When the cursor isn't hovered over anything in particular, you can click and drag the view around (showing off some lovely parallax effects), or use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out. (The game also zooms in automatically at dramatic moments.) A star icon in the upper right corner brings allows you to save, load, read the books you've found, get a hint, or change the settings. Two oddities here are that the option to quit is hidden in the settings menu, and there's no way to start a new game in the traditional way. Instead, you're given a permanent saved game from right at the beginning to reload.
The hint system is presented in the form of a book, locked with a puzzle consisting of three concentric rings that you have to rotate into position. It's not a hard puzzle (though it does give you a new random instance each time), but it does serve to ensure you're serious about needing a clue. That's just as well, because the help you get is not so much a hint as a double-page cartoon spread that lays out the complete solution to everything in the current scene, including some of the optional puzzles. It's not somewhere you want to go unless you're really and truly stuck.
The Samorost games have always been more about the joy of exploration and experimentation than telling a tightly-plotted story or planning ahead, and this latest entry is no different. Most of the time, you're trying things hoping for something interesting to happen rather than because it's a calculated step towards solving one of your problems. In fact, pretty much everything you achieve feels like a happy accident. Even right at the start, you're given no directions what to do: it's up to you to decide to look through your telescope, and even then you have to go to bed before you'll dream about the planet you saw and decide you have to find a way to get there. For anyone who loves to just play around and just go with the flow, it can be a bewitching experience.
Every screen is filled with things to fiddle with, many of them unrelated to your primary objectives. You can go play with your dog, ride a mountain goat or stack cockroaches on top of each other. Or you might blow spiral smoke from a hookah, listen to the song of the queen termite or annoy the bathing monkeys. The list is seemingly endless. I thought I took the scenic route, but I still only managed a bit less than half the achievements available. As much as I found, there's clearly plenty more to see, and it's telling that even after the credits roll the game doesn't actually end. You can fly back to any of the places you visited (some of which have changed a bit since you last saw them) and poke around some more, or help the monks out with an optional epilogue. Or just go home and play with your dog again.
Even when you do seemingly have a clear goal, such as when your spaceship is rooted in place by a tangled vine, trying to find a sharp knife – or weedkiller, or blowtorch, or any of the usual adventure game solutions to the problem – won't help you at all. Instead, you have to accept that you're stuck there for a bit and go (quite literally) smell the flowers. There's a sad-looking fellow nearby who needs to find what looks like a dumpy coconut with a face, or possibly some kind of cheeky animated mandrake root. Maybe that ties into your dilemma somehow? Again, though, don't go looking for that coconut, because you won't find any clues to its whereabouts. Instead, you have to wander around, play with the birds and the bees (all living on a piece of termite-infested driftwood) and wait and see what happens. Oh, and there's quite a tricky organic termite maze machine in there to navigate too. It's only when you finally have the solution in your hands that you realise what any of it was actually for.
In other circumstances, this could come across as sloppy or disorganised, but the whimsical situations and sheer abundant joy of experiencing it all mean you just don't care. You're encouraged to just play around, see what happens, and trust that things will work out somehow. Even if it doesn't get you any further forward, at least it's always fun to watch. It's probably no accident that your little gnome is small, child-sized and looks like he's having as much wide-eyed fun with it all as you are. In fact, when you hit a small section towards the end that's more conventionally plot-driven, it's almost a disappointment. Suddenly, you know where to go and what to do and it almost feels dull by comparison!
I also didn't mind that very few of the puzzles are properly integrated with the world around them – or indeed, anything at all. For example, at one point you want to open up a crashed space probe, so you blow your trumpet at it. That pops up a bunch of different-coloured spirit bubbles that you can combine in various ways. What do those bubbles have to do with anything? Nothing that I can see. But there needed to be a puzzle there, and solving it is fun, so why worry? Another time you run across a tree with three dials carved into it, except you can't turn the dials directly. Solving that one has you playing with nearby reeds and beatboxing frogs and none of it makes any real-world sense. And yet, when you see the pieces clicking into place to the accompaniment of the frogs' suddenly-harmonious melody, it's a glorious feeling.
That said, the gameplay isn't without its occasional frustrations. Most of the time, you just click on things to interact with them, but sometimes you have to drag them around instead. I sometimes got stuck before realising that objects could be dragged. On one occasion, I thought taking a seed from a flower would just require a click and when that didn't work I went looking for more complicated solutions before realising the seed had to be dragged in a plucking action instead. Another minor complaint is that some puzzles rely on you repeating the same actions several times and spotting how the results each time are slightly different. There were a couple of occasions where I was repeating an action out of frustration (and giving my brain time to come up with a better plan) only to have it suddenly work. Near the end, there's a puzzle that expects you to do the same thing three times, but also puts you through a longish sequence to set up each new attempt. By the third time, it was only the fact that I'd learned to repeat things previously that motivated me to go through it all again.
One last issue is that there's no quick travel or any ability to skip already-solved puzzles: if you want to get from one place to another you have repeat all the steps each time. One particularly painful example of this involved a plant that looked like a shower with a removable shower-head. Pumping water through it meant going underground, navigating a room full of vines and solving a puzzle to get the water flowing. Except after all that, I belatedly realised I'd forgotten to fit the head to the flower first. Which meant undoing the water puzzle so I could leave the room, navigating the vines again, going back to the flower, fitting the head and then repeating everything all over again. Any ability to shortcut that process would have been very welcome.
These are just minor wrinkles, though, in a game that continually put a smile on my face throughout its 6-8 hours of playtime. (To give you an idea how much time you'll spend poking around, you could probably get through it in a couple of hours if you knew what you were doing.) Sammy the gnome just wants to explore, take in the sights and help those he meets along the way, and with such diverse, unusual and beautiful worlds to traverse, it's hard not to get sucked in. Yes, you could grump that it's a journey filled with happy accidents rather than careful plans and solid reasoning, but in the end that's part of its unique attraction. It was never trying to be a traditional puzzle adventure, just trying to make you feel happy and lead you to some magical moments along the way. For anyone with even a hint of their inner child left to nourish, Samorost 3 comes heartily recommended.