Writing about a game that rejects words in favour of non-verbal language feels strange. If I happened to be an artist, I’d probably try to deliver a wordless review in pictograms, drawing sketches of the game’s wonderful landscapes and a caricature of my own face, mouth agape (right next to a much smaller picture of myself growing slightly frustrated, clicking impatiently on every object on the screen). But since I can’t draw, I’ll have to break the game’s silence. Just imagine me whispering or mumbling nonsensically like some cartoon character.
Samorost 3 lets you guide a gnome who dreams of exploration and space travel. But there’s something afoot in the universe, and as the gnome takes off with his freshly assembled space ship and a mysterious trumpet that fell out of the sky, the little guy finds himself in the middle of a fairly-tale struggle between good and evil. Traveling from one floating island or ‘planet’ to the next, you explore otherworldly places, interact, observe and solve puzzles to find your way further into the unknown of space.
Technically, Samorost 3 is as point & click as it gets, but to describe it as a point & click adventure game is somewhat misleading. Like Amanita Design's other minimalist games, Samorost 3 dispenses with many of the trappings usually associated with the genre. There’s no boatload of items to collect and carry around, and as a result no complicated inventory puzzles that require item combinations. As a matter of fact, you’ll rarely be carrying more than two items with you, one of them being a trumpet you’ll use throughout the game, both as a hearing aid and a musical device. There’s (almost) no backtracking or danger that you’ve missed some vital yet minuscule detail ten screens back, since most puzzles can be solved within a single screen, or a small handful at most. Neither are there complicated logic puzzles that will require a pen and paper to solve. You point at a thing, click, and something interesting and/or useful will happen; even the clicking itself is decidedly minimalist, as the game doesn’t distinguish between actions (e.g. “talk to” or “open” in other games) and doesn’t even recognise right-clicking.
This simplicity prevents the beautiful landscapes from disappearing behind complex interactions or a single-minded pursuit of progress through puzzle-solving. And these landscapes are where the game’s minimalism ends. The planets you visit are fantastic, rich and colourful places, presented to you one screen at a time. The landscapes are mostly static pictures, but they are nevertheless full of motion and life, since every space in Samorost 3 appears as a living, bustling ecosystem inhabited by a multitude of creatures. There are glowing deer hopping across mushroom-covered hills; singing termites as big as your protagonist living in a dead piece of wood hurling through space; monkeys enjoying hot baths that are nestled into the roots hanging from the underside of a planet-island; and many more.
Even though you will have to complete certain sequences of actions to solve puzzles or problems, the arrival on a new planet rarely feels that way. Instead, you are encouraged to explore, and not just in a spatial, but also in an experimental sense. You click on these creatures or objects, and observe what is going to happen as a result: bushes rustle and tremble, birds fly away, strange bug-crab hybrids retreat into their shells. All of this is animated with incredible care and accompanied by some of the most astounding sound effects I’ve ever come across in either a game or an animated film. The same is true for the game’s soundtrack created by Floex, which seems less like a thing apart than an integral part of this world; less background music than emanation. Creatures sing, sigh, whisper and mumble with gusto and oh-so charming whimsy. It’s as silly as it is heart-warming and beautiful. Some of the spectacle is just there to be enjoyed and marvelled at, but some of it will also provide you with clues as to what you’re supposed to be doing to progress. There’s a bizarre, almost dreamlike logic behind these fantastic landscapes and their ecosystems, and once you understand the connections between its parts and the consequences of your meddling-through-clicking, you can begin to solve the problems.
Despite their strangeness, the images that present itself have the quality of photography and give the impression of materiality and even tactility through the structure and texture of its images. They seem mostly composed of organic-looking moss, bark, mushrooms and rocks, and inhabited by bugs and gnomes. It’s suggestive of a hidden, strange microcosm that is entirely separate from our ‘actual-sized’ world and that we are still allowed to see through the magic of our computer screens.
Yet you know the feeling of bark and rocks, and these images invite you – seduce you – to touch its objects. And in some way, you can. It’s brilliant that a game that is mechanically all about clicking on small details presents a world that actually convinces you that there’s no more exciting thing imaginable than poking at it. Even your relationship to the gnome-hero of the game reflects this: in most cases, instead of having him perform actions himself, it is the player’s ‘finger’ as represented by the mouse cursor that makes things happen. That way, it creates the interesting impression that you are somehow reaching into this world yourself, helping the gnome with a guiding hand rather than controlling him like some sort of sock puppet.
If there is criticism to be had, it could be argued that some of the game’s puzzles are too obtuse and that due to its wordlessness and bizarre setting, it can be hard to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. But if you get stuck, you can always peek into a guide within the game. While technically this certainly is cheating, looking at the whimsical, equally wordless doodles explaining a puzzle can be a joy in and of itself. While it would have been preferable if the game did a better job of conveying information, I cannot claim that using the integrated guide from time to time lessened my enjoyment in any way.
Samorost 3 will likely be considered a highlight for adventure game enthusiasts even with recent impressive efforts such as Dropsy or Fran Bow, but thanks to its elegant minimalism it should appeal to anyone with a passing interest in whimsical fantasy worlds, gamer or not. It’s a game that is as sweet as it is short, and even though I only spent a couple of hours with it, I’m sure I will revisit this world and listen to its soundtrack for quite some time.