Screenshot: Amanita Design
Special Topics In GameologySpecial Topics In Gameology explores a specific corner of the gaming world in a miniseries of articles. In this special end-of-year edition, we’re examining some of our favorite unsung odds and ends from across the games of 2016.  

No one makes games quite like Amanita Design. For 13 years, this small Czech studio has turned out minimalist adventures in the classic point-and-click style, but where the giants of that genre built themselves around memorable characters and dialogue, Amanita’s creations pursue a more meditative experience: wordless journeys through strange worlds inspired by Czechoslovakia’s history of surreal filmmaking and animation. Best known for Machinarium, starring a hapless robot in a dingy metal world, and Botanicula, the story of five tiny bug friends exploring and trying to save their parasite-infested tree, the studio reemerged after four years to deliver Samorost 3 earlier this year, the third in a series that started with founder Jakub Dvorský’s first browser game under the Amanita label. It’s the developer’s most ambitious and verbose release yet, but all of its dialogue remains completely unintelligible. Rather, the voice you hear most clearly is that of the quietly fantastical world around you, and thanks to Amanita’s freewheeling sound-design wizards, it’s an incredible voice indeed.

When you start Samorost 3, your character, a little white-clad gnome, finds a clarinet-like instrument that’s fallen from the cosmos. It’s an auspicious beginning to an interstellar expedition across the game’s wild planetoids, mounds of dirt and trees and fungus floating in space and inhabited by all manner of beasts. What immediately emerges is a striking game about recognizing the magic in nature’s small, easily overlooked wonders. Every puzzle along the way requires you to stop and play with your surroundings, to realize that everything is alive and nothing is only as it seems. While the imaginative visuals certainly deserve much of the credit for the charm of these little worlds, it’s the soundscapes that truly bring them to life.

Many puzzles require you to use that golden clarinet to hear and commune with the music of the world around you. It starts with a woodpecker, whose banging against a hollow tree—a sound effect that is itself rendered with a telling richness—becomes cacophonous percussion. Soon enough, you’re awakening a chorus of mushroom ghosts or inspiring a reptilian a capella trio. It’s all so pleasantly surreal, drawing on the beauty and weirdness of our own natural world, a sort of hidden magic that’s so easy to forget.

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The key is Amanita Design’s unique sound effects that are always both outlandish and instantly recognizable. A shocking amount of them are clearly manipulated recordings of people making sounds with their mouths, a charming organic touch that has roots in Amanita’s earliest games. And the music, composed by Amanita’s frequent collaborator Tomáš “Floex” Dvořák, is an earthy mixture of deep clarinet, mallet percussion, and gentle atmospheric electronics that’s supplemented with bizarre sounds, like a lollipop scraping on a bongo. It sounds every bit as wild, expansive, and wondrous as a journey through nature’s beauty should.