Occasionally a game will come along that reminds me how joyous the gaming medium can be. Botanicula is such a game. It is a piece of beautiful art, unburdened by the grim fatalism that has been rampant in independent games in the last five years. Any darkness that can be found in the world Amanita Design created only serves to accentuate its moments of pure, childish bliss.
The game is a point-and-click adventure for PC, Mac and Linux, and is similar to the studio's previous releases. It is set in a tree inhabited by a plethora of strange and quirky creatures -- some are plants, some are bugs and some are a mix of both. The story follows five of these adorable beings as they attempt to protect their tree's last remaining seed from an evil, spider-like monster.
All of the actions in Botanicula are handled by the cursor, often in very clever and inventive ways. With no tutorial or instructions provided to the player, the game encourages experimentation and discovery. Curiosity and cleverness are rewarded with vivid spectacles or delightful scenes of the tree's inhabitants at play. With little danger facing your quintet of characters through most of their quest, the game takes on a very relaxing pace. I never felt rushed while playing Botanicula, and was able to take my time to work out the game's puzzles.
The most distinct aspect of Botanicula is undoubtedly its visuals, which often straddle the line between cute and creepy. Thankfully they tend to favour the former, and I was often surprised at how charmed I was by the game's unusual cast of characters. The music pairs perfectly with the visuals, featuring a post-rock soundtrack reminiscent of Icelandic musician Jonsi.
Playing through Botanicula feels like wandering through the woods as a child -- although things sometimes got dark, I felt a sense of wonder and adventure that was never dulled. It is a game that reminds me of why I love games, and is a perfect example of the direction independent games should be taking.