Whenever I'm told about a short, simple 3D platform game being released to the market I always assume that I have been transported back to the mid to late 90s, where the most popular console of the day is the Playstation 1. I've always had a love hate relationship with the platform genre as I find them fun to play, colourful to look at, but frustrating as hell to complete. Ghost Entertainment has dipped their toes into the waters of the gaming industry with their first title, The Botanist. A colourful, simplistic affair that asks you to take the role of a young mushroom boy by the name of Bob. He is obsessed with nature and the research of plants and mushrooms. The old saying curiosity killed the cat springs to mind, as Bob's interests get the better of him, and he leaps through worlds, overcoming issues and collecting items.
The concept of this game is very simple; Two different game modes and 8 levels stand between you and the finish line. You begin the game with 3 lives. You must explore the colourful landscape, collecting floating mushrooms, leaping across gaps, and using floating platforms to traverse great chasms. Each platform has its own potential dangers, with traps and creatures wanting to take away your precious lives. You are helped on your way with conveniently placed arrows which highlight the direction of travel, and you'd be a full to ignore these, as you can easily get lost. Players who wish to collect all the mushrooms in the level will find that they leap and jump into the unknown on over one occasion, and the path to success isn't always obvious.
The fun isn't restricted to just our young friend Bob. No, you also ride a dragon in the latter stages. Our red friend flies around without a care and makes reaching further parts of the map much easier. Having this flying friend doesn't take away from the difficulty, it merely adds another layer that must be considered while trying to overcome the many hazards and obstacles in your path. The simplistic nature of The Botanist may worry a few gamers, especially those that want many complex tasks to complete, or several side quests to look at. If you go into this knowing that you will face a fun, vivid world, that challenges your spatial awareness and accuracy, then you won't be left disappointed.
Bob is a lover and not a fighter, and he has no ability to attack any of the enemies he faces. His only form of defence is to jump on their head a la Mario style, and this causes them to be temporarily stunned. This limited approach frustrated me somewhat. Instead of being able to tackle the problems head on, I was forced to simply run away every time. I don't want a hack 'n slash style encounter, but some form of wizardry, and different spells to overcome each of my foes would have added a more complex layer that would have taken a considered approach to master.
Each playthrough is marked as a "Game", all eight stages must be completed with certain restrictions applied to complete several challenges. You will be asked to not hit opponents, collect a limited amount of hearts en route, and several other tasks in order to obtain 100% completion status. Each level has a set amount of mushrooms to collect, and depending on how many you obtain, this will issue you with a star ranking between 1 and 3 stars. These additional challenging areas made a straightforward game much harder and allows more hardcore gamers extra goals to focus on.
Ghost Entertainment has created a wonderful environment to explore, and some beautifully detailed cut scenes that follow the style of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Vivid tones, interesting landscapes and scenery, and difficult to judge pathways make up the world that you live in. Each of the character models that you find are unique and well designed. However, the finish on the imagery cannot be considered next generation, but this didn't surprise me. A small studio with their first venture is unlikely to make a triple A title experience, yet what they have delivered is serviceable. There are a few minor issues regarding latching onto walls and trees, jumping from platforms can be problematic, especially if you catch the edge, and the inability to look up or down took some getting used to. It's reminiscent of early platform games I've grown up with, but with a modern aesthetic.
The whimsical and mischievous nature is enhanced through the use of audio. A playful soundtrack accompanies all the action and gives an air of make believe, and fairy tales. I really enjoyed this element of the game, but it was ruined by the shrill sound effects of Bob's voice. Each time you complete a task he makes this obnoxious sound, and it slowly eats away at you. I wish there was a way of switching it off, or the developers had added more variety. It spoiled what was otherwise a brilliant area of this title.
Ghost Entertainment has also done a great job with the controls. Most of the action is controlled through the use of the keyboard, with several of the keys bound to different actions. With little practise I could master the basics, with the only difficulty coming in my ability to complete the tasks. Accuracy and patience are a must where I found that failure was down to my shortcomings, rather than anything the game could throw at me. I would have liked to see the option to use a controller and hope that this is something that the developers would consider for the future.
With a multitude of achievements to obtain, and 2 game modes to try out, there is plenty of replay value to be had. The main story allows you the opportunity to unlock most of the difficult goals, whereas the speed run section will test your resolve. Hopefully the developers will look to add more content that will also increase the desirability to return to the game.
The Botanist is a great first title from Ghost Entertainment. A simple, yet fun 3D platform game that gives you enough of a challenge to keep you interested. With a few minor issues that can be easily polished out, and plenty of potential to move it on, I think that this is a great value game to add to your collection. Do I recommend that you play this? I do. It won't push you mentally, but it will test your ability to stay calm and function properly. Can you help Bob collect all the missing mushrooms and explore the whimsical and mysterious world he finds himself in?