh God, parasitical spiders. It’s an arty indie game. Of course there are spiders. You control a small gang of misfits trying to make it through the madness to save the day, although the real star of the game is your mouse pointer – guiding them past danger, poking and prodding at bits of the screen to get reactions out of things they couldn’t mess with if they wanted to, and acting almost like a character in its own right.
There are capital-P Puzzles in Botanicula, but they’re rare. Far more often, it’s just about clicking everything to see what happens, until whatever situation you’re in happily resolves itself. Making a whole screen of singing critters howl. Pulling back on a reed to launch a bully into space. Creating Christmas. It’s a process of elimination rather than deduction, which works purely because the results are so enjoyable.
At several points, for instance, you hit a situation and have to pick one of your team to try and resolve it – such as getting across a gap to rescue a baby. Getting the right answer first time is rubbish: it means you miss out on seeing the failed attempts.
The downside of this is that Botanicula can occasionally be staggeringly vague, and it’s easy to miss the specific blobby thing that hides the next solution, especially when puzzles start opening out to multiple screens and requiring inventory items retrieved from elsewhere. You need patience and curiosity in equal amounts, yes, but they do get a little stretched on occasion. Retrieve five keys from a few branches? No problem. Fourteen chickens from a huge village? That’s asking a bit too much, frankly, no matter how cute the antics are inside its many houses. An in-game hint system, even if it only provided a polite ‘There is nothing left to do on this screen’ nudge, wouldn’t have hurt either.
As far Botanicula’s heritage goes, it’s far closer to the old Samorost games than Machinarium. Avoid it like a parasitical spider if you’re not willing to play on its own terms, but embrace it mightily if you’re willing to give it a shot. Treated as a raw game, you can complain about the lack of logic and control. As a more general experience, it’s a beautiful and memorable journey through a lovely little world
A different kind of adventure, in a very different kind of world that wastes no time before growing on you.