The UnderGarden

For avid puzzle fans, like myself, The UnderGarden appears to be a Christmas present come early. With all the hustle and bustle of the season kicking in, Vitamin-G have given you a way to escape it all in their self-proclaimed “zen puzzler”. Your role is to play a small teletubby-like creature, who has the important job of pollinating all the flora in a mystical cavernous garden. No one knows where this is located or why it needs to be done but that simply allows for some tongue-in-cheek existential questions as the game progresses. The UnderGarden provides 14 levels of physics based puzzle fun, using the properties of different fruits to allow you to navigate the dreamlike landscapes.

The aim of the game is to end the level with secret flowers, a crystal and enough flowers blooming  in the caverns to fill your bloom bar. With the whole game based underwater, you have to overcome obstacles such as currents and barriers as you head towards the end-of-level wormhole. Pollen sacks need to be bounced on to release enough pollen for you to fill your imaginary pockets with, which allows you to leave a pretty trail in your wake as you travel, turning lifeless twigs into a colourful blooming jungle. In your travels, you also come across musicians; these odd little creatures sit around the level playing an instrument in time to the ambient music in the game. Picking up a musician means their instrument is added to the sound experience until you lose them, allowing you to build up the music, if you so wish. They also “re-bloom” the flowers, making a different wash of colour swathe over any flowers you pass with the musician in tow. All these sound and visual qualities add up to create a beautiful immersive environment, and a major strength of the game.

The levels tend to last about 30 minutes or so on first play through, so the game provides a lot of hours even if you never have to redo a level. And if you find it getting dull there is local co-op to enable twice as much to be carried and a second cute little creature. If you’ve already completed some of the levels by this point, chances are you’ll also have unlocked a bunch of different costumes for your little guy, so feel free to play dress up with your friend if you want to easily tell each other apart (plus, it’s just good fun!).

But it’s not all good news. Unfortunately, The UnderGarden contains many flaws, ranging from mild to making you turn off the game. For one, the levels may be long but they all feel very similar. By the time you’ve played two or three in a row, boredom will have set in and you’ll need to switch to something a bit more exciting, even if only for a while. Also,  its simple control system should mean this game is easy for anyone to play, but as one button serves to pick up and drop items and musicians you can quickly get irritated with having to drop everything to pick up something else. Another issue is the lack of a place down button. The landscape means that fruit has a tendency to roll. Bombing a wall can become needlessly hard. When several attempts are required to get a bomb to stay still and near enough to your target to get a result, the game can lose a lot of its charm.

All of the above can be managed if you’re aware of their existence, but the big bugbears are major flaws in the game design. With many narrow winding passageways, carrying any items through can be a chore. In fact, in later levels it appears that simply being a thorough explorer can lead to you becoming stuck. There is an ability to warp back to your last checkpoint, but that’s little comfort when you have to travel a long way in an already cleared area. The tunnels are just unrealistically sized, and whilst they look pretty, if you can’t carry a musician through then the level design does not fit what is needed for this game. As if that wasn’t infuriating enough the camera should definitely be mentioned. In co-op if the second person veers away from the first person they will pop and respawn next to them… items they were carrying are lost. Following each other closely is the only way to prevent this and surely that removes the fun of co-op, when you’re actually playing following the leader. The camera also presents problems in the main single player game. As the puzzle areas get larger, the camera zooms out further. This allows you to see the puzzle as a whole, but also means you’ll lose yourself if you are distracted when it happens. Even on a large screen I found the zoomed out camera to be too removed to be able to keep track easily.

One more thing; although I hope a patch will soon be issued, it is also necessary for me to mention, that at the time of this review, there have been many problems with achievements not unlocking on the reviewed XBLA version. As it stands, it appears that any of the achievements can be problematical, with no real sense of why, and I myself, and friends have had issues with them.







3 responses to “The UnderGarden”

  1. Laura avatar

    I didn’t find as many problems as you with this game. But then I haven’t tried co-op and I’m not bothered about achievements. I think you may have missed the point of this game. It’s only JUST a puzzler; it’s far too simple to be challenging. It’s more relaxing than anything and I found it rather nice to play something that didn’t involve having to try hard or focus properly. There’s no killing, there’s no death; while there is a completion leaderboard there are no scores popping up on screen while you’re playing. The music is soothing, blooming the flowers is strangely rewarding and floating around the world can be mesmerising at times. I found the whole concept rather beautiful.

  2. Zoey avatar

    I agree with you, the concept is great, but with continued play I found it rapidly losing it’s dreamlike quality. It’s a shame, but I hope you continue to enjoy the game.

  3. Jake avatar

    I’ve had no problems with the achievements unlocking at all – as for the single pick-up/put down button, that’s part of the puzzling element and, to be honest, you very rarely actually need to carry that much stuff around (and when you do it’s usually a group of the same fruit). I really like this one because, as Laura says, it’s really quite soothing and some of the hidden crystals/flowers are bitches to get – especially when you realise by doing one thing you’ve blocked off the route to it.

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