Botany Manor Review – A Puzzler That Grows On You

Botany Manor Review - A Puzzler That Grows On You

Many puzzle games these days tend to focus on the story they’re trying to tell and revert to traditional puzzles such as pressing buttons or moving boxes. While there is charm to this approach, Botany Manor’s more intriguing puzzles feel like a ray of sunlight on a cloudy day, all the while evoking the emotions of a relaxing walk in the park.  

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Botany Manor is the first game from Balloon Games, a studio designed to focus on underrepresented audiences in gaming and they have started off with a banger. This game focuses on interesting and unique puzzles with story littered amongst the clues. Gardening is generally considered a relaxing hobby and Botany Manor leans into this heavily with an easygoing atmosphere that is delightful to explore. Adding to this great sense of atmosphere, the weather in the game is lovely, a delightful contradiction to the climate the UK is known for. 

In Botany Manor, you play Arabella Greene as she endeavours to complete her book on forgotten flora in her manor home located in Somerset, England, 1890. Arabella has a deal with a publisher to have the book published, but only if she can complete it. After years of knockbacks and being dismissed due to her gender, this might be the chance Arabella needs to finally get her efforts recognised. All she needs to do is grow these special plants and record them in her book. Easier said than done as the plants in the book have very precise requirements to make them grow. Requirements need to be met including temperatures, lighting and animal intervention The bulk of the puzzle element in Botany Manor is reading the leaflets, articles and flyers lying about the area to gain clues on the exact conditions the plants in Forgotten Flora need to thrive. Progress through the game is linear with the starting chapter only requiring one plant to be grown but as the game progresses, more of the manor becomes accessible.  

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Botany

The catch is clues are not stored in the book but rather the clue’s title and the location where it was found are listed. This means that if you are easily distracted like me, sometimes you’ll need to read every piece of paper two or three times. As the game progresses, a lot of the manor is unlocked and while Balloon Games tries to keep clues contained to one area, the need to reread clues can lead to a bit of running around. Generally, though, the only backtracking the game has players do is to the main gate when deliveries are made as chapters are completed and a key is given to open a new area.  

Botany Manor encourages the player to explore and search every nook and cranny. The environment is delightful and just wandering the grounds itself is relaxing. This can be offset by frustration as, aside from the clues, no hints are offered on your current location. If you become truly stuck, the only option is a walkthrough. I found I only needed to use one once simply because I had explored around an area, but not inside it. The clues were generally enough for me to understand what I needed to do and when all else failed, the tried-and-true method of trial and error came to the rescue.  

Botany

One of the most appealing features of Botany Manor is the way it wove the story through the game. There are no cutscenes in the game as the player can move when the plant growth or puzzle animations are happening. Instead, as players need to hunt for clues, letters, notes and various other bits and pieces can be found through the manor explaining the trials that Arabella has gone through to pursue her dream. I felt my anger rising when I would read about the men who had responded to this brilliant woman about how her interest in science was no more than a passing fad. Letters from well-meaning people begging her to settle down and do the right thing by marrying a man made me feel infuriated, and I believe that’s exactly what Balloon Games was going for. The story is there, but in a natural way that doesn’t feel intrusive. It was a brilliant way to present it and it evoked emotions in me I didn’t expect. I know I felt pride whenever I grew a rare plant, thinking “Ha! Take that patriarchy!” when I did so.  

Another thing that felt natural and unobtrusive was the soundscapes. Botany Manor uses a variety of sounds, music and silence to let players know they’re heading in the right direction. Much of the game has no music, with the sound of birds and water making up the soundtrack. This of course changes when players meet the plants’ conditions to grow, move in the right direction to make a plant grow or when they finish a chapter. A lovely swelling of orchestral music rewards the player for a job well done and lets them know that they’ve done the right thing. It then fades away like it was never there in the first place. It’s an interesting use of sound and it works very well with this game.  

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Botany Manor is very much a game whose focus is on creating engaging puzzles that are supported by the unconventional integration of story and music, rather than the other way around. Many puzzle games have emphasised the story too much, and Balloon Games has proven with their first game that it doesn’t need to be this way. That said, things could be improved by having clues accessible via the book and an optional hint system. It works as is, but some more direction would be nice. Botany Manor knows what it wants to be and is completely unapologetic about it. I enjoyed my time in this (hayfever-free) garden growing unusual plants.  

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Botany Manor was reviewed on an Xbox One with code kindly supplied by the publisher. 

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