Botanicula is a colorful, interactive adventure game where you guide a band of five cute friends who are trying to rid their home of invading spider-like parasites.
If that sounds strange, it's because it is. The entire world of Botanicula is alien and difficult to comprehend on first blush. But as you touch and tap different things on screen, you slowly realize that the various life you find living in the tree are pieces of a larger puzzle you'll need to solve to help keep their world alive.
There are plenty of point-and-click puzzle games for the iPad, but the unique art style of Botanicula puts it in a class by itself. If you're looking for a truly unique touchscreen game, this one is definitely worth your money -- even at $4.99, £2.99, or AU$6.49.
One thing that is important to note right away is that this game is only available for Mac or iPad. This review is for the iPad version of Botanicula.
Finding your way around
Botanicula takes place on a giant tree, and each screen in the game represents a different section of the tree you're exploring. As each level begins, you and your cohorts are presented with a problem. The first level requires the team to collect feathers to help a creature fly again so he'll no longer block your path. Each level of the game presents a new problem, but all require items you'll need to find by piecing together smaller mysteries.
To navigate between sections of the tree you tap near the edge of the screen where a branch continues out of sight. A valid path will display an arrow as you tap on the screen, causing the characters to travel off screen to the next section. When an arrow doesn't show up, it means you've hit a dead end (in a particular direction), and you'll need to take a different path.
Probably the best piece of advice I can give for playing Botanicula is to touch everything. As you progress through the levels your eye becomes trained to look for tiny spikes, small eyes, or wiggling leaves as an indication of items waiting to be touched. Sometimes a simple touch reveals a hidden animal, while other times multiple taps or a long-press are required to bait an animal out in the open so you can interact with it.
Interactions like these are commonplace throughout the entire game. Each one requiring you to think outside the box; you need to experiment to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together. In Botanicula, no two problems are the same and no two solutions are the same.
The puzzles are sometimes overly difficult
In one of the levels a lone creature sits in a section of the tree. When I first came upon him, I tapped on him to see what would happen, but nothing changed. After inspecting the rest of the screen, I moved on to a different section of the tree thinking that the answer to the puzzle must be elsewhere. I passed that section of the tree countless times in search of the fifth and final key that would let me move on to the next level.
After several minutes of searching all the other areas, I grew so frustrated that I -- and I hate to admit this -- found a walkthrough for the game and used it to point me in the right direction. It turns out that I not only had to touch the creature, but touch and hold to make him start singing, which brought more of the creatures onscreen (and moved the game forward). But with no help or hint guide, I had no idea that a long press would have any effect.
I think if there was just a short intro or some indicator what all the possible moves are, it would make it much easier on players. As it is, people will probably run into dead ends like I did, and spend an enormous amount of time not knowing that there are more possibilities for solving a puzzle.
Even with frustrations like these, I was still curious how the next levels would play out, where the story would go, and how the crew of heroes I had come to bond with would save their world. So, Botanicula is frustrating at times, sure, but its unique world and cute characters will make you want to keep playing.
Botanicula is a game about experimentation and leaving no stone unturned. The characters, sound effects, and overall feel make this puzzler funny, cute, playful, and smart. It will challenge you to think critically about the relevance of everything on the screen, all the while making you consider what you've done in other areas that might be a related piece of the puzzle.
For everything that's great about the game, it could really use a brief tutorial or other indicator of what types of moves you can do.
Still, Botanicula is a point-and-click game that's in a league of its own, with a unique art style, a compelling storyline, and challenging gameplay.