Review: The UnderGarden Is A Relaxing Dip In The Ocean

I'm almost out of pollen. A nearby creature strums the guitar as I float about. I'll just hang here for a few more seconds before bringing life to some undersea flowers and restocking on pollen. Right now, I float.

Recalling games like Electroplankton and Flower, The UnderGarden is a puzzle platformer in which players explore the sea and pollinate flowers and plants. There are doors to open, levers to pull and pathways to navigate. Some pollinated plants produce different kinds of fruit with various properties. For example, one type of fruit explodes, while another type glows. Players can pick up seeds by pressing "X" and drop by pressing "X" again. There are also obstacles like blocks to move or smoky areas that players must navigate. A meter at the bottom helps players keep track of their process as they move through each stage, populating it with underwater flora.

Ideal Player

Those who enjoy watching fish swim about or pay annual aquarium membership dues.

Why You Should Care

The game's developer is touting that The UnderGarden is a "relaxing" and "non-violent" game. The UnderGarden doesn't set out to frustrate players, but help them unwind. Do you need to unwind?

It's not violent? What's at stake? What's the point? OK, that isn't to say The UnderGarden doesn't feature obstacles that can hurt players. But instead of simply killing the players, the enemies cause them to lose pollen. And without pollen, players cannot pollinate the underwater garden. So the game definitely has an air of danger — it also has its priorities in a different place from typical platformers that emphasise death.

But there are explosions? Correct. One plant blooms a red spiky fruit bomb that can be chucked at walls or rocks, causing them to crumble. There is another type of fruit that is used to conduct an electric current. So it's not all nansy-pansy hang loose time, just mostly.

Who needs lights when you've got glowing plants?

Are the puzzles hard? Not really. But that's OK. Generally, they could all be figured out pretty quickly. The point here is to unwind and not get your heartrate up, so the easy puzzles work well with the game's breezy vibe. One thing that made a couple of the puzzles harder than they should be was the controls.

The controls? One part in particular has players flip two switches as a stone structure rotates. Since your character is floating, the switch flipping bit was harder than it should be. It was actually frustrating. The rest of the game works well enough control-wise.

The UnderGarden In Action

After filling the pollen gauge, players can turn the under water landscape into a colourful garden.

Each of the levels are laid out in a hub. As players unlock costumes, they can dress up as they see fit!

There is a portal to a second hub where there are more levels.

The UnderGarden has a variety of fruit, including ones that conduct electricity. This video shows off some of the game's more advanced puzzle elements.

And some more puzzles.

Lantern fruit are particularly useful in seeing where one is going. But if they are dropped, their light goes out.

This is a heavy kind of fruit.

And this fruit explodes.

The music in the game is very relaxing, and there musicians dotted throughout the game that players can pick up and carry. The underwater plants respond to their music.

While players can't die, they can lose their pollen.

The Bottom Line

The UnderGarden delivers what its promises: The game is certainly relaxing and non-violent. It's also not very difficult. But is it fun? Yes. The combination of music, colours and just floating about makes The UnderGarden one of the most - if not the most - chilled out game of 2010. This is pure digital zen.

The UnderGarden was developed by Vitamin G Studios and published by Atari for Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, released on November 10. Currently priced at 800 Microsoft Points or $US9.99. A copy of the game was given to Kotaku for reviewing purposes. Completed all stages.


    hmmm. Looks mellow... not sure about the price, may wait for it to be on special eventually. Maybe good to chill out after Super Meat Boy extremes...

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