Aesthetic Overdose in Botanicula

Rilla and I have been playing Botanicula for the last couple of days and is freakin’ adorable, almost obscenely sweet. We’re real suckers for cute, and are huge fans of Machinarium (Amanita games’ last game), so were very excited by Botanicula. In most ways it’s exactly what you’d want – lovely characters in a lovely, silly world. In some ways it’s even better, because the music in the game is utterly incredible (topical, given all the talk about music in games of late in internet-land). In one way at least, it’s been disappointing, though – it feels much more like a toy than a game. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but after the kind of challenging puzzles in Machinarium, we’re missing a bit of need for thought.

It reminds me a bit of Sword & Sworcery EP, actually. In that game, too, there’s a huge emphasis placed on aesthetics over interactivity. And that game, too, is gorgeous, but somehow a bit flat feeling too, for me. The oddity here is that both Botanicula and Sword and Sworcery EP overtly create what would seem to be very detailed and complex worlds and fictions (well, maybe less complex fiction in Botanicula, to be fair). And yet both worlds feel incomplete, I think, because of their lack of complexity from an interaction perspective – there’s never quite enough to do, or never quite enough agency, to feel like you’re genuinely part of things.

Instead in games like these, there’s more of a sensation of being “allowed” to trigger certain lovely musical sequences or animations. Those things are lovely to behold, but you don’t feel that you had much to do with them. In that way, the two games are a bit like something along the lines of Windosill, which is more explicitly a game of triggers and animations. Is there a “dishonesty” involved, then, or is the “less-interactive-world” a kind of genre that we’ll be seeing more of? Worlds where you look, and listen, but don’t necessarily touch so much.

I’m not sure if I’m personally so interested, but if people keep making things as beautiful as Botanicula, I will feel very glad.

22 June 2012
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