D-PADS AND DICE - 'Botanicula' game passes 'nice' test

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It's rare to find a digital game that's nice.

Dark, funny, violent, action-filled, even dramatic games are out there in fairly large numbers, but nice? A game that's sweet and pleasant and just makes you happy watching it play out? That's much rarer.

"Botanicula" is nice.

The game is like "Machinarium," also a point-and-click adventure I reviewed here on June 5 and both made by the artistic geniuses at Amanita Design. While "Machinarium" was set on a world made entirely of industrial parts and robots, "Botanicula" is a planet made of plants and trees.

It follows the story of five plant creatures trying to save the world from a sinister spiderlike creature that is draining the life force out of everything in its path.

And the world is truly a thing to behold.

Every screen is packed with gorgeous art and animation. The characters you meet come to life, despite never uttering a single line of comprehensible dialogue. Strange hybrids of bees and whirlybirds fly around their nests. Mushrooms bounce along merrily.

The music is wonderful, too, often incorporating nonsensical vocalizations into its compositions that enliven the game even further.

It's hard not to smile while watching the world unfold before you.

The game is divided up into chunks of world that span a few screens. Each has one objective that you'll learn as you play, and in almost all cases it's a matter of finding a number of items. Collect them all and figure out what to do with them, and you go onto the next area.

The game's real genius is that almost all the puzzles revolve around observing the way the ecosystem of the world works. Some creatures will chase away others if they see each other, for instance.

Other puzzles involve choosing which of five plants you have will solve the problem at hand, although choosing the wrong one is hardly a punishment since you'll be treated to a clever and cute animation.

Lastly, a few inventory puzzles involve using one item on something you encounter, although the bulk of the puzzles in these segments come from figuring out how to retrieve the item in the first place.

The simple methods of interacting with the world allow you to open up to it more, and place the emphasis on experiencing the game's environment. I found myself rooting for the little plants as I played because the utter transparency let the charming animations shine through.

The game is never especially taxing, but neither is it effortless. The gameplay is just another conduit to the world of "Botanicula", and it serves its purpose well.

"Botanicula" is a wonderful game anyone should be able to play. It is available from Amanita's website at amanita-design.net/, or Steam at store.steampowered.com/ for about $10.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. A graphic arts student at the Evergreen State College, he's working on various art projects and game designs. Email your questions and comments to noahhinz@gmail.com.

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