Botany Manor Review – A Garden To Root For

I’ve never had much of a green thumb. Currently on my windowsill are a struggling sprig of basil and a ponytail palm that is thriving, but has evolved into some kind of monstrous vine creature. If one were to look out on my balcony, they’d find a pot filled with the remains of dead geraniums, lost to this world for who knows how many months. I’ve never found much satisfaction gardening in real life, nor from operating industrial-style farms in games like Stardew Valley or Minecraft. But something about Botany Manor‘s incredibly personal approach to gardening has grown through to my heart for perhaps the first time.

In Botany Manor, you’ll take control of Arabella Greene, an aspiring botanist who has been rejected by seemingly every scientific institute in England for the sole fact that she is a woman. The fact that this game is set in 1860, when this was the norm, does not make it any less infuriating to discover a half dozen condescending letters scattered about the manor laughing at the very idea of a lady thinking she could understand science with her dainty, petite brain. There’s a lot of “get back in the kitchen” energy here, and I found myself getting legitimately heated remembering that women have only been taken seriously as scientists as of the last century or so. 

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How much does a greenhouse like this cost? Asking for a friend.

Arabella has been out traveling the world to discover new plants and flowers, and is determined to give attention to the more interesting flowers that the guffawing mustachioed men at the English Botanical Society don’t feel are worth their time. She returns to her manor, of which it seems she is the proprietor, and sets out to begin work on her very own herbarium reference book, entitled “Forgotten Flora.” The manor is empty; it seems as though there are many servants that regularly tend to this gorgeous estate and its many gardens, on this afternoon, Arabella has the place to herself. Let’s get plantin’.

Botany Manor is a puzzle game, but while similar in tone and style to The Witness, the puzzles are more akin to escape room puzzles. Each of the twelve plants that you’ll grow over this four hour adventure have special requirements to bloom, ranging from nesting in water of the exact right temperature to growing only when they hear an exact sequence of wind chimes that echo the call of the Red Owl. There are between three and ten clues hidden around the estate per plant, and they range from posters on the wall to railway tickets to letters from friends and family. There are no spoken words in Botany Manor, and the whole story is told through print extremely effectively.

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The estate is beautiful and the map is designed with purpose.

My biggest complaint about Botany Manor is that the clues you have collected are not accessible from any menu. Reading through reference books laden with complicated charts and tables that are impossible to memorize, walking halfway across the mansion, forgetting what the chart explained, and not being able to find it again is frustrating beyond words. I would strongly recommend to the developers to let players access clues through their a menu so they don’t have to run back and forth between clues and, if they’re like me, constantly forget which book or letter has what information on it.

The puzzles are based much more on logic chains than other games I’m used to.  For instance, you’d need to find the exact frequency of wind whistling that activates a specific plant by reading through letters, then hear rumors of a poltergeist in the tower and understand there’s wind making scary sounds in there, then find a wind speed table and do the math on what speed you need to feign to trick the flower into blooming and figure out the correct number of windows to open in the tower to achieve that.

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What’s for dinner? Ah, oranges again. I see.

I don’t feel that more than one or two puzzles were approaching unfair, but unfortunately I’m very bad at puzzles and this game took much longer for me than I think it will for genre enthusiasts. Most of the time, upon finding the solution, I just realized I was stupid. I think a hint system, perhaps one per plant, would be helpful for players like me who would like to opt into guidance when we get stuck. I would absolutely have never figured out that the 75g of sugar I needed were going to come from pressing apples in the cider mill.  I spent half an hour circling the estate looking for a bag of sugar and not even clocking the cidery.

One of the main reasons I had such a pleasant time with Botany Manor is the artwork. I don’t know exactly how to describe the style – it’s not quite minimalist, but it’s also not very detailed. It reminds me of an even more beautiful version of games like RIME or The Witness, and frankly it is stunning the entire way through. My jaw dropped every time I entered a new room. Perhaps it’s the lighting of this quiet English afternoon, or the shading of the cells, but frankly real life doesn’t even look this good. 

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I am a little worried that every fireplace in this house is lit and I’m the only one here.

Botany Manor is possibly the most beautiful game I’ve played since Ghost of Tsushima, and the fact that I mention it in the same sentence as Sucker Punch’s masterpiece should communicate just how amazing this game looks. The art is so purposeful, so evocative, so vivid at all times. The UI is beautiful as well and fits perfectly with the tone, and the relaxing but curious music is perfectly composed for an adventure such as this.

I played Botany Manor on my PC with an RTX 4070 and an i9-12900K CPU, in 1440p on high settings. My frame rate never dipped below 144, and I experienced only one bug where one of the clues would not activate and reveal itself. Luckily the developers were kind enough to send me a walkthrough so that I could continue without the clue, but I assume this bug will be fixed in the upcoming day-one patch. I highly recommend mouse and keyboard for this game, although a controller will work just fine.

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I want to go to there.

There are times when I think Botany Manor asks too much of its players in terms of brainpower, and a few more hints and more easily manageable clues would have made a huge difference. However, I had an amazing time regardless learning about a litany of plants too fantastic to be real, and feeling the ultimate satisfaction of figuring out the solution and then executing it perfectly.

Botany Manor will be on Game Pass day one as well as for purchase, which is a huge get. Fans of escape room-like puzzles, gardening, and especially fans of both will no doubt fall in love with all the manor has to offer. The narrative is satisfying and paced extremely well, and I completed Botany Manor with a genuine smile on my face. And now, it is time to tend to my few real plants, and maybe try and replant those geraniums. After all, won’t it feel nice to help guide new life into this world?

Nirav played Botany Manor on PC with a review code.

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