What do you get when you cross a surrealist art project with one of the most obscure puzzlers I’ve ever seen? Well usually it’s something akin to murderous disgust from me, but in this case you get Samorost 3. For those who are immediately worried about missing out on details, don’t worry, you’ll barely understand the game anyway so you’re not missing much. From what I can gather from the immensely mystifying story is that some giant space squid started eating planets, so a bunch of monks created a metal robot to fight and defeat it … which obviously happened. However, one of the monks decided that maybe the giant space squid was onto something, and decided to go rogue and whatnot. The approach is actually very similar to Dark Souls or Bioshock, where you show up after the party and have to work out what the hell went down. You yourself are what is referred to as “Gnome”, some guy in white pyjamas who finds a nice horn that falls from the sky. Now honestly my thought process of this was along the lines of; ‘oh that’s a nice house, looks like something out of Rapture. Oh Rabbits! Oh I can flick them with my ghost hand! That’s real cool. Wait is that a man in pyjama-WAIT WHAT THE F*** JUST FELL FROM THE SKY!
So this magic horn that fell from space is integral to the gameplay, as using this horn allows you to progress, find story drops and context, or simply hint at future objectives. This is actually really ingenious, because it promotes organic exploration and interpretation. I felt absorbed by the strange world I ended up wandering through and when I built my strange mushroom space ship and left the weird lizard planet, I was even more invested. See the game draws you in by being surreal and unusual. It has this mysterious and semi-whimsical atmosphere that reminds me of a less depressing Limbo, or a more wonder inspiring Rayman Origins. The musical score is also damn impressive, to a point where I’ve sat around with that music on purely for ambiance sake. The blend of photography and stylised art also reminds me of the Rayman games, but is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. It helps recreate that wonder you got as a kid looking at the stars or over a cliff to a sweeping vista, before it became a depressing sight or a suicide hint respectively. The biggest attraction, really, is the fact that this is less of a small world and more of a grand universe, which is easily better than a small world with a small view. Have fun getting through that first small world through.
This game is really, really hard. Maybe it’s just because I’m a newcomer to the puzzle game genre but I’m certain this game just had it in for me. The puzzles range from ingenious and fascinating to downright ridiculous. A good example of the former is a strange card puzzle presented by a tree man, in which you have to play out the early development of humans by arranging cards. It’s clever, fun and ingenious and never seen again in the game. Other puzzles require incredible attention to detail, guesswork or use of the inbuilt tutorial. Speaking of which, the interface is really dodgy in its design. In fact, it took me a while to understand that what I thought was the save function was actually resetting my progress. So that design choice is a tad painful. So when I ask the game, “Okay I’ve done your mothmole puzzle, where do I go now?” the game just blows out it’s cheeks and goes “Well I don’t know just click on everything”.
One major point – while the discovering lore approach I really like – is it needs characters that aren’t just interesting visually. I didn’t form an emotional connection with tree man, he just jumped around the trees a tad. He doesn’t carry the human element, which I think is the reason why it never breaches from wondrous into emotional. That doesn’t mean it’s not an incredible experience, just that it can never be truly identified with. Humans are relatable, we all do stupid things, are fascinated with space and go nuts about presidential candidates, there’s some level of connection.
Try as I may, I can never truly get a connection with a tiny gnome in white pyjamas, even if he has a dog.
Overall, Samorost 3 is an interesting game which’ll be great fun for intellectual masochists, or even regular masochists. However, it’s less of a fully engaging game and more of an expansive art project in feel. While not quite at the emotional impact of something like Limbo, which beats me to death with severe depression, it’s still a “whimsical” experience … and yes I will toss my fingers in a thumbscrew for writing that.