Botany Manor Review – Delightfully satisfying to explore

Botany Manor is a faultlessly tight experience that may surprise you.
Botany Manor

I’ll be frank here – we members of the video game media receive an enormous number of emails promoting ‘cozy’ game experiences. It’s been without doubt one of the most dominant trends in the indie space for the past few years, right alongside lo-fi horror.

Given that the kind of games which live in that space aren’t generally my forte to begin with, any that position themselves as such have a significant uphill battle to grab my attention.

It is to my remarkable surprise that not only did I enjoy Botany Manor, I found it to be so enthralling that I finished it in a single day.

How does your garden grow?

Botany Manor is a puzzle-based adventure set in a large old mansion. It’s like Resident Evil, only polite and nice.

You play as the manor’s owner, a retired botanist named Arabella, as she attempts to document the specific cultivation methods of 12 rare plant species that she’d collected seeds of during her worldly travels.

The manor itself is broadly split up into zones comprising several rooms or sections of the grounds, with each zone home to two or three plant puzzles, each grouping of which comprise one chapter of the book. Grow all of the plants in the chapter and you’ll unlock the next section of the estate.

Botany Manor
Screenshot: Jam Walker / Balloon Studios

Progress through the chapters is linear, but the order in which you solve the puzzle of each plant within them is not. In fact, a huge part of solving each puzzle is in figuring out which among the large assortment of clues you’ll gather in each section actually match up to each plant’s page within the chapter.

The methods for figuring out how to grow each plant differ wildly, but in general you’ll be reading notes, manipulating objects, doing some simple math, and carrying things from one area to another.

I’m someone who is quick to leap to frustration, but who can also be unbearably persistent, and every single one of the Botany Manor’s puzzles from beginning to end impressed me with the cleverness and variation to their design. I never got stuck in a way that felt annoying, only in ways that left me feeling as if I was right on the verge of a breakthrough if I could just correctly align the clues.

The book itself is Botany Manor’s only real user-interface, and while it does log your discovered clues and keeps track of which room you found them in, it doesn’t let you open those clues up to review them. I found this annoying on instinct initially, but then realised how much this design choice forces you to engage with and appreciate the spaces of the estate itself.

Botany Manor
Screenshot: Jam Walker / Balloon Studios

Botany Manor is a game which gives an achievement for spending over a minute sitting on a bench. It wants you to breathe in its lovely atmosphere and appreciate the history of its setting.

Besides, you can always take screenshots or use your camera phone to make note of environmental clues if these design choices do annoy you anyway. There’s a sprint button – the one real concession to player convenience – but I found most of the time that using it felt jarringly at-odds with the spirit of the experience.

It’s cliche to say, but the manor itself is the game’s major supporting character. Observance of its design can be crucial to solving the puzzle of each plant, and any of the books, letters, cards, and paintings within which don’t directly serve as clues, all communicate pieces of the story of Arabella herself.

With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids all in a row

As delightfully satisfying as Botany Manor’s puzzles and exploration are, they probably wouldn’t have been enough to pull me through to the end without that narrative of Arabella’s life unfolding in the margins.

Without spoiling anything, this is the tale of an unmarried woman of 19th century England who dreamed of being a scholar. There are deliberate themes and subtexts here, and I found the journey the game takes through them to be really wonderful.  

Some people will undoubtedly be annoyed by the degree to which some of these themes are kept subtextual, and given the landscape of video games discourse it’s releasing amidst, others are likely to be deeply vitriolic about it touching on certain themes at all. I think the way Botany Manor handles these elements is tonally consistent with its setting and overall vibe, but I also acknowledge that I’m not really one in a position to speak to such things.

Read: The best cozy board games for relaxing afternoons

The brightest of blooms

Botany Manor really surprised me.

It’s a small game, comprising of around five or six hours, but one without an ounce of fat on it. The team at Balloon Studios designed a faultlessly tight experience that I really cannot say anything negative about.

I still feel as if the majority of ‘cozy’ games are simply not for me, but I am incredibly glad that I took the chance on this one. It’s perfect, and as it has a day one release on Game Pass, I implore anyone with a subscription to the service to give it a look. It may surprise you too.

Five stars: ★★★★★

Botany Manor
Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One
Developer: Balloon Studios
Publisher: Whitethorn Games
Release Date: 10 April 2024

An Xbox code for Botany Manor was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Jam Walker is a games and entertainment journalist from Melbourne, Australia. They hold a bachelor's degree in game design from RMIT but probably should have gotten a journalism one instead. You can find them talking entirely too much about wrestling on Twitter @Jamwa