Calendula is the first title from Blooming Buds Studio, it’s a small puzzle game with some psychological horror. The core of the game is that it is a game that doesn’t want to be played, players must try and solve how they can access certain saved files to progress. The total playtime to complete is somewhere between the thirty minute to one hour mark.
I need to say, that I am impressed with a lot of the design and interesting mechanics that Booming Buds Studio have put into Calendula. The game constantly breaks the fourth wall, so much so that the majority of the gameplay actually takes place from the “menu”. Calendula is along the same line of games as Pony Island, the screen is often rife with intentional visual glitches and the fourth wall breaking aspect.
Some of the puzzles are relatively clever, forcing you to dive through the setting menus to solve the issue. Gameplay does get a little repetitive, most of the time you are searching for a password to access a saved game and you repeat this cycle a few times before the game ends. The clues can sometimes be a little cryptic, but the puzzles always had logical solutions.
The initial five minutes of gameplay were a little unsettling as I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect the game to throw at me. I was pleasantly surprised that the game didn’t pull any cheap shot like jump scares, they focus mostly on causing discomfort through the puzzles and control scheme.
Calendula attempts to come across as visually disturbing, either with the fleshy imagery or with eerie flashes of glitches and sound spikes. The UI design of all the backgrounds and everything to do with the menu is atheistically unsettling, the way shapes form in the background or how veiny/fleshy textures slowly seep through and wiggle.
Now, this is the point where I may seem critical of the game. I honestly felt as if the story of the game has no relation to the gameplay at all, I was solving a puzzle only to be rewarded with a four second video that gave little to no information. I do fully accept that this could be simply not understanding some of the themes, but personally I feel this is a case of ludonarrative dissonance.
What I mean by this is, why is there a front of a game menu stopping you from getting into the game if the games story seems to have little awareness to it? The game feels as if it is in two parts, the game and the story. The moments you spend “playing” the game and not the menu mostly are walking down a corridor with shapes in a nonsensical manner. Its’ interesting now that I’ve finished it to read through some of the potential fan theories for what the game means, with some surprisingly dark suggestions.
Onto brighter notes however, I feel that from a purely gameplay perspective Calendula breaks some interesting ground. The genre of games that play on the expectation of players playing games is something that continues to grow and is a personal fascination of mine. Calendula did set out to be an unsettling and disturbing game, which it certainly achieves at points. If we’re looking at it from a meta-game stand point it seems the developers focused hard on the visuals rather than the theme.
I’m honestly glad that I played Calendula all the way through, despite the ending failing to tie the entire game together. The gameplay mechanics alone were refreshing, but I honestly can’t recommend the game if you’re looking for something substantial. Calendula feels like a game that on the outside is full of ideas, but the story lacks the detail to be impactful.
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