Botanicula ReviewJoe Shaffer
"So, what have you been playing lately?"
"Oh, I've never heard of that. What kind of game is it?"
"It's a point-and-click where you... um... there's... trees... seeds... Uh, chickens... hallucinations... I think spider monsters... An anthropomorphic peanut... Uh, something about the spiders sucking the life out of the tree, which is like a home for the... creature-plant-characters-"
"Oh, sounds interesting..."
"I'm so not doing this game any justice."
Botanicula is not a good conversation starter if you're socially awkward. This graphic adventure revolves around a quintet of sentient botanical beings who attempt to take back their home, a massive tree, from a swarm of spider-like parasites. You accomplish this by observing the game's peculiar environment, clicking on various stimuli, and hoping that you're doing it all in the correct sequence.
I know that last sentence sounds dry and technical, if not a bit snarky, but that's the best way I can describe the game without going into graphic, sanity-destroying detail. You see, Botanicula is a weird title. For instance, one segment requires you to search a village and recover fourteen chicken-like birds. You need these avians because a seed-person requires them to activate the village's transport system, which includes fourteen hamster wheels for the birds to run on that harvest their kinetic energy and use it to propel the burg into the sky. In order to nab all of the birds, you have to engage in some rather odd scenes, including one where you click on various plant bulbs to cause a meditating plant-man to hallucinate. You can then snatch a fowl out of the resultant trip, which is displayed above the meditator. Afterward, you'll need to procure a hen trapped in an overstuffed igloo, create another by blowing on a certain combination of wall-mounted trumpets that generate new life forms, and hatch one from an egg by taking it to a Frankenstein-esque laboratory.
There is no shortage of creativity in Botanicula, though some might feel that the strange and sometimes eerie phenomena you bump into come off as "weird for weird's sake." Honestly, I have no problem with that. I appreciate all things peculiar, and the game is more than willing to pay strangeness in spades.
Unfortunately, there is one drawback to the weirdness. Graphic adventures tend to benefit from logic-based puzzles, and Botanicula's world isn't exactly conducive to rational challenges. For example, going back to the chickens, there's one stuck on a ledge with a coin slot below it. In order to capture this feathered freak, you have to locate the aforementioned igloo and continuously click on it until myriad penguins fall out of it. After that, a coin should eventually materialize. You can then place that monetary unit in the appropriate slot to start an indoor rainstorm that floods the building, granting you access to the bird. It's basically like a playable "your argument is invalid" joke.
Some of the puzzles in prior stages are even worse than this, as they might require you to click on any innocuous object multiple times before finishing the area. Call me crazy, but wouldn't featuring so many trial by error riddles defeat the purpose of having puzzles in the first place? In rare occasions, the game feels minimally interactive because of this. It's as though the developers sought to contrive tasks for you to initiate in an effort to veil the notion that you're watching the game more than playing it. Thankfully, these are rare instances.
Not all of the game's puzzles are so brain dead, though. The latter half of the campaign sports some actual thought-provoking prob lems that make up for the vague ones. One of my favorites involved winning a racing mini-game, which causes your opponent to repeatedly leap. During that time, you must activate a wall-mounted object and knock the helmet off the being's head, as there's another character who desires the head gear.
There also isn't a stilted, drawn out sob story attached to the character's demands involving the his missing helmet. Heck, most of the game's plot unfolds through implications or short, dialogue-free cutscenes, which is both troubling and relieving. Personally, I prefer my point-and-clicks to have at least a decent storyline. Graphic adventures have, practically since their inception, taken players down some wild avenues and through wonderful tales in the past. Although Botanicula attempts to spin a yarn that anyone of any language can comprehend, which is commendable, it's at times so muddled and unspecific that you don't get to know the protagonists. Because of that, it's difficult to empathize with them at times, and some of the characters seem to be present for "flavor" rather than as a means of invigorating the narrative.
Still, it's nice to play through a quest that doesn't take itself too seriously. You won't see many time-wasting cutscenes or feel that the game has many delusions to being a playable movie. At times, you think it's going to get all artsy-fartsy on you, then an NPC burps or something peculiar yet humorous occurs and you remember, "Oh yeah, I'm supposed to have fun!" I can dig a so-called "art game" that's willing to shed its pretenses and just be goofy when the need arises. On that end, Botanicula is seldom off cue.
Ultimately, though, Botanicula is a solid, though not amazing, title. With little more of an actual story and some improved logic puzzles, the game could have been excellent. Take nothing away from the developers, though. They dared to dream and concocted a lighthearted yet strange setting with a charming, microscopic supporting cast. Perhaps the game doesn't tell an elaborate story, but it makes up for it with decent brain-bending material.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.