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Review: Botany Manor (Switch) – Cosy Yet Challenging, This Puzzler Is Quite Beautiful

When cosy and wholesome games first stepped onto the scene, they were counter-culture — created in response and in resistance to an industry that churned out violence, conflict, and a particular type of masculinity that wasn’t keen on things like emotions or intimacy. Some people were tired of this monolithic and exclusionary idea of what a game ‘should’ be — and so, as a direct contrast to all of that, the cosy game movement was created, prioritising stories that minimised conflict, and focused instead on growth and creation. That’s part of the reason why so many cosy games are about farming and relationships, because the themes of cultivation and creation are almost the exact opposite of violence and conflict.

But these days, have become a dominant part of gaming culture, and the conflict-free alternatives they once offered as a respite from the status quo are now a lucrative part of the status quo. This is what happens when counter-culture becomes culture: it forgets its roots and its purpose, and instead becomes about aping what’s already popular. In the process, many cosy games fail to understand that a player’s desire for softness and kindness does not mean that they want a completely toothless game. Challenge is not conflict. Challenge is fun.

Now, that’s a rather intense manifesto beginning for a review on , a game about growing plants, but hear us out: Botany Manor is a game that understands its audience and its purpose, and never condescends to its players. What’s more, its story is challenging, too, touching on real-world topics like sexism in academia, and a woman’s limited rights in the late Victorian era. Botany Manor invites its players to think, engage, and even struggle, but it does so through the lens of growth, cultivation, and perseverance.

When we first picked up Botany Manor, we were immediately reminded of two things: First, , Thekla’s gorgeous, vibrant puzzle game, which shares no small similarity with Botany Manor’s aesthetic; second, the underrated 3DS game , the plant-growing mechanic of which is mechanically very similar to Botany Manor.

But the more we played, the more distinct it became. At first glance, it may seem derivative, but Botany Manor is more than just flat-shaded, bright colours: Its interiors are thoughtfully and beautifully lit, its typefaces varied and deftly used, and its environmental design cohesive and believable. As for StreetPass Garden, the similarities are again surface-level. Although your job is to grow plants from seed, each one has different requirements and needs that you’ll solve through clever puzzlework, getting harder as the game progresses.

Here’s the deal. The year is 1890, and you are a botanist named Arabella Greene. You are also very rich, and you have inherited the titular Botany Manor, a sprawling country pile in Somerset that has been plagued with horticultural issues. Luckily, unlike a real dilapidated mansion, all of its problems can be solved by figuring out how to grow certain plants, which will also form the basis of a book you’re writing all about the “Forgotten Flora” of the world.

If you’re wondering how mansion-based issues can be solved with plants, you’re not alone. But Botany Manor takes place in a lightly magical world where plants can do lightly magical things, like bringing trees back to life, or blooming when they hear birdsong. Each plant has certain requirements, which you’ll discover by finding clues throughout the house, and then catalogue in your book — but the actual puzzle of figuring out what the clues tell you is left entirely up to you.

For example, one plant might be documented in a particular area of Europe, where the ambient heat is much higher than Somerset, so you’ll have to cross-reference a temperature chart with an informational poster about the flower’s type to discover exactly what temperature it needs. Then, you’ll need to find a way to raise the temperature of the room to actually get the flower to grow. If that sounds a little complicated, well… that’s only the first puzzle. The rest get a lot more complicated.

In fact, at times, we found ourselves becoming a little wary of the game, expecting the later puzzles to get a bit nonsensical. After all, we’ve played cosy puzzle games before that have lost the plot when the difficulty curve begins to rise, either requiring you to make leaps of logic, or clumsily dropping hints (like having audio logs where people talk unnaturally just to let you know that the locker combination is their date of birth, or whatever). But Botany Manor never let us down with its puzzle systems in the way we feared. Yes, the later puzzles require a lot of clues and a lot of cross-referencing, as well as small leaps of logic, but that’s the fun of it. It’ll challenge you, but it won’t frustrate you (more than a puzzle should).

What’s more, all the clues felt grounded in the narrative of the game, and even if it is mildly silly to have relevant information given to you via strategically placed letters that just happen to be about the problem you’re currently having, the designers at Balloon Studios clearly put thought into how to make everything make sense. Even receiving a key to unlock the next area of the house comes as a delivery to the front gate, accompanied by a letter in which someone explains why they had the key, and why they’re giving it back. It’s great work.

The game is short, coming in at somewhere around four hours, but it’s a solid four hours of exploration and deep thinking — if it were spread out any longer, it would run the risk of becoming a frustrating maze of clues and corridors. In fact, even at four hours, we were starting to find ourselves getting lost in the windy passages of the manor, having to occasionally backtrack or forgetting where we’d found a particular clue. The book helps some, with maps and clue locations, but given that your character isn’t on the maps, it can be a puzzle in itself trying to figure out where you are.

In fact, our main problem with Botany Manor was exactly that — not being able to document things more thoroughly. Each clue that you get has a name and a location written in your book, but if you want to remember what it said (so that you can match it up to one of your plants), you’ll have to find it again — and that’s no small feat in a mansion (and garden!) this big. We recommend taking your own notes if you don’t want to spend ages backtracking.

But backtracking is a small price to pay for a game that’s a genuine pleasure to spend time in, and puzzles that tested us in a way that cosy games haven’t for a long time. The folks that made Botany Manor clearly have a really good thing going, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.


It looks like The Witness and it plays a bit like StreetPass Garden, but Botany Manor blooms into something that’s not only entirely its own, but also something quite special. Don’t let its cosy aesthetics fool you — Botany Manor is packed with nicely challenging, well-designed puzzles, and isn’t afraid to tackle heavy subjects, too.