Botanicula will have you dancing in your seat and smiling like a child

by Michael in

The "adventure game" or "point and click adventure" genre once dominated the computer game landscape with such beloved entries as Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Monkey Island, and more. The games generally had you guide characters through a scenario by clicking on objects and people in order to solve puzzles and move an adventure story forward. The funny dialogue and engaging stories combined with the puzzles in the best games of the genre to great critical and financial success for decades. At some point, though, the genre began to fade into nonexistence. Many who grew up playing computer games mourned the death of a beloved genre By the turn of the century, most people playing video games might not have even been aware of the genre and many of us who were aware of its disappearance shed not a single tear.

I was one of those people who had no love for the genre. You see, the adventure game genre had problems. Many of the problems were simply a product of the times in which the games were produced, just as is true of most games past a certain age. The biggest problem the genre had was essentially unique to the genre and made games of this style nigh impenetrable: they didn't really make any sense. Even among the greatest adventure games it seemed to simply be a requirement that puzzles have at least a few solutions which would not make very much sense even once discovered by the player. Solutions were often nearly imposisble to discover. Instead of thinking through such a game critically to solve puzzles, a player's general strategy would inevitably become to simply click every single object on every single screen until the story moved forward. For a player like myself who thoroughly enjoys the best the genre purportedly offered, this frustration with the complete lack of game coherency made the genre one that would not be missed.

A few years ago, with the advent of cheap distribution of PC games on the internet, the genre began to resurface. Those nostalgic for games of the past began to make new games in the genre and nostalgic players bought in. After the near-death of the genre, the new creators began to update game play and game logic to appeal to a modern audience. Continued commercial success in the genre among indie game developers should be sufficient evidence to show the genre has been reborn. Still, the ugly "click everything" logic manages to rear its head from time to time. While clicking everything on the screen isn't in and of itself bad, it is bad when the player becomes rewarded by nonsensical behavior from understood objects. This is the gameplay equivalent of the uncanny valley. In this case, even when clicking on the successful solution, the observed behavior is just far enough outside the expected behavior that it causes frustration or irritation. Each time I begin another adventure game, I brace myself for the inevitable irritation stemming from objects working in ways that could not possibly be predicted by the player. Aminita Design's two previous games, Samorost 2 and Machinarium, both were guilty of this from time to time, so I braced myself yet again.

Thankfully, Botanicula is a wonder. It so aggressively distances itself from our experiences and immerses itself in an original fantastical world that the above discussed problems never have a chance to arrive. The game revels in its uniqueness, with its characters odd blends of plants and animals which defy succint description. The creatures in the game have little telltale traits which explain some very base level of their behavior, but most objects are so odd that unexpected quirkiness is never a cause for frustration but instead brings gleeful discovery. The game never forgets that its strength is its quirkiness, using the player's what-does-this-thing-do impulse to encourage him or her to, well, click everything. The game's triumph comes in making the same exactly gameplay present in other games infinitely more engaging. The same actions become endearing rather than vexing. From beginning to end, the game is simply fun and drives the player to keep clicking everything. Even more significantly: Once a puzzle has been solved, the player gets a feeling of satisfaction because the solutions make perfect sense in context of the oddly fascinating world on display. The accompanying artwork and sound effects mesh with the entertaining quirkiness of the gameplay to great effect, with the joy of the game amplified by a tremendously wonderful soundtrack that is probably impossible not to smile at and dance to. This soundtrack is really, truly, incredible in terms of evoking emotion at exactly the right times. It is simply joyous to listen to.

Once all the pieces have been added into a single whole only one conclusion can be drawn. In Botanicula, Amanita Design has executed a perfect entry into the adventure genre. In fact, it has put together the first point and click adventure game I think can easily be recommended even to people who never play games. All a person has to be able to do to enjoy it is click.

If you find yourself engaged by the game's aesthetic as shown in its trailer (found at Botanicula's offical website) I can easily recommend the purchase, currently set for $10.

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