Whew… I’ve found myself very busy once again, so I’ve been slow to post. But I have managed to write this short post about a short but very pretty game.
Amanita Design, the small independent game developer based in the Czech Republic, is most famous for their point-and-click adventure game (a genre for which I gave a brief historical summary in this post) Machinarium. Or perhaps for their next game, Botanicula. But before those, Amanita Design made a pair of short, charming and beautiful adventure games, the first of which, Samorost, is completely free and can be played in a web browser. And I did, a long time ago. The second, Samorost 2, is in the same mold, with the first part available free in a browser but the second part costing a modest $5 (and including the excellent soundtrack). In my typical fashion of playing games in order, I’d intended to play Samorost 2 before Amanita Design’s more recent games, and I finally got around to it recently.
But, in a sense this post is timely, as Amanita Design recently (well, sort of recently) released a trailer for the third Samorost game. So I’m actually totally on the ball with this, right?
OK, I’m not fooling anyone with that. My massive backlog of games and busy schedule means I’m never going to be on the ball with my posts. Still, the announcement of Samorost 3 did somewhat spur my decision to put Samorost 2 near the top of my gaming queue, and I’m glad I did.
First I should say that while Samorost 2 is a larger game than its predecessor, which was a very brief little thing, it’s still quite short, and its roots as a browser-based flash game are evident. It runs at a fixed, low resolution without any scaling (even when downloaded and played offline), and looks more or less like the first game. Fortunately, looking like Samorost 1 is a huge compliment. Both Samorost games are gorgeous, building on the style of classic Czech animation (indeed, Amanita Design has several side projects focused solely on animation). They remind me of the strange cartoons I would occasionally catch on television as a child, that seemed to come from a different world, beautiful yet unlike any cartoon I’d seen before.
The Samorost universe consists of small planetoids, composed of driftwood, tree bark, weathered stones, or other bits of cast-off material. Its residents, who seem to be much smaller than humans, construct spaceships out of discarded cans or smaller chunks of wood, and happily jet about to explore these little orbs. The backgrounds to the various scenes are the most striking, and I wondered if they were perhaps created from photographic source material. The detailed locations look like actual objects, even though they form impossible landscapes. However they were created, they’re a joy to behold, each screen a reward in itself.
Superimposed onto these crisp gackgrounds are the various characters, wonderfully animated in classic two-dimensional style, and made even more fluid after the addition of animator Václav Blín to the team. The protagonist’s stretches, facial expressions, and other movements are far more expressive than those of most game characters. Not to mention his pet dog’s shuffles, sniffles, barks and shaking growls, which perfectly evoke a real dog’s behavior. It’s endearing, and I enjoyed watching the characters just as much as I did taking in the scenery. The sound is excellent too, with a suitably quirky soundtrack (included with the purchase of the game) by composer Tomáš Dvořák (aka Floex) melding seamlessly with the percussive clunks and bangs that resulted as I poked around.
Poking around is a good description of playing the Samorost games. Unlike most point-and-click adventures, the Samorost games have no inventory, so the puzzles are not centered on figuring out which items to use where. Instead, each scene has several clickable parts, and the player must discover how to use these to progress. Sometimes the player will click on the protagonist, to prompt him to do something. Other times the player will click on bits of the scenery to reconnect pieces of machinery or open panels. Still other times, the player’s clicks may not have any effect other than some sounds and animations. Sometimes there is some timing involved, which can make things a little frantic, but most of the time the game moves at a leisurely pace, as the player prods the scenery and watches the results.
This sounds simple, and I’ve played many games in a similar vein that are, but the puzzle design in Samorost 2 (and the first game) is really very clever. It isn’t too difficult (I only got stuck on one scene, which I do feel was weaker compared to the rest), but a few scenes scenes made me ponder for long enough that I felt genuinely clever when I deduced the solution. And the design keeps things from ever feeling too formulaic. Each location, in addition to providing a wondrous scene to behold, also holds new things to do, rather than just repeating what came before.
It is a very short game, easily finished in an hour or less if one figures out the puzzles quickly, but it’s charming and definitely worth a look. I’d recommend starting with the first, free game to see if it’s the kind of thing that might interest you. If so, I’m sure you won’t mind the modest price of the second, especially since it includes the generous 40-minute soundtrack too.
Now, how long will it take me before I finally play Machinarium and Botanicula? Surely no more than a few months, right?