A great example of the power of charm in video games, Botanicula thrills thanks to its oddball cast of lifeforms

User Rating: 7 | Botanicula PC
An army of pitch black, leeching, spiderlike antagonists threaten the life of a giant magical tree, along with its diverse residents of anthropomorphic insects, plants, fungi, and whatever other small thing generally appreciated within the community. Of these terrorized, a group of five friends--a little lantern seed (the "chosen one" of the bunch), a stick, a feather, a mushroom, and what I can best define as "bulky fungus guy"--act as the tree's peace brigade and attempt to save the day in Amanita Design's Botanicula, a development team whose previous adventure game was the well-accepted Machinarium. Yeah, very industrial villa to magic tree: it is about as conflicting of environment change as two projects by the same people can probably get. But fans of Machinarium will not be disappointed in Botanicula's whimsically oozed aesthetic and sense of wonder that can be every bit as refreshing and unique in comparison, and can especially be a choice welcome to most newcomers of the genre in general.

Machinarium was at times a fairly intuitive game in its puzzle designs, not really asking for much more than what the game asks you to do. Granted, it still required a pulsing noggin and somewhat decent scavenger hunting skills at times, with a helpful hint system thrown in for good measure just in case. However, Botanicula takes it to even less subtle extremes, stripping any actual sort of inventory-mixing ingenuity and relying often on simply clicking matters of interest once or more and seeing what happens as a result. That is the ideal strategy here, and while it may change a little bit for, albeit, a satisfying variation's sake (one requires the guidance of a ball around a steamed contraption via dragging the mouse), it might as well be nothing for a smart lad or lass like you to solve, especially if you are familiar with adventure games that have fashioned the likes of puzzles involving pulleys and rubber chickens in the middle of them. Those seeking a demanding challenge, something to really stop you in your tracks, and little else might not be well-fulfilled in the highs that Botanicula offers: not meaning to compare the experience to a walk on cake, but the toughest ruts you might get yourself into only resolve in a couple of minutes maximum of "guess and check."

I will go as far to say the cakewalk cliché I mentioned a sentence ago is, in fact, an unfair definition for Botanicula because assuming that this game is trying to rattle your brain misses the adventure's point altogether. This time 'round, the style is the substance. Interacting with the tree's silly and cute inhabitants (if not, then maybe quite off-kilter fits) drives the five little heroes' journey throughout. Coming in contact with these buggers might as well be what you would call the game's rewarding system, with quite a few viewable virtual cards behind each that are clicked toward, and serving as the basis behind practically the entire set of its Steam achievements (if bought under the Steam online store, that is). With this in mind, Botanicula delivers in how it aims to entertain. The adventure unfolding is amusing thanks to these zany critters your crew deals with, and the iOS-styled simplicity of guiding from scenery to scenery via a mouse-click helps give off a flow that makes the experience just as easy to sit back and enjoy its romp.

The goofy happenstances would not be as near of a hook if not for the gleeful camp Botanicula fashions. Luminescent tree-veins and deep shades of solid olive-ish colors shape much of the setting and background, while Photoshop-inspired cut-outs expressed with Flashplayer-style animations are what much of the designs behind the characters seem to be influenced by. Color me surprised that such seemingly amateur graphics turn out to perfectly give the fairy tale an appropriate kindergarten accent. Special props should also go to the music department for further emphasizing the way the game looks and feels, with a kind of energetic score that thrives on cute, having times of the equivalent of an indie band shouting nonsense in tribal fashion, and occasionally with a whimsically-sounding string section to top off (a Czech, more juvenile-intended Sigur Rós with comparably cheaper equipment comes to my mind).

Be laid-back about it and savor what you can, for Botanicula certainly will not take you much longer than two or three hours. It is enjoyable once, but because we are not only dealing with an adventure game but a fairly easy one, it is not all that likely for you to replay it anytime soon, even if you missed a couple of cards. I compared the way it plays to an iOS game earlier in this review, and it might as well be on an iPad or something similar, since it has the perfect meat of that kind of game. It is only ten dollars regularly, which is still cheap, but when competing with games that have more complex mechanics going on at the same price, I can see one considering this purchase perhaps risky. That said, a strong presentation and a pick-up-and-play scheme makes Botanicula a worthy adventure game to put alongside Machinarium, even if both play a little differently. If you are intrigued at what it offers, then this product will certainly be a decent investment.