Botanicula (Amanita Design)

Botanicula is a point-and-click (as well as point-and-drag, -swing, -pull, -hold, you get the picture) exploration game from Amanita Design. A free demo is available online from their site, so you can check it out online before buying it.

It’s a wonderfully unique audio-visual package. The world is a mix of scales – sometimes you feel like you are in a squishy, organic world under a microscope and sometimes you feel like you hopscotching between hulking planets – which is cool considering the analogies that can be drawn between the microscopic and the cosmic. There are no discernible spoken or written words in the game, so everything storywise comes from audio, animation, interaction and music.

From the first few minutes, you might be tempted to conclude that the game is about saving a vibrant ecosystem from life-sucking arachnids. It isn’t. It’s not that that isn’t the overriding plot – it’s that the moment-to-moment experience of the game has very little to do with that plot. Botanicula is about being dropped into a strange world and solving strange puzzles that obey strange logic. Sometimes you’ll be trying to find a helmet for a circus performing walnut, other times you’ll be playing volleyball with a rotten raspberry. Sometimes you’ll be trying to get a bunch of horns with wings to harmonize and other times you’ll just be clicking like mad to figure out what to do. (And it’s not just point-and-click, you’ll have to do other things with the mouse to advance.)

Each puzzle is a way to tell the player ‘Hey, you are in a weird place because of [insert crazy logic].’ But the puzzles don’t sum up to create some experience that is greater than the individual parts, so they feel independent. Amanita wasn’t looking to add up the individual mechanics, so this isn’t a criticism of them. But for me, it’s an important point that I’ve been keeping explicit in my mind. I need to constantly be asking myself what does the player spend most of her time doing? That’s likely to be what the game is about. If I flippantly throw in a mechanic, I’ve diluted the overall experience. The things I’ve made so far are very controlled – the player is put on a rail as he moves through a story – so I haven’t had to worry about this much. There hasn’t been much of an opportunity for a stray mechanic to be the reason for a weak experience. But I want to break that trend of creating strictly linear experiences which requires a bit of letting go, and consequently, leaving room for interaction.

End mini ramblings. To bring it back to Botanicula – definitely go check out the demo to get a chance to visit Amanita’s world. If you are mesmerized by that world, then go pick up the game to extend your stay.

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