Speaking in purely aesthetic terms, Botanicula feels like the cheery yin to Limbo’s monochromatic yang. Both games set their 2D action against an ethereal natural backdrop, but Amanita Design’s point-and-click adventure about a party of five plant-like creatures who set out to rescue the last surviving seed on their home tree switches on the lights.
Botanicula’s insectoid bestiary straddles the line between adorable and unsettlingly peculiar, in a fashion reminiscent of Tim Burton’s stop-motion work. There’s a crispness and almost papery sense of tactility to the textures that makes you wish you could reach out and run your finger across their surface. As it turns out, that’s what the game invites you to do. This is a point-and-click adventure game, after all. When the mouse pointer arrow morphs into a hand as you drag it over something that permits interaction, that extended index finger takes on added metaphorical heft. Some bugs even hop clear as your pointer brushes by them, as if a real hand has disturbed them. For this reason, Botanicula can’t find its way to iPad soon enough.
With the camera zoomed in so tightly on the tree, the translucent white branches form a clearly readable network of forking pathways that are as functional in navigational terms as they are true to the plant after which they’re modelled. The map itself is tile-based, but the sparseness of environmental detail and subtlety of artistic variation between each screen makes it far more difficult to memorise the layout than games such as Myst or The Secret of Monkey Island, where landmarks are generously distributed. Unlike the tree branches, which seamlessly meld theme and function, the obstacles impeding your progress occasionally fumble that sense of coherence. One section involves finding several golden keys to access a blossom with as many padlocks as the front door of an agoraphobe’s flat. It’s so brazenly a videogame contrivance that it disrupts your immersion in the botanical fantasy the game cultivates with such sensitivity elsewhere.
Still, Botanicula is the logical follow-up to Amanita Design’s Machinarium, swapping a world of robots, pollution and scrap metal for an airy, uncluttered botanical microcosm. One dead end finds you on a small sliver of branch in the lower right-hand corner of the frame, leaving the rest of the scene unspoiled and giving the existing details ample room to breathe. Though it occasionally goes pear-shaped as an adventure game due to the stinginess of its feedback, Botanicula is never less than a breath of fresh air. Such a cheery fantasy in fact, it’s as if the Galápagos authorities have finally got around to opening a petting zoo.
Mac version tested.