Strange Horticulture is a game that piqued my interest since it was released on PC earlier this year. It wasn’t until I got my hands on the Switch version recently though, that I would be able to find out if my interest was warranted. And wow was it ever!
In Strange Horticulture, you assume the role of a person who has just inherited a plant shop after the death of a family member. Located in a charming Victorian town called Undermere, you are tasked with running your shop by assisting your various clients with their needs and at the same time, learning about plants yourself. Armed with just a handful of strange plants, a botany book and your wits, you will need to find the right plant for each situation. At least, that’s how it all starts out. Before long, you’ll end up dealing with supernatural forces and the occult.
The story really does an excellent job at drawing you in as you uncover more mysteries in Undermere and its surrounds. Not only that, but there are some forks in the road that arrive from time to time and based on your choice at that moment, it can open up a new story branch. There’s a constant element of mystery, which makes it very easy to get sucked into the world – it’s all incredibly engaging.
Botanist Sherlock Holmes
In its essence, Strange Horticulture is a puzzle/detective game, but it’s quite minimal in its execution. It’s not a bad thing though since it manages to turn it into something that is incredibly entertaining. As mentioned previously, you are only armed with a handful of plants, a botany book and your wits. The gameplay loop starts off with you attending to clients as they enquired about certain plants. At times, they know the name of the plant but there are other times when all they have are specific details and it’s up to you to provide what you are looking for. You’ll listen to what information they give you, flip through your handbook and then compare it with the plants you have on your shelf. Once you’re ready to make a guess, you can hand the plant over and the game will tell you if you’re right or wrong. Having a correct guess rewarded with a plant entry for your handbook or even a whole new plant is truly satisfying after doing all your investigating. And it becomes pretty addictive too!
It’s not always that simple though, sometimes you just don’t have the plant your customer is looking for and sometimes you have something that partially matches their description. Just because a plant is described as having thorns, doesn’t mean it’s THE plant with thorns. It becomes significantly trickier as your shelf begins to fill with plants and you’ll need to go on more than just its appearance to determine if it’s the correct one, such as texture, scent and uses. This is especially true when plants in your handbook have drawings of a cross-section of a stem or bulb or just describe the leaves.
The fruits of your labour
Aside from the detective work surrounding the plants, you are provided with clues each day by customers, friends and also the postman. You’re also given a card at the start of each day, which also features a clue. These clues function as puzzles and generally the solution to each one will point you to a location on your map, which will then reward you with new plants or entries for your handbook. These are pretty easy to figure out, but there are some others that may leave you scratching your head a little.
Since Strange Horticulture is a puzzle/detective game, it’s practically a given that you’re not always going to get things right. During the course of each day, you are allowed up to three incorrect guesses. Upon making a third incorrect guess, you’ll lose your mind, sort of, and will then have to solve a small puzzle in order to get back to the main game. It’s hardly a punishment since you don’t lose any progress, but it’s a nice way of letting your character’s mind rest by solving something unrelated before heading back to dealing with plants.
If there’s one thing that may put off some players, it’s that the game is probably best placed on PC since it would be much easier to navigate with a keyboard and mouse. Additionally, the display can be a bit small for some of the text. Thankfully Bad Viking and Iceberg Interactive have done a fair amount to make the game translate fairly well on the Switch by adding the ability to zoom in and also touchscreen controls. It’s not the most ideal when playing with a docked console and only a controller, but the combination of it and the touch screen in handheld mode works pretty well. It’s a small complaint and honestly, it didn’t stop me from being absolutely hooked.
Visually, the game looks great. It’s presented in a single-scene style where you can see your desk, the plants on your shelf, customers that enter and the adorable black cat, Hellebore. It’s beautifully illustrated and each plant looks different from the last, unless it was deliberately designed to look similar for narrative reasons. It also sounds great, thanks to the very subtle soundtrack that maintains the eerie atmosphere.
It really grows on you
Strange Horticulture is fantastic. The story starts off pretty simple in essence, but it delivers an engaging journey and offers you a few choices which can determine how the game plays out. The puzzle/detective gameplay is something that is presented in such a simple style but turns it into something rather great and honestly addictive. It plays rather well on the Switch, especially in handheld mode since it translates a little better when using touch screen controls and a controller. However, some players might be somewhat put off if using only a controller in docked mode. It also looks and sounds great and the soundtrack really complements the eerie atmosphere throughout the game. Strange Horticulture is honestly one of my favourite games to come out this year and made me feel like Sherlock Holmes if he was a botanist. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience that definitely grows on you very quickly.
A review code for Strange Horticulture was provided to gameblur by the publisher
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
- Engaging story
- Addictive and rewarding gameplay
- Beautiful art style
- Soundtrack complements the eerie atmosphere
- Controls on the Switch might be off-putting for some players in docked mode