Games

'Samorost 3' Is a Game About Observation and Interpretation

Despite occasional frustrations, Samorost 3 feels alive and wondrous and weird in a way that most games aren’t.


Samorost 3

Publisher: Amanita Design
Players: 1
Price: $19.99
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
ESRB Rating: RP
Developer: Amanita Design
Release date: 2016-03-24
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Samorost 3 is a wordless game. Aside from the credits and the occasional numerals or coded sequence of letters, there’s no written text in the game. The unnamed, pajama-clad space gnome that you control communicates purely through grunts and gestures, and the NPCs that you encounter speak in animated speech bubbles. Even the main menu is deliberately minimalist. Save, load, and quit are all represented by simple, self-explanatory symbols.

From the very outset, Samorost 3 positions itself as a game about observation and interpretation. Nothing is spelled out for the player, quite literally. You’re meant to take a breath, poke around, and watch what happens.

This contemplative style of point-and-click adventure has been Amanita Design’s signature since the release of its first game, the original Samorost, in 2003. Playing it today, it acts as a sort of proof of concept for Amanita’s later releases --- wordless, minimalist, and surreal -- and was followed by Samorost 2, breakout hit Machinarium, and the nature-themed Botanicula. With a development period of over five (!) years, Samorost 3 feels like the consummation of Amanita’s ethos: endlessly charming, occasionally frustrating, and deeply suffused with a sense of wonder.

Your journey begins when a horn falls out of the sky. The horn is the only permanent item in your inventory (this isn’t the sort of game where you have to sort through dozens of different doodads), and you use it to listen to certain spots in the environment. Sometimes you play a clarinet ditty and summon ghostly outlines that tell tales of woe or that cause mushrooms to sprout or that awaken giant moths. Other times nothing will happen, the space gnome will shrug, and you move on to the next thing to click.

After an early sequence that has you assembling a spaceship out of a disposable water bottle and what appears to be a garlic bulb (things only get weirder from there), you fly away from your home planet to explore new worlds. The game then settles into a comfortable groove: land on a new planet, explore, and take off again. As you move from planet to planet, you discover more of the game’s narrative in the form of NPCs and collectible graphic novels.

But even without the hook of an overarching story, the environments of Samorost 3 are so richly detailed that you’ll want to explore just for the sake of exploring. The backgrounds are a combination of photo collage and hand drawn art that looks entirely unique, and the eclectic soundtrack evokes a sense of mystery and melancholy. You’ll encounter impossibly weird creatures within these gorgeously realized worlds: a hot tub-loving monkey couple, a giant turtle with a bubble wrap shell, and a trio of beatboxing amphibians.

This strange dream-logic translates into Samorost 3’s puzzles as well, which tend to be hit or miss. Some of the puzzles, like an early one that involves rearranging a series of cards, are genuinely clever, but too many of them boil down to “click on everything as many times as possible and see what works.”

In other words, this is an old-school adventure game, though thankfully the game has a built-in hint system for when you’re stuck. One series of puzzles involved clicking on an insect’s antennae in a certain order, and as far as I could tell, the only way to find the solution was to simply brute force your way into guessing the correct pattern. Some of the puzzles can be legitimately solved with a bit of thinking (there’s one towards the end, for example, that involves cross-pollination and paying attention to which plants produce which types of fruit), but some of the solutions in Samorost 3 can feel a bit, well, adventure game-y. There are also puzzles that span several screens, and having to manually walk back and forth can get a bit tedious.

The studied minimalism of the game that is initially inviting can also lead to frustration, as there were several puzzles in which I didn’t realize that I had to click and drag an object instead of just clicking on it. As ever, the game provides very little indication of what’s going on, which can lead to a lot of trial and error. This problem is only exacerbated by how the puzzles exist as discrete challenges and never build on previously taught concepts. Unlike, say, Fez, where the player literally learns the game’s puzzle language, I never felt like I learned the “correct” approach to solving puzzles in Samorost 3.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe Samorost 3 eschews language in an attempt to convey something words simply can’t. Despite occasional frustrations, Samorost 3 feels alive and wondrous and weird in a way that most games aren’t. It’s filled with moments of odd beauty that defy description.

I could try and literally tell you what happens during those moments. I could use these clumsy words to describe the brief snippets of audiovisual poetry that are scattered throughout Samorost 3. But that wouldn’t capture it, whatever it is. Maybe it’s best to sit, look, and be amazed.

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