Despite being a rather strange object to make a game about, the world of botany has come to the forefront in recent years and Artech Studios are the latest development team to attempt to get in on the action with The UnderGarden, a new puzzle game based around striking visuals and puzzles, all revolving around the world of plants. But is there enough here to make you want to get your knees dirty?
The first thing to note is that the story line is practically non-existent. You play as a small animal/monster that can float around collecting pollen which enables you to grow the flowers found in the UnderGarden. That's it. The loading screens offer cryptic questions like "What is the UnderGarden?" or "What's above the UnderGarden?" but it never goes any further than that.
The gameplay mechanics are very simple: the left analog stick moves your monster around. Various buttons will have you picking up seeds/musicians while others will warp you back to a checkpoint or give you a boost of speed to move through a level faster. There are 15 levels of play that never really become difficult or challenging. They become slightly more complex over time but on the whole, the levels began to feel a little repetitive.
Each level contains a series of puzzles that players need to navigate through. There are specific plants that "grow" special items to help you proceed through the stage. Examples are heavy and floating seeds, which can be used on levers that the players need to trigger as well as lantern seeds to get rid of fog, bomb seeds to blow away blocks in your path, and electric seeds to channel electricity to access new areas. None of the levels are exceptionally difficult or terribly long to traverse. Additionally there is no time limit nor is there anything that can kill you.
Each level has four different items to collect/find. Players are tasked with blooming 100% of the flowers in the level, finding a special crystal, collecting special flowers, and finding the different musicians that are hiding in the nooks and crannies. None are crucial to the story or necessary to beating a level, but they will be for players who want to get the achievements. After beating certain levels, new costumes open up for your monster; you can change its skin color, add neon color horns to your head, and can even put on some clothing like a top hat. There are lots of a different obstacles to get in your way and slow you down. Glowing orbs will cause you to drop all your pollen if you bump into them, moving blocks require you to move fast, you'll also have to pull stones out of the way to find the secret items.
The presentation of the game both excels and falls short. The colors are bright and bold and the graphics are sharp and good looking. However, since everything is so bright, it can be very difficult to make out where you are or where you need to go. Occasionally, when you reach a large open area, the camera will zoom way out. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but it zooms so far out that finding details on the screen can be extremely difficult.
The design for the first level is very nice and ambient and I really enjoyed it. However, the next 14 levels are more or less the exact same, hence its repetitive nature.
The music is soft and ambient and your actions in the level will add or subtract musical elements as you progress. It's very relaxing and easy to listen to. However, like the level design, the music never really changes nor does it try anything new or different. Since The UnderGarden was made to be an immersive experience, the lack of variation in the music over the 15 levels hurts the overall experience. The sound effects were great, though; they added just the right tone and vibe to what happens on screen.
The UnderGarden has a co-op mode that will allow you and your friend to play together. However, the levels are really designed to be accessed by only one person. It's very apparent because if one person gets left behind, the other person has to backtrack to help them. It's just not worth the effort. Your single player scores are uploaded to a public scoreboard and you can see where you fall among all the other people who've played. Other than that, there isn't any online support.
All in all, The UnderGarden is a quirky game. It's not the most engaging of titles, nor is it the most visually striking, but it's certainly not a bad game either. If you're looking for a relaxing adventure, go for The UnderGarden. It'll keep you entertained for a few hours, but not much more than that.