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Botany Manor

Botany Manor

Balloon Studios wants players to try their hands at being a master botanist in this delightful first-person puzzler.

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Ever since I played Maquette a few years ago, I've become quite enthralled by immersive puzzle games. The idea of being thrust into a world and solving increasingly complex environmental problems from a first-person perspective engaged me from the first minute, which is no doubt why I've been so interested in checking out Balloon Studios' delightful Botany Manor.

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The idea of this game is to explore a mansion nestled in the verdant hills of Britain's Somerset county in the late 1800s. You take on the role of the retired botanist Arabella Greene, and using your knack for all things botanical, you have to figure out how to grow a selection of bizarre and exotic plants, all while learning more about this gorgeous and sprawling manor home you've now inherited. It's not a demanding game or stressful one, in fact it's pretty much the polar opposite to that, and in many ways the core setup even reminds of Call of the Sea and the way Out of the Blue structured that project, or even Sad Owl Studios more recently with Viewfinder.

With Botany Manor being an immersive sim puzzler, there is no tutorial or hand-holding. You have to explore the locations that are available to you in the manor, pick up clues and study them to piece together the precise ways each plant blossoms from a seed into a seedling into a full-flowered adult. This process is quite similar throughout the entire game, even if the challenges and the clues that are served do become progressively complex. While you start by determining the temperature a flower blooms, towards the end you'll need to use the animal call with the right beats-per-minute to ensure a seed reacts and sprouts into action, as examples.

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It's a very intuitive and interesting physical and hands-on system that Balloon Studios has developed with this game, one where you manually pot seeds, interact with items and objects, and so forth, but as I mentioned a moment ago, it's also very familiar, as each puzzle follows the same trends. You unlock a new part of the manor, scour the area for the seed packet, find all the respective clues dotted around the area, determine which clues apply to the seed in question, and then actually put that learning into effect to grow the plant. There's never any dejection off this beaten path, but that's in many ways a good thing as elsewise Botany Manor could become a headache to navigate.

I say this because some of the clues can be a real pain to locate, and then many of them require you to think out of the box to put them into practice. You're never pushed for time or put under pressure by the presence of a dangerous entity, so you can tackle these problems without stress, but there have been occasions during my playtime where I became stuck or confused and had to spend a good 10 minutes rewiring my brain to help overcome the solution. Thankfully, the level design, the art direction, the soundtrack and effects, the graphics, and the overall audio-visual presentation of this game is so excellent and thoroughly charming that you don't mind getting stuck and having to retrace your steps. You want to be in this world that resembles those stunning period vistas of Downton Abbey or Bridgerton. This isn't a choked-up grey city street, it's a glistening white manor surrounded by rolling green hills, colourful flora and fauna, and at the peak of British summertime when the skies are a clear azure blue and the sun radiates without respite.

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Botany Manor

Despite the fact that Botany Manor has no dialogue, there's a great sense of narrative imbued into this game too. By picking up clues and exploring the manor, you'll become familiar with who Arabella and her family are. You don't need a core story to become invested in this world, as Balloon has done a wonderful job in the environmental storytelling department. Granted, this could be partly down to the fact that Botany Manor doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a short game with limited replayability, which allows its focus and your attention to be solely committed to exploration and puzzle solving. There's a benefit to that and for those looking for a relaxing game to chew through in an evening or two, there's a lot to appreciate. But if you're after something more, you will probably be disappointed, as there aren't even side objectives or tasks to additionally allocate your time toward.

It should be said that there are a few weird bugs that plague this game at the moment. Between the text overlay not aligning or being entirely incorrect in comparison with what some of the text art states, liquids clipping out of solid objects, clues being stated to be in wrong locations to where they are actually found, and so forth. They aren't game-breaking or major issues, but they can lead to a bit of frustration or reduction in immersion when you notice things like this popping up.

Botany Manor

Botany Manor is an ideal Game Pass game. It's easy, charming, vibrant, and sweet. This is a puzzler that has just the right balance of challenge and simplicity, and the first-person setup and the wonderful presentation make for an immersive experience in a world you want to explore. It doesn't quite have the narrative depth of Call of the Sea, the ingenuity of Viewfinder, or the mechanical excellence of Maquette, but looking at the overall package, as far as immersive sim puzzlers go, this is a fine addition to the collection.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Well-balanced puzzles. Great audio-visual presentation. Brilliant use of environmental storytelling. Intuitive mechanics.
-
Some puzzles can be a tad frustrating. Plagued with a collection of small strange bugs.
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Botany Manor

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Balloon Studios wants players to try their hands at being a master botanist in this delightful first-person puzzler.



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