Amanita Design’s history begins in 2003, with founder Jakub Dvorský’s student project, the browser game Samorost. It and its sequel were traditional point-and-click adventures, in that they were both slow-paced journeys that advanced by pointing at and clicking on things. But there was nothing traditional about their otherworldly atmospheres born of macro photography, eastern European animation, and eclectic audio. The series is clearly close to Dvorský’s heart despite being the weakest of Amanita’s output, as the team’s newest release is Samorost 3, rather than a sequel to their much more successful titles, Machinarium or Botanicula. That’s not a bad thing; the full-length scope and 11 extra years of developer experience do wonders for the formula, but the diminished novelty of the setting prevents it from attaining the “indie classic” status of their last two releases.
The most prominent improvement that long-time fans will appreciate is that there’s more story to uncover in this instalment. Where more straightforward adventure narratives could be thought of as deliberate compositions, those of the previous games were analogous to idle sketches. The plot centres on a magical clarinet whose music allows its user to interact with spirits inhabiting all kinds of objects. When the instrument happens to fall into the indeterminately human protagonist’s spaceborne home, he sets out across several unreal celestial bodies to find its owner. The tale will absolutely not change anyone’s life, and despite the inflated running time of 5 hours (up from one in Samorost 2), it still feels hopelessly underdeveloped, but the clear objective and surprisingly threatening antagonist make it relatively engaging.
It’s important to note that the series’ whimsical charm has not been lost in this reinvention. The early games could be thought of as modern-day versions of Alice in Wonderland – collections of kooky characters and hallucinatory imagery loosely strung together into an ephemeral narrative. Samorost 3 may have strengthened the through-line, but it still revels in incidental weirdness. Much of this is related to the collectible sound samples, which are acquired not by searching every inch of the map, but by completing side puzzles. I call them “side puzzles” for simplicity’s sake, but a more accurate term would be “parallel puzzles,” as they’re a vital part of the gameplay environment that happens to be largely optional.
The other significant changes are all related to visual design. The alien worlds are more strikingly realized and detailed than ever, and the characters are drawn more consistently this time (except for the protagonist and his dog, which have presumably been grandfathered). Areas now have a perceptible structure, as well. The first two games’ largest gameplay fault was that there was no connection between the protagonist and their environment, making it extremely difficult to tell what was and wasn’t a puzzle piece, let alone determine how they fit together. In Samorost 3, important objects are always reachable from the path, but it’s difficult to determine what is and isn’t the path, because the visuals are so organic and twisting. There are also several locations with unnecessarily circuitous routes, making their resident puzzles a chore.
On that subject, the gameplay has received very little alteration. The clarinet is occasionally used as a second, more abstract “use” button, and that’s as close to a unique mechanic as you’re going to get. Most of the time, you’re simply tasked with reaching a certain location or delivering a certain item, both of which are usually attached to a puzzle governed by literal moon logic. The latter isn’t helped by the slightly inconsistent mouse controls and unclear character vocalizations, so the built-in walkthrough is a merciful inclusion (it also requires a little deciphering, so it’s not quite a “click here to advance” button).
Really, though, Amanita games have always been about the experience more than the mechanics, and this one is no different. It’s a game of inexplicably enthralling juxtapositions – creepy and cute, natural and artificial – coming together to create something at once fascinatingly alien and pleasantly familiar. The music, which is some of composer Tomáš “Floex” Dvořák’s best work, exemplifies this too; I can’t think of another soundtrack that’s so simultaneously calming and offbeat, and thus so appropriate for this setting. Even those collectible sounds make for an enjoyable listen – a statement the developers certainly agree with, because they included the ability to mash them together to make music on the pause menu, for no other reason than it sounds neat.
It’s fairly obvious that a major reason for Samorost 3’s existence is to give its series some recognition as something other than a footnote to the rest of its developer’s work, and in that regard, it roundly succeeds. But after shaking off the “browser game” stigma, it merely continues its business as a temporarily enjoyable diversion. Existing fans should buy it without hesitation, but the stronger storytelling and clearer gameplay of Machinarium or Botanicula make them better starting points for Amanita initiates.