Originally, despite having owned a copy of Botanicula for a good while now, I was planning to experience it firsthand raw, in the flesh, during my Extra Life stream in this past October. However, when I went to load it up, something turned wonky with my streaming program and was not able to capture footage despite being able to capture other windowed games prior. Instead of sitting there and pounding my head against a metaphoric wall, I moved on to another title to keep the action hot, but always planned to get back to Amanita Design’s bug-based point-and-click adventure game.
So, what’s the narrative all about? Botanicula centers around a rag-tag group of tree-dwelling creatures searching for the last seed of their home, a giant tree unfortunately infested by evil parasites. Sure, this excursion sounds ultra serious and something the U.S. EPA could get behind, but there’s a great deal of humor to eat up thanks to the game’s zany five heroes and creative critter designs. For the first half of the adventure, the game’s environments and clickable bugs are bright and amusing (for example, the tambourine bug above), though things get pretty dark by the end, both figuratively and literally. Either way, it’s a straightforward story with a lot of personality, but few surprises–and that’s okay. It’s good versus evil, life versus nature, cute bugs versus villainous spiders.
Gameplay-wise, Botanicula is a puzzle game, one that often asks the player to think outside the box. That said, many puzzles simply devolve down to clicking/tapping on the most obvious of things on the screen (the bugs themselves, large plants, strange items) and watching what happens; generally, something happens. There is no in-game hint system or even text-on-screen guide to point players in the right direction, but the puzzles never got to the place where progress felt unmovable. Every screen has a number of tiny secrets to discover, too. My favorite section was about midway through the journey, when the gang arrives in a large village of problematic onion houses, asked to gather a number of birds to help run a machine. The puzzles here were sometimes isolated to a single house, while others gave you items to use elsewhere. Still, this is more a point-and-click exploration romp than an adventure game.
Let’s pause and talk about Botanicula‘s soundtrack. Which is astounding. The constantly unpredictable and tinkling audio is supplied by the Czech band DVA and is peppered throughout the game in numerous ways. Some scenes are interactive, with you making the music by bouncing on mushrooms or clicking bugs in a certain order, while other tunes are rewards for solving a puzzle or making some insect happy. It’s all very pleasing, except when it is scary, and then it is terrifying.
Last year, I finally got around to playing–and completing–Machinarium, which is truthfully no easy task. Some of those puzzles were absolutely maddening, and yet I couldn’t not solve them. Amanita Design’s games brim with color and character, not to mention colorful characters, and the switch from robots to bugs in Botanicula does little to change that hard-earned fact. I think I ended up looking up a single puzzle solution this time around, and it turned out I was on the right track to solving it myself, but just didn’t take it all the way there. Your inventory never becomes bloated, and it is usually pretty clear where you need to go or what you need to collect to move forward.
In total, Botanicula took about three to four hours to get through, and I ate it up in a single sitting over the Thanksgiving break while enjoying some quiet time down at my father’s place in South Jersey. As you go along and encounter all the various friendly/non-friendly insects, you collect animated cards of them; if I had been playing a Steam version, I think those are all related to Achievements. Anyways, I didn’t collect them all by the time the credits rolled, but I got enough to open up two bonus menu items after completing the game. I might YouTube what you get for collecting all the cards. Either way, I’m so glad I finally got around to ridding this tree of evil bugs; it was an odd little trip, but without a doubt memorable.