Jahanzeb Khan
27 Nov, 2010

The UnderGarden Review

360 Review | Under the sea, darling it's better.
Downloadable games have been coming along nicely in this console generation, as what once were casual games that lacked sorely creative spark have now evolved into something far more meaningful. Limbo, Braid, Castle Crashers and Super Meat Boy are some examples of top quality games available only digitally. It seems that modest production values and the digital medium has given developers more creative freedom, which makes sense because the medium allows them to avoid all the annoyances of production, retail and distribution. The UnderGarden is another example of a quality downloadable title, and is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for a generous $AU13.

The UnderGarden takes place inside mysterious underwater caverns where you play as a strange monkey-like creature (sea monkey? Ah who knows…) and explore this haunting and beautiful world that is inhabited by odd creatures. The game doesn’t provide any back story or information about the world or its creatures, and it’s one of those really vague games that just pushes you into its world. Surprisingly enough, it takes only minutes to immerse into the world of The UnderGarden. The objective of the game is simple as you basically need to find portals in each stage and eventually, the final portal that will allow you to complete the level. That sounds straight forward enough, but along the way you will also encounter puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress. However, the main twist to The UnderGarden is floral growing.

Since the game is taking place underwater, you need to float around the levels. This floating sensation actually feels quite nice and the mechanics work well enough, allowing for a good pace and flow. As for the floral growing, you’ll be collecting sparkling pollen from strange green pods and basically scattering them around to grow floral of various colours, shapes and sizes. Floral growing is important as your score and percentage completion are largely based on how much floral you’ve grown.

Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor.

Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor.
Growing floral isn’t just about pretty colours and getting a high score, as it’s also about growing fruit trees which allow you to solve puzzles and progress. There are several kinds of fruit trees, and they bear interesting types of fruits (and seeds) that need to be picked up and these include glowing berries that light up foggy pathways, spiky conductors that operate electric switches and sinking/floating fruits that allow you to manipulate switch mechanics, among other types.

The UnderGarden is a puzzle game for the most part, but not in the strictest sense. Sure, there’s a lot of problem solving involved, but a lot of the time the game feels like one of those artsy games where players are meant to simply relax and enjoy the ambience and visuals of the game. Much of the game is really straight forward, where puzzles seem to solve themselves. However, there are occasional difficulty spikes where the game suddenly throws a real head scratcher at you, which quickly turns that relaxing feeling into frustration.

The game offers four to six hours of gameplay, with each stage offering a different assortment of puzzles and obstructions. The puzzles come in various forms - some require you to manipulate a mechanic to open a door, others require you to complete a connection to open a path and you’ll have to work your way through foggy pathways, riding streams, blowing up rocks and operating levers and wheels of sorts. The variety is nice and does a good job of keeping you engaged. As stated earlier, there are these odd difficulty spikes which can be frustrating, also the physics and mechanics can feel a bit off sometimes, like certain puzzles where you hope the fruits seeds flow down a path in a way that will activate a switch, the physics in such moments can be a bit of a hit/miss. Also, the mechanic used for grabbing objects can be a bit frustrating to deal with especially when you end up grabbing objects you don’t need. Those flaws aside, The UnderGarden is a fun and engaging puzzle adventure, with plenty of cool and intuitive ideas.

Such wonderful things around you, what more you looking for?

Such wonderful things around you, what more you looking for?
The most remarkable aspect of The UnderGarden is its ambience. The visuals and sound have been used extremely well to create a unique and beautiful atmosphere that will immerse you. The graphics are brilliant with a ton of pretty effects, bright colours and eye candy, it’s a lovely game to look at and the art direction really brings the world to life, the way in which floral grows and blooms is a particularly impressive sight. The music is amazing too, with very light and soothing background music and the musicians that are scattered throughout the game play some really catchy beats on a variety of instruments such as bass, guitar, flute and drums. These musicians not only enhance the music of a level but also assist in floral blooming.

The UnderGarden is a charming and immersive puzzle adventure that scores points for its visual and aural style. Apart from the fact that that the game moves back and forth between a ‘relaxing aural journey’ and ‘a serious head scratcher’ can be a bit off putting at times, and some of the physics and mechanics don’t work as well as you’d want them to. That said, for its generous price, The UnderGarden provides a unique puzzle experience that will surely win you over with its charming visuals and beautiful music.
The Score
Even with some annoying flaws, The UnderGarden provides a unique puzzle experience that will surely win you over with its charming visuals and beautiful music.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
I really enjoy games that just throw you into a World without any back story or anything. Aquaria was like that, as is Limbo, and from what I can tell (haven't played it) Machinarium seems to follow the same structure.

It's really good because it allows the World to expose itself to you, rather than an arbitrary dialogue at the start of the game stating that "you are X and you are undertaking Y to accomplish Z".
3 years ago
Now this looks very interesting, love the concept and visuals of this game. Unfortunately I don't have a 360, so I'll have to find a way to experience this.

Games with striking, well designed levels are personally what I think one of the most important things to focus on. Of course it varies from genre to genre, but having something that isn't a massive flat plane or a long corridor is a big plus is my book.

Also props to quoting Sebastian the Crab for the captions. Love that guy.
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