'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

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.





By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.