Review: Samorost

Originally created as part of his thesis while a student, Samorost launched Jakub Dvorský into the world of indie development. But what did Kim make of Amanita Design’s first adventure?


Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview

Name: Samorost
Developer: Jakub Dvorský
Publisher: Amanita Design
Release date: 2003 – no confirmation of month
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: Web browser
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

Samorost was created by Jakub Dvorský as a project for his Graphic Design and Visual Communication degree whilst a student at the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. Although it quickly established him as a major talent in the indie development movement, the committee marking the title as part of his thesis were confused as to why he had created a computer game and as a result awarded him with a B-grade. Dvorský went on to establish Amanita Design and Samorost was the first release from the Czech company in 2003.

I have to admit that I’d never heard of this Flash game before picking up the 1001 Video Games book and starting the 1001Up website, despite some people claiming that it almost singlehandedly revived the adventure genre which was considered ‘dead’ after the late 1990s. But since first playing through it in 2013 I’ve gone on to complete several other titles by the developer and have enjoyed every one of them. There’s something so ingeniously creative about releases from this studio that they have a look and feel all of their own; only they could make singing goats and drum-and-bass-loving owls actually work.

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Plot

The objective of Samorost is a simple one: to stop the home of a space-faring gnome from colliding with a large incoming ship. His mission sees him flying a rocket over to the other vessel and tackling a short series of challenges in order to avert the crisis. Very little else is revealed and the storyline remains quite enigmatic throughout the game; questions such as who the petite guy is, why he’s living on a driftwood asteroid and where his ship is heading are never answered.

The gnome is brought to life with a charming, naïve energy and the supporting cast of characters all have something lovably quirky about them.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be impossible for characters to convey any sense of personality within a very short game that can be completed in under twenty minutes, but you’d be mistaken. This is where Dvorský’s talent for design shines through: the gnome is brought to life with a charming, naïve energy and the supporting cast of characters all have something lovably quirky about them. The design elements combine to create a title that’s unique in both its beauty and bizarreness.

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Gameplay

Samorost is classified as a point-and-click game and it is indeed just that: you point and you click. It plays out over six main screens and solving a puzzle within one will immediately transport the player to the next, a set-up which has both positive and negative aspects. On the plus side, you know that a solution has to be contained within the current view and there’s no confusion that can sometimes be experienced when trying to manage multiple locations within an adventure title; but on the other, there’s no sense exploration and the world feels limited.

With regard to the puzzles themselves, there’s no inventory or dialogue and the majority of players won’t find them taxing in any huge way. They mainly consist of clicking on elements within the environment in the correct order and aren’t always logical; some only make sense in retrospect once you’ve witnessed the result of your actions. Being a Flash-based game means that Samorost is somewhat limited in what it can achieve graphically and it can sometimes be unclear as to what you need to click on, and you’ll find yourself panning over the screen in search of hotspots.

You’ll be rewarded with a humorous little animation or noise upon most clicks and this does a remarkable job of giving the world a vibrant personality.

The above can have the unfortunate effect of reducing the title to a let’s-click-on-everything-and-see-what-happens basis and removes any real investigation or challenge. But the mechanic is something that Amanita Design has on-the-whole made work for them in their releases: you’ll be rewarded with a humorous little animation or noise upon most clicks and this does a remarkable job of giving the world a vibrant personality. The developer is a master of what can literally be termed point-and-click games.

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Visuals and audio

For many, the highlight of Samorost will be its surreal organic visuals. Each screen is an imaginative collection of macro photography and vector graphics that combine reality and artwork in a way that makes a potentially static game feel alive. Scenes feature rugged stone, weathered wood, and rusted mechanisms along with cartoon creatures, mixing both natural and man-made concepts and often featuring manipulated photographs of small objects up close.

A lovely soundtrack compliments the graphics and was created by Tomáš Dvořák, a clarinettist, composer, producer and multimedia artist also known as Floex. A thread on Amanita Design’s forum confirms that the music was selected from various sources and the intro sampled from Diabolous by The Cinematic Orchestra. The audio inspires the same feeling as the visuals: it’s almost as if a mishmash of elements that seem as if they could never work together have been cleverly merged into a cohesive, surreal whole.

This may be a very short title but its Monty-Python-esque world brings forth plenty of personality and humour.

Most things onscreen that are interactive serve a purpose but it’s those things that don’t which set Samorost apart from other games in the genre. Clicking on them can sometimes yield unexpected results: rocks light up, plants sway in a breeze and goats… well, sing. The owl that dances in the branches of a tree when a squirrel disc-jockey puts on a drum-and-bass track is a particular treat. As mentioned above, this may be a very short title but its Monty-Python-esque world brings forth plenty of personality and humour.

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Replay and innovation

As tends to be the case with many entries in the adventure genre, Samorost doesn’t contain a lot of replayability value. Its puzzles aren’t challenging, the path is linear and the majority of players will be able to complete it in twenty minutes or less. I can see how some may wish to play it again before going into Samorost 2 and the upcoming Samorost 3, but I hadn’t touched it since my original playthrough in 2013 until I recorded the gameplay video below for this review.

That being said however, it does stand up remarkably well for a Flash game. Its distinct look and creative design mean that it feels more as if you’re playing a ‘proper’ title rather than something in your browser despite its very short length. Its entry within 1001 Video Games credits it with bringing the genre back to life after its crash in the 1990s and it’s clear that Dvorský put a lot of effort into his first project. Reducing a point-and-click to its bare bones was a brave and innovative move by the developer, although this type of gameplay won’t necessarily appeal to all.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

Samorost was nominated for the Webby Award in 2004 and the Top Talent Award in 2003 (although I’m unable to find mention of this anywhere apart from Amanita Design’s website). As mentioned above, the game is also credited by some for rejuvenating the adventure genre following its decline in the 1990s. On top of this, the developer has since gone on to create a number of well-received and creative titles including the robotic Machinarium and organic Botanicula.

It’s very innovative in its own way, imaginative in terms of design and is extremely well presented for a Flash-title.

So does this mean it should be included in our 1001 list? Right now, yes. It’s very innovative in its own way, imaginative in terms of design and is extremely well presented for a Flash-title; and besides, 1,001 entries makes for a long list so why shouldn’t there be room for some browser games if they’re good enough? There’s a chance that at some point in the future it could be pushed out by releases with more depth or challenge, but at the present time it’s definitely worthy of a slot.

If you’re a fan of the adventure genre, it’s definitely worth giving Samorost a go. It’s unlikely to become your new favourite title due to its limitations in terms of gameplay and challenge but it’s free from Amanita Design’s website and is a nice way to pass twenty minutes. And let’s face it: there aren’t many other releases where you’ll get to spend time with operatic farm animals and bass-loving birds.

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Review round-up

Reviewed: Web browser
Source: We played the game for free at the official website
Positive: Particularly good graphics and sound for a browser game
Negative: Can be reduced to ‘let’s-just-click-on-everything’ at times
Score: 29 out of 60
Grade: Worth a look
Samorost, video game, review, graph, Worth a look

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