Review: The Undergarden
Eric got faeries, I got underwater gardening. Fair enough.
Booting this one up you’re greeted by your happy little character floating around the hub area. Let’s call him a nymph. I enter the first level portal and get treated to the tutorial. Your first instructions: “Bump the Sac to get pollen.” Try not to pay too much attention to the double meaning there and do as the text says. When you run into these, pollen spores fill the air/water (Are we really underwater? I’m not sure). Collect the spores to fill up your small circular meter at the bottom of the screen. Once you have some pollen you can fly around to all the dead looking plants and pollinate them. This is the main mechanic of the game. You control the nymph to try and bloom as much of the plants as possible in each level. Each plant blooms in a very eye-pleasing “bio-luminescent” color which adds to the chill atmosphere of the game. As the title’s name suggests, the levels all take place in underground caves. While the colors of the plants are easy on the eyes, the environment is almost always the same, making the eye-candy effect not last through The Undergarden’s 15 or so levels.
Growing your garden isn’t the only task at hand. Each level contains numerous puzzles which revolve around different types of seeds you grow. There are five types of seeds: heavy, lantern, explosive, floating, and electric. (Most reviewers don’t even mention the electric as they come towards the end of the game). Each come into play in different ways and are usually close by to the puzzles that are in your path. Many consist of weighing down switches or clearing out fog. The more seeds you hold the slower you move, but this can be circumvented by mashing the X button to boost every which way.
Along with the puzzles there are also hidden flowers to bloom and crystals to find. At first they‘re out in the open, but in later levels they are tricky to hunt down. The same goes for the games biggest hit and miss mechanic: the musicians. Throughout each level are numerous creatures that play a single instrument lick. As you get close to each one you’re hear that particular instrument over the faint background. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to get all these musical critters in one room together so you can hear their sweet sweet pan-flute music. It’s really up to you if you want to partake in this challenge. I think theres a single tropher at stake. While it certainly adds to the challenge to lug these guys around with you, it can get downright infuriating at some points.
The way you hold items is off. You hold square to unleash a sphere. Anything in that sphere becomes tethered to you. This gets messy when you’re lugging around 4 of these musicritters and you need to pick up a lantern seed to continue. The only way to pick it up is to cancel out the other tethers and re-add them. Then, of course, as you drop one of your little musicmen, he falls in a pit and gets pushed back to the beginning of the level by a wind blowing. Even if you regain your lost musician, you still need to lug them around through passageways obviously built to only fit your single character. Towards the end of the game a hook mechanic gets introduced where you can attach your tether to pull open doors/move blocks. Once you pull it you have to release your tether, making managing your items that much more difficult. Couple this with some floaty imprecise controls and you begin losing some chill and start getting fired up. Having just explored underground caves with the awesome controls of Pixeljunk Shooter 2, The Undergarden’s lack there of really stuck out to me.
The Undergarden doesn’t force you to do anything. Simply get to the exit of each level and you’re allowed to proceed. As you do you unlock different costumes/horns/colours for your nymph. I gave mine a tophat and nicknamed him “Mr Pennysbag”. After beating a level you get a scorecard showing how much flora you bloomed, and flowers/musicians/crystal found. At my best I could bloom 99% of flora. Without trying, I think I got around 70%. There are leaderboards to try and entice you to keep blooming, but I’m probably done tending this garden. Two player mode has the second player stuck trying to stay on the screen that the first player is on. If the second player goes off screen, they auto teleport back on the screen within a second or two. This was a huge pain as my sister was holding a musician, and then when teleported, didn’t get to bring it with her. We had to go retrieve the little bastard in a sub cave below us. To quote her “I feel useless like Tails, this sucks.”
This game isn’t for everybody. While The Undergarden tries to go for atmosphere, some of its design problems hold it back from being the ultra relaxing time that its billed as. Try the demo.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Chill Atmosphere
What I Dislike:
- Lack of Variety
- Pan Flute Music
- Funky Tethering System
- Floaty Controls