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Botany Manor Review

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We have a winner for ‘game location that would be the best Airbnb’.

Botany Manor is just about the most idyllic, relaxing space in gaming. By the time its ending rolled along, and we had exhausted all of its flowers and plants, we found ourselves doing one final tour of the estate. We didn’t want to let it go.

Botany Manor must have been a complicated sell for the marketing department. It is, in terms of closest association, an escape room. You’re locked into a subsection of a large manor, and your objective – if you brush away all the foliage – is to solve puzzles to unlock the next subsection. If you’ve popped into your local escape room for an hour, you will know what you’re getting here. 

Botany Manor review 1
Should you uncover the secrets of Botany Manor?

But Botany Manor makes a couple of amendments to the formula, cross-breeding it with a couple of other influences. The first is that Botany Manor is cozy. Spectacularly so. Plaintive piano music plays as you explore, reminding us of the fantastic Wingspan soundtrack. There are also no pressures at all. While we compare it to escape rooms, there’s no feeling of being trapped or time limits to contend with. This is a serene space, and we would merrily have plumped up some cash to stay there for a few days. Weeks maybe.

We also found it to have a healthy amount of Gone Home DNA. Gone Home is a fantastic walking simulator if you haven’t played it, and it somehow manages to generate drama from some discarded letters. You arrive at a large house alone, and learn about the people who live (or lived) there from what you find. The same is true here. Botany Manor could easily have stuck to its puzzles, but it’s got greater ambitions than that. You play Arabella, a keen botanist in Victorian England, and Botany Manor is eager to get its hands dirty with topics of misogyny and sexism. We felt our blood boil on occasion, reading patronising letters from men who were keen to keep Arabella’s passion at a hobbyist level. 

And then there are the plants. We’re being a tad reductive by calling Botany Manor an escape room. Because the stars of the show – outside of the building itself, which really is a star – are the plants. Your task in Botany Manor is to grow some of the most outrageous and rare plants in the world. They’re all completely fictional – we half-hoped we were learning something about lesser known plants, but alas they were made up. And by growing them, fulfilling ludicrous demands that would make Mariah Carey envious, you gain access to more rooms and more seeds. 

There’s a lovely little loop here. You step into a new area of the house and chapter text floats onto the screen. The first job is to look for little white dots that denote the interactive element of each room. Sometimes these dots hover over story tidbits that don’t do much, other than set the scene. Other times, there’s a musical jingle that notifies you that, yes, this is a clue for a particular plant. You might want to open your Forgotten Flora: A Herbarium journal to socket that clue into its right place. There’s a lovely, intuitive system here where you attach clues to each plant (you can be researching up to four concurrently), and the clues lock in place if you’ve got them all right. 

Botany Manor review 2
Get ready to grow…

We’ll interject here to add a criticism. It would have been lovely to access each clue from the book. This hurt my wife more than it did me (we played simultaneously, as she fell under Botany Manor’s spell too). The problem is that the book is so helpful, giving you the location of each clue whether you’ve found it or not, and telling you when you’ve tagged it to the right plant. But it doesn’t take the obvious – and welcome – step of letting you see the clue in the book as well. Instead, you have to remind yourself of the clue by physically moving yourself to it, often many rooms away from where you’re situated. 

The clues point to a series of flora demands. A plant might be aquatic, needing water at a certain temperature to survive (plus a mineral in the water with it). Another might yearn for the bird songs from where it grew up. So, you’re meeting those demands, often having to make do with what the Manor has to offer (there’s a lovely running theme of exotic plants with exotic needs getting a very British will-this-do alternative). Watching the plant grow is a wonderfully cathartic moment, not least because the gatehouse door bell will ring afterward, and a new key will surely arrive. 

The puzzles are wonderfully logical and there was only a single moment where we got stuck (a clue for you, as it comes early: the last two lines of a cross-stitch in the kitchen is a clue, yet doesn’t actually get referenced as a clue). Otherwise, this is a silky-smooth set of puzzles that always feel like they culminate in a natural, sensible answer. We loved doing the puzzles together, as there’s no fiddly sudoku or similar minigames to interact with. Every puzzle is conceptual. 

Another interjection, as there’s another minor criticism to be had here. We’d have loved to step away from paper for a bit. Ninety-percent of the puzzles in Botany Manor are delivered on scraps of paper and parchment, and it got a little dry after a while. We would have loved more of the tactile moments, as physically interacting with the mansion itself led to some of the game’s best moments. Opening a secret passage and refilling a pond made us ‘wow’, but there were precious few of these moments. It’s not that the paper puzzles aren’t good, there’s just a thicket of them. 

Botany Manor review 3
The stars of Botany Manor on Xbox and Game Pass

By the time we finished Botany Manor, proudly wielding 1000 Gamerscore in our plant pot, we felt a pang of sadness. We’d grown to love its so-laid-back-it’s-horizontal pace and the gentle satisfaction of nursing wondrous plants to life. We missed exploring the mansion and its nooks, and finding out what it was like to be Arabella, born into a time that largely rejected her. We even grew to love the gossip, written on scraps ready for the fire.

So treat yourself. While it’s a smaller variety of plant, Botany Manor is inordinately pretty and comforting. There’s so few barriers to getting your hands on it too: being on Game Pass, you’re only a few steps away from playing it. We relished every moment within Botany Manor’s walls, and if there’s no DLC coming then we’re going to riot. Very gently.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • As comforting as a cuddle from a giant bear
  • ‘Escape room with plants’ works a treat
  • Has serious, pertinent things to say
Cons:
  • Some graphical issues
  • Puzzles tend to be overly text-based
  • Clues could be more accessible
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Whitethorn Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 9 April 2024 | £20.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>As comforting as a cuddle from a giant bear</li> <li>‘Escape room with plants’ works a treat</li> <li>Has serious, pertinent things to say</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Some graphical issues</li> <li>Puzzles tend to be overly text-based</li> <li>Clues could be more accessible</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Whitethorn Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 9 April 2024 | £20.99</li> </ul>Botany Manor Review
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