Botanicula is a game about clicking on things. As much interactive painting as it is traditional adventure, it's a collection of beautiful backdrops infused with glorious incidental detail. Find a hotspot, click on it, and see what happens - whether it's relevant to the puzzle or not, you can guarantee the result will be joyous.
This is the latest from Machinarium developer Amanita Design, although Botanicula's made largely by a different team. The Czech indie studio's identity is plastered all over it, though: in its playfulness, in its distinct appearance and in the way it presents its story.
You play as a band of botanical critters, whose tree is threatened by a giant spider-thing sapping away its life. It takes great skill to tell a story without dialogue, but via its combination of lovely sound effects and illustrative touches, Botanicula communicates everything it needs to with an impressive clarity.
Botanicula is impossibly cute, drawn with a real attention to detail and animated perfectly. It's the tiniest touches that count, and once again Amanita has demonstrated why they're at the top of the pile with their good-natured adventures. Intricate and precise, Botanicula's many creatures react convincingly to your presence, while leaves sway in the breeze, falling from their branches and floating delicately around the screen.
The game begs for you to play with it, exploring slowly as you click-click-click to see how everything works. In this respect, it's much more akin to Amanita's earlier work - specifically, the Samorost games - than it is to 2009's robotic point-and-clicker Machinarium. There are inventory puzzles of sorts, but they're stripped back to their simplest form: you'll rarely have more than a couple of items at once, and unless you're in the right location the game won't even let you try to use them. Instead, the focus is on interacting with the environment and those who dwell within it, experimenting, slowly building up an idea of how this gorgeous world functions.
It's split into several hub locations, each one larger than the last and with more areas to explore. You'll spend a lot of time navigating new places and wrestling with a slightly unhelpful map drawn on a leaf, scanning each screen for something to do. Botanicula's sedate and unpressured pace gives you time to enjoy the richness of its environments, but when you're stuck on that last puzzle of a section things can occasionally grow tiresome. Like Machinarium, it's sometimes guilty of meandering a little too much - and the fact that so many interactive elements are there purely for effect, instead of to advance the game, can often lead you towards frustrating red herrings as you try to figure out how to progress.
It's stupidly gorgeous, though, imbued with enough personality that it might explode. The sound effects, for example, are created almost entirely using the human voice, so bubbles pop with a satisfying smack of the lips, while flies flap around with an adorable buzz. It's a thoughtful experience, and often so genuinely funny that you're inclined to forgive it some structural misgivings.
And setting the game in such a novel world allows the puzzles to develop organically, smartly avoiding a descent into adventure game logic. A lot of it begins as guesswork, but you piece things together as you try out ideas, getting closer to a solution with each click. Again, it's the more tightly contained areas that work the best - but even when things become more spread out, the game's playful nature means getting something wrong is usually met with another delightful animation, instead of the glib "that won't work" stock quote that most adventures rely on.
Utterly lovely, although certainly imperfect, Botanicula is a game filled with soul and bursting with imagination. As you click your way to victory, it'll be hard to stop grinning.
Version Tested: PC