Botanicula

Some days ago, if someone had told me that you could make a game about natural life and arboreal harmony terrifying, I would have laughed in their face. Now I weep in a corner of the room, repeatedly yelling at deformed, flying livers with eyes to stop humming in unstable chords.

I thought Amanita Design would leave surrealism to music videos, but What The Fuck came to prove me wrong. Like Machinarium, it’s a point-and-click adventure game, with truckloads more easter eggs than anything I’ve seen recently and the ability to enthrall in such ways that you cannot stop wondering whether your brain is being caressed or raped.

I wasn’t kidding about the flying livers.

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We’re not talking Bambi nature, here. We’re talking trippy cloud-bubble genius wishing, bizarre larvae band listening, globulous tumor feather dotting, flying goldfish riding, chicken-mounted volleyball playing, bloated ooze-fly squeezing, flabby slug-pig stomping, mumbling afro-mushroom storytelling, cancerous Igor-lookalike city exploring, one-eyed sap jellyfish driving, bug-racing blue peanut cap stealing, pseudo-Buddhist floating-truffle-inhabited fig temple visiting nature. This is nature as understood by a child whose parents have a disturbing sense of humour. This is nature as heard by a schizophrenic boyscout lost in the woods for two years. This is nature as seen by Dali on acid. And it’s hilarious.

The visuals are one bizarre work of art after another, and 95% of the audio is made out of vocalizations, snaps, claps, whistles, and the noise you make when you’re pretending to be a plane right before you realize you’re not alone in the room, after which you proceed to name a fictional respiratory disease to mask your inadequacy to act your age. I’ll admit the art style isn’t my cup of tea as much as Machinarium’s was, but seeing every little reaction of every little bug, seed, twig, or leaf I’d click become funnier and funnier definitely kept it interesting.

I wasn’t kidding about the chicken volleyball either.

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I had already explained my thoughts on point-and-clicks, but most puzzles in What Is This I Don’t Even are downright illogical. The game ends up being a meticulous process of hovering over every single pixel on the screen and clicking when the cursor changes, in a mix of inner-giggling terror and curiosity at what hilarity might emerge. Only near the very end does logic come to play a little role, and even then it is too short-lived and right before a tiny segment of actual action. Action at the speed of grandma, but action nevertheless. I am not saying, however, that this wasn’t the point of the developers. They surely managed to stylistically reinvent the genre.

At some points I felt a bit overwhelmed, however. Not because of the difficulty, but the laboriousness of the exploration, which is reduced to checking every square pixel for bacteria droppings and every variation thereof during the course of a dozen areas. It definitely didn’t strike me as an addictive game, as I felt like my eyes had been injected with eerie-glowing painting oils to drive my brain into detail overload after a while in the same session, forcing me to take a day-long break. It feels more like an exercise in visual curiosity (and auditory hilarity), while the storyline remains simple enough to keep the focus on the art.

The soundtrack, composed by DVA, a Czech alternative band duet, is… strange. The eclectic references are everywhere, from pop to jazz, to folk, to traditional music, even a clever redoing of Pacman, and it includes a lot of the game’s audio, which only helps the bizarreness. One specific track, for example, reminded me of Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. Some loops are tiresome, and the faster the tracks, the more they sound like someone blended 10 kg of vinyls and glued all the pieces back into a different set of discs. They all fit the game perfectly, as will some shrooms.

The similarities are uncanny.

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6/10

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