Botanicula - Review

Control an unlikely-looking band of heroes and fight black, spidery things on a diminutive scale.

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Genre: Exploration Adventure
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux 
Release Date: May 2012 (US)

Have you ever wanted to be dropped right in the middle of the action; with no explanation or other details? Do you like the challenge of trying to figure out what to do next? Do you wonder what life is like for those creatures that live on a tree? If so, then you might want to consider trying Botanicula. 

The Setup

Botanicula starts out with a seed falling to the land. The seed grows into a tree filled with life. The tree is then attacked by a black spidery thing which sucks the color out of the “buds” on the edges of the tree. The final bud escapes from the top of the tree into the three and into the lap of our hero. The purpose of this game is to fight off the black spider things and save the life on the tree. You’ll control a ragtag group of heroes along the way. There is a stick-like entity, a flying entity, a strong man, and mushroom, and the bearer of the seed.

The game doesn’t have any text dialogs or speech, so everything communicated in the game is through the graphics. That means, I don’t know who or what the characters are; or what exactly they are carrying. It could be a seed. It could be an energy ball. Exactly what I was supposed to do, and where to go next, was not clear. I often felt like I was a blind man clicking in the dark in hopes that something would happen. I’m undecided if this is a source of frustration or just part of the game’s charm.

Explore the World

Your team immediately starts down the tree but finds their way is blocked by a big bug thing that has lost some of its wings, or feathers. Your first task is to find the three feathers it is missing so it can clear your path. You’ll do this by exploring and clicking on everything you can find. Don’t stop at just clicking, though. Sometimes you may have to drag items. Other times you may have to click and hold an item. Sometimes just moving the mouse without any clicks is the proper interaction. The game provides no indication which action you should take with which items and the whole game feels a bit of a guess. Even with a walkthrough in hand, I had trouble completing some puzzles.

Throughout your exploration, you’ll interact with other creatures that live on the tree. Most of the time, the only purpose to interact with these creatures is to collect their ‘cards’. The card system is like a scoring system for the game, although I didn’t realize that until I had completed the journey. To collect the cards, you’ll often have to click on multiple creatures on the same screen. Sometimes you’ll click in a certain order. Other times you’ll click in a certain time frame. It’s often unclear. For example, when you click on one creature, it starts singing. The singing draws some more similar creatures, which you also have to click on. They join in on the song; bringing more creatures. Eventually you’ll receive a creature card from this interaction, as long as you can get all creatures singing at once.

The bulk of the creatures you interact with are not required to finish the game. I might compare the ‘creature card’ to a Noah’s Ark like approach. The cards you collect are the animals you can bring with you to the end of the game. But, I’m not sure if that was the intent or not. I’m not even sure if that assessment is correct.

Along the way, you’ll also pick up some inventory elements. These are few, but are important. You’ll collect these automatically, almost by clicking on them. On the screen where you need them, you’ll be able to drag them out of your inventory and onto the board. It’s an easy way to tell you need to use something on this screen, or not. 

A Whimsical Atmosphere

The graphics to Botanicula are lighthearted and whimsical. The sound track bolsters the game play. I wish there was more explanation than mumbled voices and confusing scenes, though. All of this presents a relaxed atmosphere for you to play through. You can click on anything you want without fear of dying or breaking the game. This style is the best thing going for this game. You’ll have fun exploring the land and sending each one of your characters to attack certain obstacles. 

Final Thoughts

Botanicula reminds me a bit of Machinarium. Perhaps this is because the game was built in Flash, primarily a web technology that people love to hate. The two games offer a similar gameplay approach. You won’t receive a lot of explanation, and you’ll just have to keep clicking until something happens. Eventually you’ll find something that works. Despite its flaws, Botanicula presents a truly unique experience, unlike anything you’ve ever played before. 

Grade: B- 
+ Despite flaws, truly unique experience. 
Lighthearted and whimsical.
-  Sometimes hard to know what to do.
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System Requirements

PC
OS:Microsoft® Windows® XP/Vista/7
Processor:1.6 Ghz Processor
Memory:1 GB RAM
DirectX®:5.0
Hard Drive:700 MB HD space

Mac
OS:Snow Leopard or later.
Processor: Intel Mac
Memory:1 GB RAM
Hard Drive:700 MB HD space

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