Botany Manor Review – IGN

I get an itch to put on my gardening gloves and get planting when spring comes around. While practicing patience for the right weather, I’ll read up on books and try to learn new techniques – but this year, Botany Manor has helped satiate my excitement. It’s a cozy, first-person puzzle game that puts a blank herbarium book in your hand and asks you to grow different plants until the pages are full. Botany Manor is a short and sweet story that safely sits surface-level, but its witty mysteries engaging enough to keep me happily digging for more.

Botany Manor puts you in the boots of retired botanist Arabella Greene as she returns to her grand, and adorably stylized, English manor in 1890 Somerset. Each “puzzle” is actually a fictional plant waiting to be grown, with clever clues scattered around that help you tend each new seed type. Those can start simple, like the Fulguria needing flashes of lightning to bloom, but clues gradually increase in complexity and quantity in order to bring these whimsical plants to life. Real-world science and the time period both inspire unconventional growing methods, such as needing to play the buzzing sound of morse code for a certain seedling. Botany Manor may not teach you much about actual gardening – though I probably read the word “chloroplasts” for the first time in a very long time – but I enjoyed the surreal nature of it.

For example, picking up the first packet of seeds at the potting bench reveals an imprint of a fictional plant called Windmill Wort, with slots for three clues waiting to be found nearby. From the start, it was evident that these clues would not only help solve this puzzle, but also string together a much larger story about Arabella and the manor she lives in. Heat and wildflower charts on a chalkboard helped me figure out the right temperature to grow Windmill Wort, which then bloomed into a lovely pink flower that literally spins like a windmill to clear up smog, smartly tying into a newspaper I had found that discussed the issues of the era’s recent industrialization.

Some information took an embarrassingly long time to decipher as I ran back and forth from one clue to another while head-scratching theories tested my memory. Chapters in the herbarium tell you what clues you’ve found and where to find more, but it doesn’t save the more specific information from them. So, if you forget what that pamphlet in the attic said, you’ll have to walk back to examine it – which makes Botany Manor feel a lot like a walking simulator. My hands were off the keyboard quite often taking physical notes on my discoveries, essentially writing up my own botany book. I also had to tirelessly retrace my steps several times to reread or flip around clues in case I may have missed something, which could get a little tedious. But it helps that icons will pop up when you walk past an item to let you know you can examine it, and musical cues acknowledge that you’re on the right track.

Between solving plant mysteries, you’ll occasionally visit the front gate to pick up a key or decrypt secret locks to access a new area, which helps cut down on the otherwise repetitive nature of the roughly six-hour campaign. I looked forward to what awaited in each new section of the manor, not only because the clues became progressively more creative, but also because it was always fun to find more pamphlets, bottle labels, advertisements, and other environmental details full of vintage charm. The books about art I stumbled across made the space all the more quaint, too, and were later upstaged by a dreamy painting room that reminded me of my own canvases of houseplants.

Botany Manor beckons you with strange ideas and picturesque scenery in every challenge, but Arabella’s story trails behind. Rather than telling her tale through characters and spoken dialogue, it opts for written notes on pretty stationary and significant items that peer into Arabella’s life to tell its overarching story. I liked Arabella, a strong-willed botanist who has suffered unjust rejection in her field, but these notes and letters fail to dig deep into her emotions. Even letters from family, friends, and groundskeepers have the potential to create intimate moments, but are instead easily forgettable in the hunt for clues. The manor is clearly not abandoned, either, as fire burns beneath the stove in the kitchen, but the space feels as if everyone left at the drop of a hat. It’s a bit odd, but it does work in that it prevents any distractions from the puzzles themselves – and after all, Arabella needs to focus to get this herbarium published and earn her rightful flowers as a woman in STEM.

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