Botany Manor Review – Garden Up

Politely pleasant pollen puzzles.

Puzzle games. Love ’em. Gardens and gorgeous flowers? Those too. So Botany Manor was destined to be 100% my jam from the very beginning. This succinct and succulent little first-person puzzler puts a botanical twist on the formula by tasking players with figuring out how to coax a bloom out of 12 different plants spread across a gradually-unfurling Somerset manor, piecing together findings about each in a Herbarium with the ultimate goal of getting it published.

As Lady Arabella Greene, having returned to the manor after a long research trip, you’ll quickly start to understand how vital a task this is. This is a 19th century woman who’s spent most of her 50+ years attempting to be taken seriously in the world of botanical science, one that – as with any academic field at the time – was completely dominated by men. While Botany Manor is very much a chill, low-stakes jaunt that isn’t trying to be cerebral or overly commentarial with its setting, every time I came across a rejection letter or note “politely” reminding Lady Greene that she was better suited to a hobby garden I became more determined to see this endeavour through.

Luckily, said endeavour is a thoroughly enjoyable one. As you wander the manor’s many halls, rooms and gardens, you’ll discover the seeds of exotic flowers that Arabella hopes to grow and bloom to then record in her herbarium. Doing so routinely involves more than just potting and watering though, with each of the (fictional) plants requiring increasingly-complex sets of conditions in order to blossom. It might be something as simple as the right temperature or wind conditions, or you might find yourself mixing photography chemicals to create a lightning-like flash or arranging very specific displays of light to unfurl each bud. There’s an air of the fantastical around Botany Manor, so the solutions aren’t bound by real-world physics or logic and are often quite playful.

They also aren’t spelled out for you, and so exploring the manor and looking for clues is vital. Notes, letters, scientific material, posters, catalogues, even paintings and fairy tale books, anything could be of use and any could contain that one nugget of info that creates a “eureka” moment. Despite none of them being overly difficult, all of these puzzles are incredibly satisfying to solve and reward being observant and able to pick up on context clues. If you get stuck, you can also assign clues you’ve found to a flower within the work-in-progress herbarium and the game will confirm that you’ve got all the information you need to come to a conclusion, though I managed to roll credits without using this at all.

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The beauty of these puzzles isn’t in being obtuse or complex though, it’s in encouraging thorough exploration of this “historically accurate” homestead and proper study of the materials you find within it. It’s incredibly well-designed in this way to ensure that you’re simultaneously digesting the storytelling embedded in the environments, objects and texts you’re poring over, because to miss a detail could stop your plant-puzzle-progress. At less than three hours runtime, it’s just concise enough too that I knocked it over in one sitting and didn’t feel fatigued from traipsing around and pondering papers and diagrams.

It helps that it’s also a very handsome little game, with the natural beauty of gardens both manicured and overgrown surrounding a once-lively and lived-in riverside manor helped along by a wonderful, almost painterly visual style full of colour and life. With just the ambience of flora, fauna and your sauntering footsteps to pepper the soundscape, the backing of a wonderfully-calm score is also crucial to setting the relaxed mood. It’s truly the perfect game to chuck on for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and a great fit for Xbox Game Pass.

Playing on Xbox Series X, I did come across some small issues, though. There were minor visual bugs with bits of scenery flickering in and out of view as I moved around, though these were localised to specific areas and didn’t crop up much across my playtime. A little more annoying were a handful of Xbox Achievements that seem glitched currently, preventing me from nabbing that sweet 1000 Gamerscore. These are things that have little impact on the actual game though and are hopefully smoothed over in due course.

Conclusion
Botany Manor is a delight. It's sweet, succinct and serene, packed with clever puzzles that reward thoughtful exploration and engagement with its narrative. At a little under three hours it's the perfect lazy weekend getaway for those that like to stop and smell the flowers as much as they like to enrich the soil of their mind.
Positives
Gorgeous visuals and score
Botany Manor is a joy to explore
Flower-growing puzzles are varied and satisfying
Perfect length for a single-session afternoon jaunt
Lady Arabella Greene is kind of a bad-arse
Negatives
Some visual bugs
Glitched achievements on Xbox
8.5