Point-and-tap adventure Samorost 3 has you assist a spacefaring gnome on a quest to deal with a mad monk. Y'know - standard stuff.
Said monk, drunk with power (or possibly just drunk), used a mechanical hydra to smash up a load of tiny planets, making everyone rather sad and, frankly, more than a little terrified.
From that intro alone, you might surmise Samorost 3 is a bit of an oddball. This won’t surprise if you’ve sampled the developer’s previous wares – Machinarium, Botanicula, and the two earlier Samorost adventures – but even Amanita Design advocates may be taken aback by this latest title’s inventiveness and visual clout.
Gnome and away
Careful blending of photography and hand-drawn elements have resulted in strange landscapes that beg to be poked and prodded. Samorost 3 is a game that feels alive.
There’s an otherworldly, distinctly alien quality, but with enough familiarity that you’ll quickly get down to some serious puzzling - at least once you stop gawping at the visuals.
After a brief peek through a telescope, the gnome’s first task is to build a worryingly ramshackle contraption from detritus and scrap, and use it to blast off into space; he then methodically visits a series of gnarled, twisted planetoids, eking out clues from inhabitants and inanimate objects alike.
The game is wordless – characters that speak emit only gibberish. But various locations indicate when the gnome can play his horn, which coaxes dreamlike animations from the landscape, filling in the backstory and adding hints on how to progress.
But this isn’t a game about blazing onwards. Much of the time, it’s about pottering and seeing what happens.
An hour or so in, there’s a particularly delightful moment that determines whether you’re human better than any Voight-Kampff test might. On chancing upon amphibians by a crater, you manipulate a nearby plant; this encourages them to sing a head-bobbing a cappella number to which your gnome excitedly dances, fist-pumping the air.
It’s a truly joyful scene all too rare in a world of gaming obsessed with polygons rather than soul.
And such moments are plentiful in Samorost 3, whether you’re twanging an insect’s antennae (which, when done right, causes a drab scene to temporarily explode in a celebration of colour and movement), or rearranging cards featuring little huntsmen and prey that spring to life when correctly ordered.
There’s no place like gnome
If there’s a downside, it’s Samorost 3’s cryptic nature twinned with the stiffness associated with old-school point-and-tap puzzlers. There’s an assumption things will be done in a certain order, and when they’re not, you end up with some infuriating backtracking.
There’s also a tendency for Samorost 3 to demand you spot really tiny details, or be willing to perform actions multiple times, even when it’s not remotely obvious you should do so.
But even when Samorost 3 irks, it’s hard to stay mad – there are too many stunning moments that deeply resonate.
And while the ultimate goal is that most primal of video game desires – righting injustice –the real motivation to delve ever deeper into Samorost 3’s strange alien worlds is something far greater: a sense of wonder.
Samorost 3 is available for iOS. An Android version will be out later this year.