reviews

Samorost 3 (2016)

samorost-3-mushrooms

Amanita Design is the Jiří Trnka Studio (Studio Jiřího Trnky) of video gaming. The surreal characters are similar to Czech puppet films and all storytelling and interaction are mutely told in pictures.

What Amanita Design really does, is combine very special cultural elements into beautifully crafted entities: Traditional adventure games, Czech animation aesthetics and magical sound- and naturescapes.

I always gorge myself with adventure games. I want to complete them in one sitting, like it was a long interactive animation film. Within few days now, I’ve done it with Samorost 3 as well as I’ve done it with Day of the Tentacle Remastered and the new chapters of King’s Quest.

Machinarium being the game changer for me, and still the only 2000’s game to penetrate into my top 10 adventure games of all time, I doubt I’ll get the same feeling of awe and happiness with a new game very easily. It still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy all new Amanita Design games quite as much, or consider them just as good.

samorost-3-home

While Machinarium was a bit more traditional kind of an adventure game, Botanicula was dreamy stream of consciousness, a microscopic nature toy and an ode to flora and fauna.

Even though Machinarium and it’s steam punk looks became so personal for me, I always loved Samorost-world the most. The shaping of nature is hugely inspirational, and it’s the main reason for my own nature photographing hobby.

I’ve photographed tens of thousands shots all around Europe within my latest years, always imaging a scene, interaction and it’s inhabitants in them, mostly thanks to Samorost 1 and 2. Samorost actually let me see the nature differently, and it’s quite an effect for a video game.

samorost-3-newts

samorost-3-tea-tent

samorost-3-bear

So, I waited this new long Samorost game quite anxiously. Teasers were simple and beautiful, and I would watch them over and over.

The protagonist gnome is very lovable and cute, musically skilled little white riding hood, in a slightly surreal and unexplained world. Gnome’s childish interest in the world sometimes resemble the most classic Czech animation character – Krtek, the little mole.

The emphasis of story is always on the existing moment, but there’s also the big picture, the story, that is told in various kind of pictures. Some of them you can find by listening to the nature, or luring it with your flute, and some you can follow at picture books.

There are many themed orbs for the gnome to enter, but the game starts with a little puzzle of how to build a spacecraft with junk from your backyard.

samorost-3-yellow-planet

Puzzles of Samorost 3 follow pretty much the path of elder Amanita Design pieces. There are few scenes where you see the solution from afar, and there are few where you couldn’t possibly come up with anything without exploring and playing with the environment a bit. Most puzzles are somewhere in between, always fun, distinctive and clever.

Amanita Design have designed actual interactive toys in the past, so it is still one part of the experience. You should just forget about progressing and solving anything, and simply play around. The Steam-achievements are mostly Easter eggs and stuff you find only by doing so.

samorost-3-space-turtle

samorost-3-monastery

It is hard to actually evaluate this games difficulty. There are classic adventure gaming gags and tricks, and for anyone who have previously completed an Amanita Design adventure, will probably succeed with this one too.

Not all puzzles are exactly easy, but like in most contemporary adventure games, you cannot actually die or get stuck, so you’ll make it eventually.

Music puzzles are a bit more rare for adventure games, so some may find them baffling or challenging. For me, it took seven hours to complete the game, with peacefully exploring pace, and only one puzzle would take more than half an hour.

samorost-3-red-cave

In a way, Samorost 3 is a very safe product, as it’s so similar to old classics, Samorost 1 and 2, but longer. It’s more like there’s a lot of new puzzles and raves in a familiar kind of imaginary world you always loved.

The (múm-esque) soundtrack by Floex is as amazing as in all Amanita Design games, and the musical scenes in the game are as fun as ever, and I can’t wait for the vinyl OST. Machinarium vinyl has been one of my most listened ones ever since it was published, and Samorost 3 would be on heavy rotation, just as it is now on digital format.

All in all, Samorost 3 fits perfectly in the high quality catalog of Amanita Design games, just like all Jiří Trnka films fit in the high quality Trnka-catalog.

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Articles, reviews

A Journey Through Spanish Animation (2015)

Minotauromaquia Pablo en el laberinto (Pablo in the Labyrinth, 2004)

Minotauromaquia Pablo en el laberinto (Pablo in the Labyrinth, 2004)

Spanish animation lurks in the hazy parts of (even the European) animation field. Few pioneers and modern film makers may ring the bell outside of Spain, but most that ever happened in between the early days and today has never been so well documented. Not before this brand new collection of well selected gems through Spanish animation history. Here’s a fix for the problem: del trazo al píxel 3DVD “journey”.

Watching the history of Spanish animation is much like watching the Spanish version of classic Dracula with Bela Lugosi. Not being the polished mainstream- or even underground icons of animation, Spanish history of animated films is like a crude, surreal version of better known history of animated films.

As a counter version to Méliès, there’s Segundo de Chomón, for all the Mickey Mouses, there’s a Spanish styled variant, for Zagreb and Bozzetto there’s equals in the sixties and seventies, just as for Švankmajer, Pixar etc.

Not exactly better or worse, just different. What’s common in these pieces, is the deep black humor, darkness, pessimism and lack of moral or happy endings. Even the soft porn has a morbid end. Uneasy and high quality in general, this collection is very much worth the investment.

The booklet has great liner notes and three discs of short animated films catalog the unknown, yet fine works in roughly three different eras; The black and white era of the pioneers, the outstanding, surreal, psychedelic and bold critics of the sixties onward, until the third type, contemporary greats.

Radio RCA, (circa 1935)

Radio RCA, (circa 1935)

Apart from short films, the collection also offers a full length adult animation and pack of early commercials (like Radio RCA commercial with female nudity just few years before Franco.)

Here’s a few picks from the pack. A lot more would deserve getting an introduction right here, right now. But then again, that’s why there’s the wonderful collection to order anyway, so you could witness it all by yourself eventually. With English subtitles to all shorts and introductions.

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944)

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944)

Garabatos Valeriano León (1944) dir. Jaume Baguñà

An animated version of a comic magazine from that era. Short jokes are dark and funny even today, although some may feel a bit tacky. Fun is made out of everyday life as well as the end of life, i.e. from social stumbles to execution.

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949) dir. Jaume Baguñà

Like titled, cock at the yard is a truly cocky one, enjoying admiration of all the hens. Yet, when too admired, like spoiling the breakfast by serving an egg with a tweet, hen is fired. So, everyday life is kind of paradoxical dance on wire. Cartoon teaches no morals and ends up in no other conclusion but injustice. Oddly enough, the story might stick to the viewer’s mind better just because of that.

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949)

El gallito presumido (Cocky Cock, 1949)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964)

El Sombrero (The Hat, 1964) dir. Robert Balser

Surrealism in Spanish cartoon is properly introduced as late as the mid sixties. Although the title, el Sombrero, somewhat sounds like a very Spanish story, the overall style reminds more of Zagreb and Italian masters of animation.

Troubled by a hat, symbolically, a man has a burden he needs to get rid of in order to carry on with his life. He cannot do it himself, and needs faith to drive him back on the course.

The style of animation is strangely rough and smooth at the same time. Robert Palser later directed animation of Yellow Submarine (the well known surreal graphic style of the cult classic is indeed seen already in this one.)

Íncubo Rose (1974)

Íncubo Rose (1974)

Íncubo Rose (1974) dir. Miquel Esparbé

Again, we’re closer to Zagreb and Bozzatto in graphic style, but the critic of this erotic odyssey of devil goes straight into Spanish politics and history.

Rather simple drawings and amateurish animation perfectly fulfills it’s purpose. After the “’70s horror film titles” the film seems to be a comedic take on one’s journey into losing virginity, but the downsides of the attempts are quite cruel and sad in the end.

Probably the little devil deserves it’s punishment, as he does after all seem to try raping an angel to begin with. Effective and nerving from the first seconds.

La doncella guerrera (Warrior Princess, 1974)

La doncella guerrera (Warrior Princess, 1974)

La doncella guerrera (The Warrior Maiden, 1975) dir. Julio Taltavull

A ballad with notably Spanish feel to it. Told in Goyan narration, illustrated in vein of Gothic period plates, with amazing graphic style and restrained animation direction by Robert Balser of Yellow Submarine and The Hat fame, that will guarantee the viewer captivation.

The story is an ancient ballad. One of those with a girl dressed as a man to be able to fight as a soldier. For an artsy film, this is an easy, feel good one in comparison to the heavy themes of the era.

Día a día (1977)

Día a día (1977)

Día a día (1977) dir. Pablo Núñez

Another Zagreb-esque film, with imaginative twist. Dull everyday life is spiced with footage from black and white war-, nature-, entertainment- and sports docs. It’s a method of caricaturing the feelings of a boss yelling at you when you’re late for work, or when you get off of work. Lions roaring and birds fleeing.

Basically rather traditional “day of an unlucky everyday soldier” type of story, but very well crafted with mixed media. Funny and identifiable.

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978)

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978)

La edad del silencio (Age of Silence, 1978) dir. Gabriel Blanco

Nasty and irritating to watch, not to say listen to. An ultimate portray of sustained freedom of speech. Ultimate political work of a protester who would not be silenced no matter how much he’s tortured and literally shut up. Based on Ops’ (El Rote) drawings.

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994)

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994)

Gastropens II. Mutación tóxica (Toxic Mutation II, 1994) dir. Pablo Llorens

A plasticine animation of it’s time, from the funny digital editing tools to the awake of awereness in toxication of “E numbered” food. A grotesque work that might make the next b-day buffet a bit uneasy.

Additives give birth to a mutant alien in man’s stomach, bite by bite, giving the hero of the day an appear closer to the day of the tentacle. Story wise flawless little gem.

Las partes de mí que te aman son seres vacíos (The Parts of Me that Love You are Empty Beings, 1995) dir. Mercedes Gaspar

Grotesque, sadistically erotic pixallation of a man and a woman having a loose dinner with various body parts being cut off and replaced with something else. Also serves some so-so surrealism and awkward 90s editing. Still somehow captivating.

How to cope with Death (2002) dir. Ignacio Ferreras

Dance macabre. A winged grim reaper comes to take what he thinks is his – the life of an old lady, passed out in front of television. The old lady doesn’t think she’s ready for it yet. One of the early Ferreras’ films with the exact graphic beauty that can be found from his feature length film too.

Encarna (2003) dir. Sam

A housewife has it with all the assholery around her, and starts a brutal revenge campaign. Plasticine turns red and holey. Even TV-Shop-Jesus.

Pablo in the Labyrinth (2004) dir. Juan Pablo Etcheverry

Picasso is lost in a grey rock maze, being hunted by a minotaur. His works are being recreated in plasticine amazingly well, that itself is worth watching, but there’s not really much additional storyline to it.

Cirurgía (Surgeon, 2006) dir. Alberto González Vázquez

A date. Lies to be told in order to get to the woman’s heart. At the same time simple and layered, funny and frank portray of the difficulties in being honest at the first date. Sometimes straightforward simplicity in animation just works.

Alma (2009)

Alma (2009)

Alma (2009) dir. Rodrigo Blaas

A little wintertime gothic, horror story of a closed doll shop. Ideal 3D CGI. A semi-classic in it’s genre.

Birdboy (2010) dir. Pedro Rivero, Alberto Vázquez

The dark life in a small town after industrial catastrophe has an outcast Birdboy taking care of a girl who lost her father in the factory explosion. Dark story hints of better, while everything easily seems hopeless. Based on a comic book by the author, this animation adds to the parts mainly left out of the comic.

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013)

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013)

El ruido del mundo (Noise of the World, 2013) dir. Coke Riobóo

A composer suffers from a condition of hearing all the cruelties and cries of the world, that soon distracts him to compose anything else that the despair of the world. Animated with backlit plasticine on glass, giving it outstanding graphic output.

Canis (2013)

Canis (2013)

Canis (2013) dir. Anna Solanas, Marc Riba

The dystopian bestiality of Canis may be heavy to watch. The black and white puppet stop-motion introduces desolate human beings surrounded by death and starvation of mad dogs. Even the only bit of hope is topped with pessimism and injustice, making Canis the ultimate feelbad film of the collection.

World not too far from Eraserhead’s, Le Dernier Combat’s or Suzie Templeton’s Dog etc. makes it absolutely beautiful. The film is riveting on all ends. It’s among the most powerful films made in Spain.

From doodles to pixels – one hundred years of Spanish animation:

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