Wednesday, April 17, 2024




A game full of life


Dark, many-legged parasites are killing your tree, and you, along with your tree friends, must save the last seed.

The game starts with a view of a branch, with seeds budding on every twig. Click on the buds, and the seeds form.  A dark parasite with one red eye comes and eats all the seeds but one, which escapes. It falls from the branch and lands on Mr. Lantern, our main character. He looks like an acorn to me, but he's supposed to be a physalis (part of the gooseberry family, like a tomatillo).

In a quick, simple montage, the seed communicates with Mr. Lantern, telling him that they must escape from the parasites, and plant the seed somewhere safe, so it can grow. Mr. Lantern hides the seed within his papery hull. He and his friends, Mr. Twig (a stick), Mr. Poppy Head (a poppy seed pod), Mr. Feather (a fly) and Mrs. Mushroom (you guessed it) travel through the tree branches, evading parasites and other dangers on the way. Eventually they'll defeat the parasites and plant the seed, creating a new home for them and their children.

This is another beautiful game from Amanita Designs. Jára Plachý, the project’s lead animator, signed up with them to create it back in 2009.

 "With Botanicula, I wanted to create a game that will be faster and have more locations to explore,” Plachý said.

 The original intent was to create a narrative like an animated movie. But after consulting with Jakub Dvorsky of Amanita Designs, they made it a more playable game with puzzles to solve.

Plachý said, "I started to work on games when I was hired by friends from Amanita Design to create some animations for Machinarium, and I really enjoyed working on the project. It was Amanita that actually showed me how to create a game. Until this collaboration, I worked mostly on animated movies, and I realized it's possible to create original and unique computer games that have narrative and expression equal to animated movies or graphic novels."

 The backgrounds are huge and lush. When your mouse hovers over small objects like root hairs, dust clouds, and leaves, a small animation plays. With the click of a mouse, leaves unfurl, lights blink on and off, and little creatures hop from branch to branch. This makes the game feel larger, because of the number of actions you can take. There's lots of hidden animations that are triggered with the right combination of clicks.

Not every element solves a puzzle, which addresses one of the issues with a point and click gaming system. If you limit your active elements to only those that are important to complete the game, then it makes the solutions easier. The active elements are consistent with the look of the rest of the game. You’ll need a bit of patience and thorough examination of the graphics to solve the puzzles, instead of just clicking things until something happens.

These puzzles fit within the universe of the story, instead of being shoehorned in. One solution requires you to change the way stems are arranged, so that a drop of dew can fall in the exact right spot. Some are elimination or combination puzzles, so that eventually you'll find the right combination through perseverance. Mr. Lantern and his friends solve puzzles in different ways, and each bring their own strengths to the table. Mr. Lantern protects the seed and can use it to activate elements. Mr. Twig can grow his stems longer and can sprout flowers. Mr. Poppy is the largest and can solve problems with his size. Mrs. Mushroom can duplicate herself and bounce things from her cap. Mr. Feather is the smallest and can fly.

This is a relatively large game for an indie. One of Plachý’s goals was to create a larger game that would take more time to play. There are several different levels, including a final boss level, and lots of hidden in-game achievements to unlock.

Amanita hired DVA, a Czech alternative rock music duo formed by Bára Kratochvílová and Jan Kratochvíl, to create the soundtrack and the sound effects for the game. Since the game features trees, plants and seeds, they thought, "Hey, maybe we can do it with sounds from real nature... We had a Dictaphone, and there are many sounds of birds and flies.”

   But since this was February, there were no mosquitoes to be found. They set up a Foley studio for the rest of the sounds they needed. Twenty percent of the sounds in the game are real, and the rest were recorded by the duo making sounds that seemed appropriate with their mouths. This makes the game so endearing and organic. There’s no language barrier, even though the game is Czechoslovakian, because all the creatures speak in nonsense words, with the meaning in an animated thought bubble above their heads.

If you had to describe this game with one word, it would be ‘joyful’ – it’s a pleasure to play, with beautiful backgrounds, and an awesome soundtrack. Great for all ages.

Botanicula, 2012 is available on SteamOS. It's on sale this month for $2.24.


Screenshot courtesy amanita designs

The characters escape from a black fuzzy parasite that threatens their tree.