Technically Botanicula is a puzzle game, but in practice it's more like a less saccharine recreation of those moments in Disney films where a princess wanders through a country setting as its flora and fauna excitedly dances and chatters in her wake. Run your cursor across one of Botanicula's many 2D, handpainted screens and its strange, pretty plant-world will come alive, a cavalcade of actions and reactions for no reason other than that it's perfectly charming.

From the creators of the much-revered, highly art and music-led abstract puzzlers Samorost and Machinarium, Botanicula is the tale of five plant-creatures exploring a sprawling cellulose world in an attempt to best the sinister plans of invading spider-beasts. Each character ostensibly has a different ability, but in practice this usually entails random effects from each one (which you could, at a pinch, describe as a twig, a seed, a mushroom, a nut and a sort of feathered sycamore) when you ask them to interact with what may or not be part of that area's solution.

There's a certain logic if you squint a bit, but given this isn't a game with true failure conditions, the appeal comes from trying out each creature purely for the joy of seeing what happens. Bespoke and elaborate animations abound, leading to the abiding sense that you're wandering through some strange European cartoon rather than point'n'click puzzling.

It's a lovely thing to behold, visually rewarding almost every attempt at interaction, but its vagueness can work against it at time. With a great many screens to troop your plant-chaps though and no real hint as to what's necessary for progression and what's mere decoration and distraction there can be frustrating moments of "what the hell am I doing?"

Where to go and where you are is rarely clear, and backtracking through all those screens if you've missed something can take a while. At least it doesn't take long or much effort to establish what hasn't been clicked on yet, and correct effects are permanent. Botanicula needs to be played in the spirit in which it was created - the cheerful, slow meandering of a curious and playful mind. Even the music, with all its clicks, squeaks and whirrs, makes it clear that Botanicula is a toy as much as it is a game.

Botanicula

For all this, it's refreshingly without pretention. It's never trying to beat its players over the head with how arty and clever it is. It wants to charm you, not awe you. And given it asks little more of its player than curiosity and memory, it's also particularly well-suited to the dubious non-gamer in your life.

Botanicula: Specs

  • OS:Microsoft® Windows® XP/Vista/7 Processor:1.6 Ghz Processor Memory:1 GB RAM DirectX®:5.0 Hard Drive:700 MB HD space Also available for Mac.
  • OS:Microsoft® Windows® XP/Vista/7 Processor:1.6 Ghz Processor Memory:1 GB RAM DirectX®:5.0 Hard Drive:700 MB HD space Also available for Mac.

OUR VERDICT

A little blurry around the edges and not always focusing into the puzzle game it is at heart, but Botanicula is dripping with so much charm and character that it's impossible to feel grumpy with it.

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