THE UNIVERSE IN which the three Samorost games takes place is a heady blend of psychedelia, space-based sci-fi, and charming (if often dark) fable-like stories. Aesthetically, the games are like modernist Czech film posters come to life, pairing strange, twisted landscapes with archetypal, folkloric characters, all backgrounded by the blackness of space.
The series is created by Amanita Design, a Brno-based game developer also known for Machinarium and Botanicula, among other games. In 2003, Amanita founder Jakub Dvorský created the first Samorost as a Flash-based point-and-click adventure. Samorost 2 followed two years later, and Samorost 3 a full eleven years after that in 2016. The series draws from the darker side of classic LucasArts titles, particularly those series’ use of nighttime settings and slightly standoffish approaches to storytelling. And as with all LucasArts titles, there’s a strong emphasis on puzzles that require finding and using objects in specific orders and locations. But Samorost brings an aesthetic all its own to the table, and fully embraces the spirit of dark, vast psychedelia that is merely an aesthetic jumping-off point for games like Grim Fandango.
Samorost 3 is the full culmination of the ideas touched on by the first two games in the series. In it, as in the previous games, you play as a nameless, childlike character, simply rendered in juxtaposition to the game’s exquisitely detailed, photorealistic landscapes. There’s a strong element of Maurice Sendak and Little Nemo in Dreamland to the series, emphasized even further by the main character’s pyjama-like white bodysuit.
The fungal-psychedelic implications of the developer’s name appear overtly throughout the game: mushrooms play a prominent role in many of the game’s puzzles, and travel between the planetoid stages is via a spore-like spaceship. The game is also informed by the broader experience of psychedelics as a perception-enhancing medium, which certainly allows for a healthy dose of classically “trippy” interactions with a wide array of animal and insect characters (including several delightful sections where the right cues lead to musical performances by everything from insects to salamanders to demons). But this psychedelic vision also imbues the gameworld with a greater ennui and darkness: as you hop between planetary bodies in ever-widening orbits, the game’s “universe” is ultimately revealed to be a finite ecosystem, set against the vast, star-specked emptiness of space.
The game’s puzzles range from lightly cerebral to occasionally inscrutable, and often involve a good deal of the repetition and back-and-forth travel so common in the point-and-click genre. But the world of Samorost is so beautifully rendered that, after all is said and done, the overall impression left by the game is that of a strange and beautiful dream framed by a cool, vast darkness.