It's easy to forget that being the little guy doesn't always have to mean getting your lunch money stolen or having sand kicked in your face. Sometimes it's not about who's biggest, but who's willing to take the chances and do the most for the things that are important... even when it gets a little scary. Amanita Design's playful and stunning new point-and-click adventure Botanicula follows five tiny but determined forest sprites who are determined to save the last seed of their beloved tree from invading dark parasites. Packed with charm, rich design, imagination, and both humour and a bit of creepiness, it's the sort of adventure you can't help but be swept away in and root for the little guy every step of the way.
In most ways, Botanicula plays like a typical point-and-click title. Moving your mouse around the sides of the screen will reveal arrows you can click to move to other locations, and your cursor will change if you pass it over a spot or creature you can interact with. Some objects require you to do more than just click; you can pull on switches, for example, or turn cranks by clicking and performing the appropriate mouse movement. If you move your cursor to the top of the screen you can check what you're carrying, as well as any items you should be gathering for your current objective, and moving it to the bottom will allow you to save and load your game, or change the settings.
Though under attack from an unknown menace, the massive tree you'll explore is still teeming with life. Weird, sometimes slightly alarming life, but life nonetheless. The myriad of little creatures you'll come across are often more concerned with their own tiny existences, but will sometimes help or hinder you. Whenever you encounter an obstacle in your story progression, you'll usually be given a visual list of items you need in your inventory at the top of the screen. As you explore, you'll come across various obstacles that need to be dealt with, and each of your intrepid band of heroes can be clicked on to try their hand (... twig... leaf?... uh... butt?) at helping out in certain locations. Not everyone will always be helpful, but hey, it's the thought that counts. Don't you wish you had a buddy who was always willing to plug something with their keister for you?
Analysis: Botanicula is, in a word, gorgeous. It's also engrossing, delightful, and creative, but first and foremost, it's a beautiful game. The expressiveness and detail packed into each little creature is really remarkable, and the storybook environments are a joy to explore. Just because a particular area doesn't have anything relevant to your current objective doesn't mean you shouldn't explore; click around and you'll find oodles of little secrets that exist only to surprise you and provide a bit of extra magic. It's this attention to detail that makes Botanicula so incredibly rewarding to experience, and when you combine it with the game's stellar original soundtrack you have an otherworldly little tale that feels like a dream. Sometimes even a nightmare, since the farther your heroes venture the worse the parasite infestation becomes, and the game is definitely not without its creepy or even frightening moments.
In terms of gameplay and puzzles, Botanicula operates on its own logic, though not particularly difficult, and you're going to have to be open to experimenting in every screen. Since there are no words or even any real directions, all you can really do is try whatever you can think of and click around until you get a feel for what needs to be clicked in what sequence. In most cases, this works really well. Paying attention to your surroundings and how they react to your actions is all you need, and figuring out what each creature wants or needs is very rewarding. It's just unfortunate that Botanicula's effort at mouseplay sometimes get in the way of that reward. In particular, some of the puzzles that rely on mouse movement and physics to get past can be frustrating. Which is unfortunate, since in a game as surreal and lovely as this, annoyed is the last thing you want to be when the rest of the experience seems to be working so hard to draw you in.
Still, once Botanicula gets its hooks into you, even those infrequent irritations won't be enough to get you to stop. Just when you think you've seen everything, Botanicula pulls out something new. A new creature with its own bizarre biology. A place where fish swim through the trees or frogs serenade you. A holiday celebration. It's all so strange and wonderful that it's almost impossible not to want to see more. Botanicula is an amazing journey and has more than a little magic to share with you if you're willing to explore. You'll enjoy every hour you spend with it, especially if you take your time to hunt down all the little surprises hidden in each area. It's the sort of game you can find yourself grinning like a dope at. Highly recommended, unless you have something against having joy in your life. In which case, stop reading my articles, Mr Ebert.
Mac OS X:
Get the full version
Get the full version