Mento's May Mastery: Day 13: Botanicula

Hey there. I'm glad to report we've got another completed game on the docket, so I'm already feeling pretty good about May Madness this year. The intro got a little too waffle-y last time (and I sort of ran through a whole three day's worth of notifications) so maybe I'll just curtail this one.

I will say that I'm planning on writing a list on 3D platformers I've played, possibly with some kind of "collectible-o-meter" to distinguish the more scavenger hunt-y ones. That genre's due for a comeback, so I'd like to ensure I have all the touchstones accounted for. I'm sure I'm missing a handful, and it's going to be fun distinguishing "3D platformer" from "character action game" and "open-world game" and "whatever the hell Metroid Prime is". I'll be crossing that series of floating platforms when I come to it, I suppose.

Actually, this will be a short update all round, because I finished Botanicula in about an hour after finishing up yesterday. See what I mean about having no idea when you're close to the conclusion of one of these games? That's probably for the best though; since when does any game with a few surprises under its hat ever let on its exact length?

With that being the case, let's consider today a twofer: I'm only going to be talking a little about two games today, because there's hardly anything left to say about Botanicula and I've only got an hour's progress into my next game.

Botanicula

My stance on Botanicula hasn't changed since yesterday, nor has it rocked the foundations of my appreciation of Amanita Design. The last couple sections of the game get pretty spooky, but it's still full of that experimental whimsy and wonderful art/sound design that all these games have exhibited so far. I guess the Nifflas connection runs deeper than simply putting out Indie games that inevitably find their way into my purview: both make heavy emphasis on atmosphere, which is slightly harder to pull off than simply having good graphics and music.

Even though Botanicula is such a mechanically contextual game, in the sense that the player can only ever click things and the effects are almost always different every time, there are a few recurring deeper mechanics than simply clicking on objects until some useful item appears. These include puzzles as sophisticated as combination puzzles: hitting one object to start it moving and then hitting others with precise timing to interact with the first. It doesn't sound super complicated, but puzzles like these are notoriously difficult to get right. It's why most adventure games don't bother, feeling that a puzzle that requires such precise timing will end up being frustrating to those players without the reflexes to manage them.

It's for these reasons that Botanicula, and by extension other Amanita Design games, remind me of two very specific adventure game series: The Monty Python PC games and Coktel Vision's Gobliiins.

The Monty Python games are built around the idea of point and click adventure games as a delivery method for humor, but rather than take the LucasFilm approach of still sticking to parsers and action buttons, it relies almost entirely on the player randomly clicking on items on the screen. Occasionally this will result in an item the player can take with them, to remove some pressing obstacle that separates them from the rest of the game. Most of the time, however, something amusing or dumb (or both) will occur and contribute nothing to the player's ultimate goal. Often, the actual reasons for collecting items is never clear, and it's very possible to miss finer details if neglect to hit the same hotspot multiple times. They're built to be puzzle games as much as they are built to be complete wastes of time (which is literally the name of one of them).

The Gobliins games meanwhile are built around cooperative puzzles. Each game gives you a different number of goblins - creatures with little in common physically except being smaller than almost everyone else - and a number of screens for each of the game's "stages". Often, the solution is to use the right goblin on the right hotspot, as using the wrong goblin will usually lead to a goofy non-sequitur that aids no-one. Frequently, though, you'll have to use multiple goblins in tandem to complete a puzzle; distracting a guard with one so you can rob him of his keys with the other, for instance. It requires some timing, some preparation and some ingenuity, but these puzzles tend to be the most rewarding. And, like Amanita Design's games, there's no dialogue to be seen except when it's vitally important (or stuck in the menu UI). Creatures just murmur instead, and occasionally provide a speech bubble rebus of what it is they want.

I just call this room
I just call this room "in-joke central".

Both those series were staples of mine growing up, so that's why I think I'm drawn to Amanita Design's output, beyond their aforementioned wonderful art and sound design. Botanicula's certainly another one of those games they make, for better or worse. Mostly better.

(I am still slightly unhappy that I wasn't able to complete my bestiary, and that the game provided no way to revisit prior scenarios to go hunting for them. All it provides is a restart game button, and that also resets the bestiary's progress. A bummer, but perhaps it's for the best that I can walk away from this particular collectibles marathon than let it take up hours of my time. Most collectibles tend to do that.)

Shantae: Risky's Revenge

I have zero prior experience with the Shantae series, beyond cheering her on whenever she appears on WVGCW (she's one of the major faces on that network right now. Wrasslin' talk. It's inescapable on this damn site, huh?). I heard through the grapevine that her games are vaguely SpaceWhipper-ish - in this case, she's whipping her hair, possibly back and forth - so I've been eager to get into them. That's also predicated on the fact that a new game in the series recently came out (Pirate's Curse, for 3DS/Wii U) and another is on the way (Half-Genie Hero, apparently coming to everything) so the time is ripe for me to get in on the ground floor with this series.

Except... well, I say that, but Risky's Revenge is actually the second game. The SpaceWhipper elements are more pronounced in this one and there's a bunch of other extras, so maybe I'm not missing anything by jumping ahead like this. There's also the small matter that the original Shantae's not available on Steam presently, though it sounds like Half-Genie Hero will be. It wouldn't be the first series I've only done alternating games with.

First shot of the game and it already looks amazing. That's WayForward and their pixel art for you.
First shot of the game and it already looks amazing. That's WayForward and their pixel art for you.

As for the game itself, it's your standard 2D side-scrolling platformer with hidden stuff and items you can't reach yet because you need some kind of upgrade from further into the game. Yeah, those SpaceWhipper elements I talked about. Shantae can collect money and buy new items and magic, and it looks like she'll be able to change shape later on, and tossing spells at monsters seems to be safer than getting close enough to hit them with her hair. It's not so challenging that ranged attacks are necessary quite yet either. I'm finding warp pillars (which is good), struggling with an inconvenient map system (which is bad) and am otherwise having a fine time with it so far, even though I haven't done much or faced much in the way of a challenge. At least it sounds great, and would probably look great if I could find a way to play it in a smaller window where the DSi standard resolution of the original won't be quite so blown up. No clue how long the game will take overall, but I'll keep you all posted.

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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