Botany Manor landscape. You can see a greenhouse ahead.
Botany Manor Delights But Doesn't Demand to Be Played
First Published: April 20, 2024

Puzzles in bloom.

Janet Garcia

If roaming around a stately manor, unearthing secrets, and feeling the accomplishment of putting a simple two and two together sounds like your idea of fun look no further than Botany Manor. Bonus points if you love plants. In this walking sim puzzle game, you play as Arabella Greene: a botanist in 19th century England who is working on her research book Forgotten Flora. Your goal is to create the conditions for each plant to grow, using a series of clues and contraptions to make it happen.

Botany Manor is held back by a few inconsistent design choices and a slightly heavy-handed approach to environmental storytelling but that doesn’t stop me from being filled with delight each time I got a plant to bloom. Botany Manor evokes the same joy I get when I start a new hobby and make my first crude craft, sure, it’s just the tip of the iceberg but it also feels like the start of something wonderful.

Welcome to My House

Outside of relationships, getting to know a space well is one of the most intimate experiences you can have in a video game. Roaming hallways, climbing flights of stairs, and learning the little shortcuts are rewards that exist outside of the main quest. Yet, the more familiar you become with the manor the easier it is to execute your solutions once you put it all together. 

fountain in a garden.

Environmental storytelling plays a huge role in Botany Manor. It's clear, almost immediately, that Arabella Greene has been continuously denied access to the scientific world of botany because she’s a woman. You read rejection letters and dismissive feedback about your work across the letters scattered through the manor.

You also get more subtle integrations of feminist ideology in things like the family tree she had framed, which she requested was done using all the women’s maiden names instead of their married names. However, even these more subtle moments are over-explained. For instance, when it comes to the family tree example, there’s a note next to the image that explains this last name request was made. This feels unnecessary since you have to engage with this family tree to solve one of the puzzles later. 

Clues in Bloom

Botany Manor is meant to be a chill game, and it accomplishes that nicely. But too often it feels afraid to let the player put two and two together themselves. This is a shame because some of its best moments are when you’re forced to connect the dots.

The game consists of 5 chapters, the first is a brief tutorial level and the second goes by almost as fast. When Botany Manor introduces itself to the player it’s super on rails: you walk through an area, pick up a few clues, and grow a plant using those clues. Your notebook allows you to slot the clues you find next to the presumed associated plant. Once you’ve correctly placed the clues they become locked in and you're left to use the information to grow the plant. Friction is further removed by the fact that every clue you find needs to be used (there are no “fake out” clues) and there’s a little index you can refer to that lists how many clues there are per chapter, and their locations. It's worth emphasizing that not everything you interact with is a formal clue.

Notebook. Page is on Windmill Wort with a set of clues slotted and a picture of the flower.

Puzzle-solving starts off extremely simple: you get a few clues and you only have one plant so you just slot in all the clues. There isn’t much to think about, though the act of executing the solution is still pleasant. Thankfully chapter 3, and onward, opens up beautifully. 

You’re presented with multiple flowers to grow and come across the clues out of order. A sneaky, but welcomed, surprise to the game is sometimes you need a little more than just the clues to solve the puzzle. For instance, in some cases, reading extra text or examining more things in the house can help you figure out how to reach a new area with more clues. Or some solutions may require the use of certain objects based on the clues but not listed as a clue. In these moments Botany Manor is at its peak. Never too grueling but just intriguing enough to satisfy. 

Sights, Sounds, and Seeds

I went back and forth on whether I thought the soundtrack was effective but, ultimately, I think it works well. Botany Manor is a game for those who can enjoy sitting in silence. The sounds of nature and pouring water into a pot are the main soundtrack for Botany Manor. There’s even a puzzle that involves a little auditory hint which makes this audio decision even more in-line with the game. The restrained sound design adds excitement to finally growing a plant because the music swells up for this achievement. In these moments, music becomes another reward for player success.

"Music becomes its own reward."

The ability to sit in multiple spots in almost every room, and every section of the manor, highlights how much the team wanted players to soak in the beautiful art direction of, as my friend Jill Grodt put it, “naturalistic impressionism.”

Moth Spotting Calendar

But what really makes the moment to moment gameplay exciting is getting to interact with notes and objects. The simple thrill of rotating an item, spinning a dial, never gets old to me. Best of all, the clues being slowly rolled out allow you to solve things in any order and begin forming thoughts before you're required to form full solutions. Your mind has space to breathe in Botany Manor.

Easy Gaming; Good Design

Easy gaming is good design. This isn’t to imply that hard games aren’t well designed but too often players are ready to shrug off easy puzzle games because if the puzzle isn’t challenging what’s interesting about it? What makes it worth my time? To me, Botany Manor is about enjoying the design. Just because you can see them line up the dominos doesn’t make it less satisfying to knock down. 

"It's easy for players, of all deduction skill levels, to keep moving forward."

There are so many smart design choices in Botany Manor. The bags of seeds flash for easier visibility so you never miss the next plant you need to grow. Keys are labeled clearly with their locations. Front door deliveries provide a convenient in-universe anchor point between chapters. And the act of collecting clues and slotting clues means progression exists beyond finding solutions, making it easy for players of all deduction skill levels to keep moving forward.

Room for Growth

Just because Botany Manor is generally easy doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges present. And for the most part those challenges are welcomed: finding clues, noticing details, putting it all together. The unintended difficulty of Botany Manor is my biggest gripe. Memorization. Clues are listed in your notebook by name (ex. “Letter from Stacy”) but they cannot be viewed, read, or directly referred back to via the notebook. So if you want to look at what a letter said again you have to walk to its location and reread it.

Plant in a pot.

Admittedly, unintended is an assumption on my part. Perhaps Balloon Studios wanted players to have to retain every bit of information they came across but it doesn’t feel cohesive with the rest of the design. My guess is the team wanted players to spend more time in the lovely environment rather than with their nose in a book. My other guess is that this method helps control pacing so that even the smartest players have to take a bit more time to reach their answers. 

Regardless of the intention, this design choice stuck out negatively to me. I found myself eventually just taking pictures of the clues with my phone so that I could refer back to everything to execute the solution. I leaned on this especially hard when clues and solutions involved numbers, mixing ingredients, or doing something in a particular order. 

Semi worm's eye view of the kitchen.

Moreover, memorization as difficulty (whether intentional or not) is boring. It's a shallow reward for those with a good memory and a petty punishment for those with a bad memory. Outside of games or minigames that are completely centered on memorization (such as the Concentration card game or in-game quizzes), memorization provides low intrigue at best and frustration at worst. 

In Short

Botany Manor is a delightful stroll with approachable puzzles. If the thought of walking around a fancy house and tinkering with things like selecting the right firewood, finding the correct combo of chemicals, and figuring out how high in a tower you have to be for the right wind conditions excites you, you’ll enjoy Botany Manor. I certainly did. However, a few things are holding it back from being a must-play title. 

Final Score


Reviewed On: PC

The power fantasy of having a nice house and the ability to successfully grow plants. A win for cozy gamers but not a must-play for puzzle fans.