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Plant-Growing Puzzle Game Botany Manor Is Simply Too Charming

A screenshot from the game "Botany Manor:" a white greenhouse with glass walls at the end of a path lined with trees
Balloon Studios

Botany Manor is an indie game by Balloon Studios where you play as botanist Arabella Greene, who putters around her big empty house growing weird plants. Publisher Whitethorn Games claims its games are “easy-going” and “stress-free,” and this is both true and not of this charming puzzle game.

Botany Manor takes place in 1890, so figuring out what different plants require to grow isn’t as simple as checking the internet. Instead, the clues are laid out around the manor and its grounds, and you have to find and combine them into a scientific process. Through the game’s five chapters, which took me about five hours to finish, it was pretty easy to tell that something was a clue–a stack of different types of wood, or a book full of notes and diagrams–and pretty easy to identify the general direction I should explore regarding a plant–this one needs heat to germinate, or that one only blooms at sunset in a certain month. But figuring out exactly what to do next–which kind of wood to use, how to simulate the right time of day and year–was wonderfully tricky, thanks to the game trusting me to scour the grounds, read and recall information, and put the pieces together myself. Puzzles get more complex as you go, but only in terms of having to combine more information and think through multiple steps.

I’ll admit that I did look up one walkthrough early on–I knew what I needed to do to access an area, but got impatient when I couldn’t find the required information; turns out I’d just wandered by it several times because I wasn’t paying enough attention. I regret looking it up; once I opened that can of worms, it was too easy to keep following the walkthrough and ruin the joy of thinking the puzzle through myself. Doing all that mental work is Botany Manor’s real gameplay, and where its challenge and real pleasure come from.  

Nothing I encountered in the game felt hard in the way puzzle games can sometimes be, where my failures are often due to not thinking the same way a game does. Instead, the challenge comes from Botany Manor really expecting you to think for yourself when solving its puzzles. You have to actually read the notes you find, study the diagrams and charts, do the math. You can record a plant’s clues in your journal, but the book doesn’t let you call up their information. Instead, it just tells you where the clue is located, so if you want to revisit it, you have to walk all the way back to where you found it. Luckily, it’s a total delight to wander the brightly-painted manor grounds, which have just enough detail to feel fully-realized without adding too much noise that could bury the clues. I especially liked it when a bell indicated I had a new delivery at the manor gate; the music gets all jaunty, and I got some real opening-of-Mrs. Dalloway vibes rushing out to see what was there.

As you play, you learn more about Arabella and the challenges she faces as a female botanist in the time period. She clearly knows her science, but there are condescending letters scattered around from male botanists sending her basic gardening books that are clearly beneath her, or getting credit for her work. The story the game tells about her isn’t all that deep, but it added a narrative I was interested to follow.   

Botany Manor feels relaxing and welcoming, but it also asks you to really engage with it and pay attention. I came away from my time with it feeling both chilled out and energized, in a way I don’t often feel when playing puzzle games. Plus, as someone whose houseplants are currently all dying, it was a thrill to see my video game plants thrive. If you want to check the game out for yourself, it’s out now on Xbox, PC, and Switch.

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