If you enjoy games that don’t hold your hand, allow you to solve cryptic clues and search out information by yourself, then Strange Horticulture is for you.
Available from 21st January on PC, Strange Horticulture from Bad Viking Games puts you in the role of someone who’s just inherited a mysterious flower shop. This isn’t your typical florist, however. The titular Strange Horticulture specialises in rare and mysterious plants. Some of them have very useful properties, others are very dangerous. And set in the eerie town of Undermere – planted firmly on an old map based on England’s Lake District – its residents are very keen to get their hands on your wares. You’ll be fielding customer requests about witchcraft, poison and dark magic before you know it.
Strange Horticulture wastes no time in getting going, and doesn’t bog you down in tutorials. You’ll learn by doing, and soon enough making your way around your quaint shop is second nature. On your desk in front of you is a book indexing all of the plants that you’re likely to come across. You’ve also got a map of the local area, a magnifying glass to help you get a better look at your plants, and a pull-out drawer where you can store letters and useful items. Oh, and there’s Hellebore, the resident cat who you can pet to your heart’s content. There’s nothing quite like the satisfied purr of a cat to start your day with.
Above your desk you’ll find shelves housing all of your plants. Nothing has a label, and so you’ll have to figure out what’s what by trying to identify a plant using your book. It’s up to you to add your own labels, adding to them a name or any other useful information you might need. I went for the plant’s name and its primary property. But you might want to opt for a different system. You might also choose to organise your plants in a particular way. Me? I went for alphabetising the ones I’d already identified – that made it easier to put my hand on one when a customer came in, wanting something I’d already labelled – with those yet to be labelled on the other side of the shop.
By ringing the bell on your desk, you’ll summon a customer, most of whom will want your help buying or identifying a plant. Often, you’ll be given the plant’s name, and it’s up to you to identify it. At other times you may be given a plant’s property, or its Latin name, and you’ll need to deduce what the customer needs by checking your book or examining your plants. You can get it wrong a couple of times, but fail too many and you’ll need to start your day over.
Not every person visiting your store is a customer, however. Sometimes, people have information for you, and the postman visits every day with a letter. You’ll be given information on the whereabouts of new plants, along with strange and cryptic clues that you need to decode. By pulling out your map, those clues will lead you to new areas to visit. Find the right area, and you’ll add new plants to your inventory. Most of the time, the clues are straightforward, but if you do ever get stuck, there’s a handy ‘hint’ button to point you in the right direction.
There’s an overarching story to Strange Horticulture, dealing in cults, witchcraft and very strange goings-on in the local area. It’s a little thin on the ground – I’d have liked to have delved deeper into the strange history and lore of the town I found myself in – but it at least provides a means to drive the game forwards. As customers and locals visit your store, you’ll gleam snippets of information, and over the time the story will unfold, although often from differing perspectives. As such, you may decide to side with one person over another, and as the game progresses, you’ll have some narrative choices to make which can shape the outcome of the story. There are multiple endings, so it’s worth thinking about the decisions you make.
You’ll likely see Strange Horticulture‘s credits roll in around four hours, give or take, depending on how well you do with the puzzles. Thankfully, after that time you can keep playing, continuing to finish up your plant collection. The flow of the game is smooth, only brought to a halt if you struggle to deduce a clue. It’s wise to try to figure out clues in letters and notes as soon as you get them, because chances are a customer will come in, wanting the plant that you’ll receive by figuring out that particular clue. Let them build up, and you’ll quickly find yourself unable to help customers.
There’s something so very enthralling about Strange Horticulture; the way it lets you take the lead and figure out everything by yourself will really appeal to those with an analytical mind. The story could perhaps be a little more engaging, but it serves its purpose. Ultimately, it’s going to be Strange Horticulture‘s puzzles, its delicate but eerie presentation, and its satisfying and calming gameplay that will keep you hooked. Something very special awaits for those curious enough to enter Strange Horticulture.
Strange Horticulture Review – GameSpew’s Score