Strange Horticulture is an occult puzzle game developed by Bad Viking Games and published by Iceberg Interactive. I was immediately drawn to it not only because I like puzzle games, but because I like games with unique concepts, and this one certainly delivers. And since I’m not a massive fan of plants in real life, I was glad to play a game where my rare—and somewhat dangerous—plants won’t die if I forget to water them.
However, plants are not all there is to Strange Horticulture, as you’ll use them to CSI your way into the murder you are asked to solve. It doesn’t seem like it, but there’s a lot to tackle in this game. Let’s get started, shall we?
Strange Horticulture is available on Steam for €13.49.
STORY – THE JOURNEY BEGINS IN UNDERMERE
Welcome to Undermere, a picturesque town surrounded by mountains, castles, outlandish stone circles, and an overall sense of eeriness to it. You play the role of Horticulturist, and you will need to explore the nearby lands to discover new plants for your shop, which is called Strange Horticulture.
With the help of your cat (well… not really, but he is an excellent plant supervisor!) you will manage the day-to-day operations of running your business, which include the unusual requests from your clients, as well as solving a murder. However, there is something much more sinister behind this mysterious assassination, and you must use your wits—and yes, your plants—to expose the greater evil which threatens to destroy Undermere and everything around it.
GAMEPLAY – IT WAS A DARK, STORMY NIGHT
The game begins with some brief information about Undermere and your newly-inherited plant shop, Strange Horticulture. You start off with a bunch of plants, a map, a letter, and a couple of trinkets which will come handy further down the road. And, more importantly, your plant book. This grimoire-like tome is fundamental to identifying the plants you have and the plants you acquire.
You need to pay attention to the information you have in the book and compare it to what you see when you inspect a plant. Simply drag a plant to the microscope icon and it will tell you some bits and bobs about it (such as what the leaves feel like, or if it smells a certain way). If it’s a plant already listed in your book, all you need to do is drag the labels onto the plant so you can name it. Trust me, this will help you in the long run!
Besides your plant grimoire, your next best friend is the map. You’ll need to use it to search for new plants, and solve clues to the various notes and/or secret riddles you are given through the postman (once a day), or by some of your customers.
To explore the map, you need to use your Will-To-Explore points. The compass charges very slowly. If you don’t have the patience to wait, you can simply water your plants to get the points faster. There will also be times where you receive points by completing some missions.
It’s important to remember that not every area you explore will have something to uncover, and most often that not, you will have left your shop for nothing. Good thing you have Hellbore to take care of Strange Horticulture while you wander about. I would, however, have preferred if there had been a way to mark the empty areas to avoid wasting my points on them.
Once you’re done exploring, don’t forget you have customers to tend to. You get a handful of people coming through the door each day. Some will ask you for some specific plants, others will tell you what troubles them, so you need to consult your grimoire to find the right plant for their needs. You will also get a visit from the postman, who has luckily something for you every time.
At the end of the day, you close Strange Horticulture and draw a card from a mysterious deck. Each card is a clue, and each draw tells part of a story which serves as an ominous prediction. Only you get to decide whether you want to use your horticulturist gift for good or evil.
It doesn’t take long to get into the activities of the game and, although at times these could result a bit mundane, working your brain to decipher the clues to solve the murder and making sure you’re cataloguing your plants correctly is quite exciting. It would have been nice to have a better way of displaying the plants—perhaps in alphabetical order, or by type—for easier access, since the slow-moving scrolling threatened to make the plant search dull fast.
AUDIO & GRAPHICS – REJOICE AT THE CHIME OF A NEWLY-FOUND PLANT
You don’t need a variety of songs to make a game good. Sometimes simple is best, and Bad Viking Games certainly succeeded. The background music is equally soothing and haunting and, although it’s not really what you focus on, you can’t help but relish in the peaceful atmosphere it creates. Mix it with the occasional distant rain sound and it makes for the perfect ambiance. It’s not overpowering but you know it’s there.
What Strange Horticulture focuses on, is the array of sounds that complement the background music. Watering the plants, the bell chime of a new customer, even something as plain as opening a drawer… These are only a fraction of the sounds we hear in our everyday life and to me, they made the experience of playing this game more enriching.
I really enjoyed the game aesthetics, almost like a visual novel but less static. The characters design was quite simple but it fit with the overall visual of Strange Horticulture. The animations and transitions were smooth and made the game play flow without any problems. The only—definitely minor—issue I’ve encountered was that I needed to be careful where I positioned the mouse cursor while looking at the plants because, if I moved that too much to either side of the screen, it would automatically start scrolling. Certainly not a deal-breaker, but annoying after a while.
Strange Horticulture was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Iceberg Interactive.