Game review: Samorost 3 is a winsomely alien quest

This strange, beautifully animated offering recalls the glory of Loom, and is something parents can play with young children

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 May, 2016, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2016, 12:01pm

Samorost 3

Amanita Design

4/5 stars

Like free jazz, point-and-click adventure games are something of a genre for connoisseurs. Deprived of those soothing, repetitive actions or 30-second fun loops that drive everything from shooters to sports games, they usually depend on the quality of their stories and art direction to maintain interest. For those who remember the heyday of companies such as Sierra and LucasArts, it can be easy to overestimate how popular such games ever were.

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Recently, I watched a Game Developers Conference lecture by Brian Moriarty, the creator of the seminal game Loom, which featured a clip from a television interview he gave in 1990. In response to a question about point-and-click adventure games making up only 1 per cent of the gaming industry, Moriarty said: “It’s a small part but it’s the interesting part. It’s the part where the interesting stuff that’s going to appear in the Nintendos of the future appears first.”

At the time of its release, Loom featured some of the most fetching animation sequences I had ever seen in a game. And its cartoonish narrative was leagues ahead of the stories I remember from the console games of that era. Loom’sinterface also set it apart. Spells were cast in the game by playing a series of musical notes on a distaff. Similar instrumental techniques would later show up in other titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Video games have obviously come a long way from the days when adventure games were the go-to category for people looking for the splashiest art and most developed storylines, but the past couple of years have seen a renewed interest in the genre. Broken Age drew a groundswell of support from financial backers on Kickstarter, and a game such as 1979 Revolution, which focuses on the Iranian revolution, proves that the genre is still capable of incubating fresh ideas.

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The new PC game Samorost 3 is a strange, beautifully animated game that recalled for me the glory of Loom. It, too, features a hooded main character who channels magic out of music. The hero of the game is a cutesy-looking gnome who comes into possession of a magic horn after it drops from the sky and lands in front of his home, which doubles as an observatory. Finding it, he toots out a quick melody.

A tour of the neighbouring area reveals a verdant hill, crested by a small onion patch where one particularly gargantuan onion towers above the rest. Approach it and you’ll see a few pulsing lines – sound waves, basically – emanating in front of the onion. This serves as a clue for you to try your horn in its vicinity. Doing so causes a comic-book-like speech bubble to rise in front of it showing the gnome soaring through space in an onion spaceship with a domed top.

If you saunter past the field and down a pathway, you’ll see a mechanic toiling away on an engine. He halts his labour when you click on him. Through picture bubbles the gnome relays his vision and the mechanic tells him what parts will be needed to transform the onion into a cosmic chariot. Once you acquire the parts and get the spaceship aloft, you’ll travel between moon and planets in a quest to rid the galaxy of a menacing presence.

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Clichéd as this setup is, the overall quest is winsomely alien. The game’s music and surrealistic artwork, which runs the gamut from a hairy-looking comet to a flying piece of driftwood that’s interlaced with a network of glass termite chambers, are inspired. So are the game’s puzzles. One of my favourites involved plucking the antennae of an insect. Twang them in the correct order and the resulting harmony causes the insect and the environment around you to metamorphose into things of nocturnal beauty.

Samorost 3 is the kind of game that I’d recommend to parents looking for something to play with their young children, or to anyone with a whimsical disposition. It is as transporting as a richly dyed scarf wafting through the air.

The Washington Post