Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #51: Botanicula

In Mac, PC on January 10, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Title: Botanicula
Format: PC, Mac
Released: 7th May, 2012

Botanicula Main Image

Sometimes, when the cold is creeping in and the skies are grey, you just want to play something green and warm. Something lovely. Something that has care, craft and love oozing out of every pore. (ergh) Sometimes, you want to play Botanicula, the Toy Story of lo-fi Czech adventure games. (obviously)

As I write now, I’m 3 days into a fairly pathetic cold. It’s one of those colds that leaves you light-headed, a little feeble, but essentially just a bit tired and hungry. It’s a great way to be: thoughts float about a bit more freely like gentle spores ready to fertilise, and although your head’s a bit tender, sitting around playing games and watching TV is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a weekday. So after playing through Papers, Please again, (article coming next week) finding myself comfortably ensconced in a den of tissues (STOP IT) and cups of tea, I moved onto Botanicula, by Amanita Design.

How to describe Botanicula. You’ve seen the Simpsons episode with Eastern European Itchy & Scratchy replacement Worker & Parasite, right? Here:

I’m obviously going to provide you with images of the game in a sec, but for now use your tiny pea head, and think the above, crossed with Pikmin. Botanicula drops you gently into this world of greenery, insects, animals and plants that is brimming with life. Almost instantly, all is put under threat from terrifying shadowy spider beasts, who appear and start sucking the lifeblood from the trees.

You are tasked with saving the day, controlling an awesome bunch of adorable insects. Proof that they are adorable, you say? They go by the names of: Mr. Lantern, Mrs. Mushroom, Mr. Poppyhead, Mr. Twig and Mr. Feather. Team Adorable, right?! Although…*Shakes fist* GENDER ROLES!!!

Botanicula - The Team!

They have no idea what’s going on

The team dynamic doesn’t add much to the gameplay, apart from a few moments when you have to choose which insect to solve certain puzzles (it’s just trial and error until you get the right one, so I always tried to get it wrong to see all the characters adorably toddle around, screwing up and toppling over), but creates this wonderful feeling of camaraderie as your ramshackle crew bash around the beautiful environments, trying so hard to be good at puzzling. But practically everything else is bigger and scarier than you, so you spend lots of time running away.

And here’s where my brain switches track. I wrote the first part of this piece in cold, rainy, bitter England, where the scariest insect is a particularly large daddy longlegs. It made sense that this article was going to be about comfort and snuggling away the cold, as a chilly world sulks bitterly outside.

Blanket fort

As I write now, I’m hotly, sweatily dripping around in Sydney, Australia, where the wildlife is notably less adorable. There are two different wasps nests outside my room, and cockroaches chill regularly in the kitchen. Everything’s hot and sticky and it’s wonderful. But comfort is now shorts and aircon – duvets be damned! It’s a different temperature of existence. Plus it sure makes it easier to get why your little crew are scared of wildlife. As Oscar Wilde once said: “Shit be deadly up in this hayizzle.”

Oscar

Yet Botanicula still appeals. It reaches an impressive balance of light and shade that leaves everything with a temperate glow – warming you up in the cold, and cooling you down in the heat. Everything’s conveyed through sound and visuals; completely dialogue free. Characters communicate in charming nonsense noises vaguely reminiscent of The Sims, but Botanicula goes one step further by having all the sound effects sound home made, from the slurps and buzzes to the flapping of wings – they all sound like a few people are standing round a microphone doing impressions, except it’s too hot so they’re kind of phoning it in. And it’s lovely.

I played my girlfriend (who knew nothing about the game) the opening song, and she said (correctly), that it “sounds like a rainforest”. Here’s your chance to have the right opinion too:

The homespun vibe carries to the visuals, which are both beautifully ramshackle, and quite immaculate. It’s an unnerving combination – both gorgeous and somewhat cobbled together. (It totally isn’t by the way; it definitely took ages). It’s also, to jaded Western eyes, strange and alien, which massively adds to the weird world you’re dropped into.

Botanicula’s a exercise in having a gentle, relaxed, friendly adventure. There are highs and lows, it can be surprisingly scary at times, but no matter how strange everything got, I found it all rather comforting. It’s a vision I’m just not used to (a feeling I often get with Studio Ghibli films), where you get the sense of something larger beneath the surface. I’m off travelling around the globe now, displaced more than I’ve ever been, but with worlds like Botanicula‘s, I’ll always have a home to return to.

Botanicula Down Under

Also, it’s helping the World Land Trust to protect hundreds of acres of rainforest. Like I said. Lovely.

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