Mento's May Mastery: Day 12: Botanicula

Heya, everyone, to the newest edition of Mento's May Mastery. Well, unless you're reading this in 2017 or something, in which case this is the... nineteenth newest? Check the math on that one with your future calculators, if you may. I'm also assuming video and livestreaming died and the written word has once again become the dominant form of video game coverage. In which case, I'm hoping your timeline is the one that comes true out of infinite others.

When I'm not talking gibberish about causality, I also like to play video games. First thing I wanna talk about is that the Witcher 3 looks pretty darn good right about now, so I've finally decided to put my endless shilly-shallying on the line and created a list of PS4 games I'd be very interested in owning. I figure if I get that list long enough before a certain birthday-shaped deadline, I'll take the plunge and finally join you all in the present. Even if I don't, though, I think I have enough backlog to last me another five years. Might be I just skip this generation entirely. I also wanted to point out that the Grumps have finished their LP of Super Mario 64, so I'm feeling motivated to complete another part of my deep scrutiny of that game later this week.

Talking of skipping stuff, you'll notice that I didn't revisit Miasmata today. Honestly, after another hour or so, I kind of get it. You move from one checkpoint to the next, using triangulation for cartographic confirmation and the compass for rough approximations, find plants, take plants to lab and then move onto the next map spot. The fact is, I think the designers had good intentions by creating not only a first-person survival game with fanciful features like orienteering 101 and botanical investigations but an actual storyline and progression to follow to its natural conclusion. However, they painted themselves in a corner when it came to figuring out a way to make the game stay fresh throughout its runtime. The choice was to either assume the audience has the boundless amounts of patience to quietly pick their way through an expansive world full of plants and landmarks to discover, or they could light a figurative fire under their ass by teaching them all the basics they needed to beat the game and then sic a giant panther on them to make them hurry. I wonder if there is a "no panther" mode, and whether or not that would actually improve the game. Still, I commend their efforts. It'd be neat if something like that triangulation system found its way into Fallout 4 or Mad Max or something similar - it makes sense that maps are scarce in places like those, so it wouldn't hurt to have a smart way for players to make their own. (And I don't mean drawing endless lines and squares on a touchscreen, thank you Etrian Odyssey.)

What else? Well, I also fully completed Life of Pixel today. The difficulty curve gets a little screwy towards the end of that game. Beyond the Amiga levels I was initially stuck on, the game suddenly eased off a whole lot, dropping the required collectible count to about half and making the game far more manageable. Likewise, the Apple II stages went from simple to devastatingly tough for one particular level and then back to easy again. The last two systems - the Sega Master System and Sega Genesis, oddly relegated to being "bonus worlds" despite the NES, SNES and Game Boy all being in there - had a mixture of fun surprises and arbitrary difficulty peaks and valleys as well. I forget how I signed off on that game originally (probably pretty harshly, what with my frustration) but I still admire the attention to detail in its presentation. The music seemed especially well-done, with each of its chiptune themes approximating the sound chips of each of the console "worlds" they pertained to. They weren't always super catchy, but I could tell that they were made to sound identical to those consoles, possibly with the original sound tech itself. Best of all, I got 100% and didn't get the Noob achievement (500 deaths)! Used to be I'd bother to hunt down all those loser consolation achievements to complete the set, but not any more. (Pretty sure it doesn't make me a cool guy either way.)

Botanicula

No Caption Provided

I suppose I'd better talk about today's game already. Despite this insistence that I'd try to beat every game I started this month, I took a glance at the list of potential games I had planned out and realized I'm nowhere even close to finishing them all. We're almost halfway through May and I've beaten, what, four games? I've decided to be a little more stringent as a result, and I'm only going to pursue games over multiple days if they really grab me. It also means more switching over on a daily basis, so hopefully that'll keep things interesting for you readers.

Playing Botanicula feels a bit like the Nifflas phenomenon I discussed when I covered NightSky: it feels like a May Madness feature doesn't go by where I'm not covering a game from Amanita Design. The Czech developers are otherwise known for Machinarium and the Samorost series; I covered Machinarium way back during the first May Madness, and Samorost 2 in last year's May Madness Melange. Like those two, Botanicula fits within Amanita's usual design parameters: a point and click adventure game that greatly emphasizes the pointing and clicking, rewarding experimentation and creativity. Mostly every screen in the game has at least one or more hotspots, sometimes as small as a pinprick, and will generate anything from a solution to the present problem (such as one of five keys needed to move on) or some little graphical or musical flair that otherwise adds nothing besides making the game feel a little more alive and colorful.

Amanita can do
Amanita can do "pretty" very well. And "creepy". Usually in tandem.

There's a reason I keep coming back to these games, and it's due to how effectively Amanita Design boils down the adventure game genre to its mechanical bare essentials. It used to be that graphical adventure games were built around their story; that the various inventory puzzles and dialogue trees were solely meant to deliver lines in a script and move a swashbuckling tale ever closer to its conclusion. The Amanita games have stories, of course, but with the lack of dialogue and text it usually feels secondary to whatever puzzle is happening right at that moment. You know you need to get past an obstacle to keep on fighting these darkness bugs that are siphoning the life out of the trees and taking over, but the obstacle itself is what demands attention and each one has its own little tale to tell, if only through contextual hints. Plantlife-sucking vampire insects, those botanical Draculas (oh hey!), will have to wait until I'm done tinkering around with all the weird and cool stuff on the screen.

I've not beaten the game quite yet. I found this to be the case with Samorost 2 and Machinarium as well, in that you'll make incremental progress but might get sent down a pit or to another tree and still have no idea how far you are from the game's ending. I'm happy to stick with it though, as I'm loving the game's gentle charms and this little collection sidequest that tasks you with finding and playing with every lifeform - not unlike the photography side-quest of Beyond Good & Evil, except instead of shooting creatures with a camera you're poking at them until they do something amusing. (I'm pretty sure that's also the difference between a good National Geographic photographer and a bad one...)

Day 01: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 11: MiasmataDay 21: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 02: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 12: BotaniculaDay 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 03: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 13: BotaniculaDay 23: The Nightmare Cooperative & Lilly Looking Through
Day 04: Life of PixelDay 14: Shantae: Risky's RevengeDay 24: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Day 05: Life of PixelDay 15: Bit Dungeon IIDay 25: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 06: SPAZDay 16: Stick it to the Man!Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 07: SPAZDay 17: NaissanceEDay 27: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 08: NightSkyDay 18: The SwapperDay 28: The Banner Saga
Day 09: The RoomDay 19: ClaireDay 29: The Banner Saga
Day 10: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty RevengeDay 20: DokuroDay 30: The Banner Saga
Finale: Papers, Please
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