I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.--the Flower, from Antoine De St. Exupery's The Little Prince
As the software behind those punch-the-monkey banner ads and infernal screen-blocking pop-up animations, Macromedia Flash is responsible for some of the Internet's most loathsome innovations. There's another side to Flash, however, exemplified by creations like Samorost 2. Simple, mysterious, witty, and engaging, it's a wonderful example of what's possible when creativity finds an accommodating bit of technology.
As the title implies, Samorost 2 is the recent follow-up to Czech developer Jakub Dvorky's 2003 point-and-click adventure, Samorost. Originally created as a college thesis project, Samorost eventually gained cult status for its clever gameplay and surreal imagery.
Samorost 2, though slightly more sophisticated in gameplay and presentation, generally follows in the footsteps of its predecessor. It features the same diminutive, nameless hero who dwells in, of all places, a spaceborne chunk of weathered wood. At the outset of the game, we're introduced to his dog, who unwittingly initiates a chain of events that involves aliens, interstellar travel, and a daring rescue. To reveal more might ruin the surprise, but by virtue of its status as a browser-based Flash app, Samorost 2 doesn't need much introduction. A simple click on a link to its site, and you can immediately experience the game for yourself.
Samorost 2's design is exceedingly simple, and would be familiar to anyone who's ever played a 2D adventure title. Progressing through each of its levels involves manipulating a series of objects or switches, usually to generate some chain reaction that opens a new door or path. A certain amount of guesswork is required, and at times the experience devolves into pixel hunting. There's no way to die or otherwise fail, so experimentation and random clicking are both encouraged and rewarded.
Though such gameplay mechanics often lead to frustration, Samorost 2 overcomes its simple, trial-and-error design in large part by virtue of its compelling content. The story's quiet hero is immediately likable, and the struggles he encounters are both fascinating and engaging. The tiny universe that Dvorky presents, comprised of hand-drawn images, close-up nature photographs, and cartoonish characters, defies easy description. It is in many respects reminiscent of the world depicted by Antoine De Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince, where the protagonist travels from one strangle little world to another, encountering a series of enigmatically charming characters and creatures. A wonderfully evocative soundscape by composer Thomas Dvorak perfectly compliments the game's quirky visuals.
Samorost 2 is divided into two chapters, the first of which includes four brief levels. Depending upon how quickly you solve its puzzles, Chapter One shouldn't take more than half an hour to complete. It's playable online for free, but the cliffhanger ending may tempt you to shell out $9.90 for the second and final chapter. Chapter Two, available for download after purchase, consists of three additional levels. It's about the same length, and equally weird, though its puzzles are a bit more frustrating.
Samorost 2's gameplay occasionally drags, but it's an undeniably intriguing creation, likely to be overlooked due to its simplicity and status as a "casual" game. Its greatest offering might be the evidence it provides of the artistic fidelity available to developers who don't operate under the constraints of multimillion dollar publishing budgets and the expectations of the gaming public at large. If Flash can encourage this kind of creativity, I suppose I can put up with the occasional punch-the-monkey abomination.