Have you ever seen any of those charmingly weird and somewhat surreal Czechoslovakian cartoons that the BBC used to broadcast on children’s TV in the afternoons?
Well, playing Botanicula is a bit like being thrown into one of those cartoons and then left to figure out what’s going on. That’s not surprising really, given that Botanicula was developed by Amanita Design, the Czech games studio responsible for the equally weird-and-wonderful Machinarium.
You’ll need patience to get into Botanicula, as there’s very little guidance given when you start. The game is set in a forest, delightfully rendered with hand-drawn graphics and atmospheric background noises. A brief introductory scene seems to suggest that one of the trees has been infected by some sort of creepy spider and you then take control of a group of five little seed-like creatures, who head off in search of various objects that will help them to save the tree.
The game follows the format of a point-and-click adventure, as you explore the forest landscape simply by waving your mouse cursor around the screen and watching to see what happens. Sometimes an arrow will point the way to your next location, or the cursor will turn into a ‘hand’, indicating that you can click on an object in order to use it in some way. One of your little seed creatures may be able to extend a branch across a gap in order to grab at something, while one of the larger seeds may be able to bulldoze its way past an obstacle for you.
The puzzles are a bit more obscure than those of a conventional adventure game so it may take a little while to figure out the logic behind everything, but if you have the patience for it you’ll find that Botanicula exerts an almost hypnotic fascination all its own.
The endless mouse-clicking can be a bit repetitive – and I suspect that it’d work better with the touch-screen controls of an iPad – but if you’re a fan of gently-paced adventure games then you’ll probably find that Botanicula provides hours of absorbing fun.