The UnderGarden Review (XBLA)

Game Review: The UnderGarden
Release: November 10, 2010
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
Developer: Vitamin-G
Available Platforms: XBLA, PSN, PC
Players: 1-2 (Local Only)
MSRP: 800 MSP ($10.00)
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Website: The UnderGarden Official Site

In a year’s end as busy and testosterone-fueled as 2010’s gaming calendar, The UnderGarden is here to perhaps cool us down a bit. With ideas of games like PlayStation Network’s Flower in mind, The UnderGarden takes players into an underground grotto. You’re tasked with pollinating the dead lands and simply getting to the end of each level with as much flowers grown, special items collected, and puzzles solved as possible.

I really wish I knew what the hell was going on plot wise (or anything wise) here, but it isn’t quite forthcoming in that area. You control some sort of horned imp creature that looks like those crazy blue cannibal children from Galaxy Quest and poop stars as you zip around some underwater terrarium. Saying this is weird is like describing the surface of the Sun as being “kind of hot.” But is it fun? Um… let me explain some more before we go there.

Most plant life is simply eye candy, but some grow fruits to help you solve puzzles

So you start off in the game’s hub, there you can enter one of the nine levels, or change your creature’s appearance. These are simply aesthetic, but you’re dead inside if you don’t enjoy seeing the game’s protagonist donning a monocle and top hat that also gives him the ability to excrete small dollar bills instead of stars as he zips around the environment. After you swim into a level portal, you begin the game proper. This mostly consists of bumping into green corals that excrete pollen you must collect to grow plants, and solving hilariously simple physics-based puzzles. Seriously, most are “drop bomb plant near cracked wall” easy. The later levels add more plants for slightly (and that is very, very slightly) harder puzzles, like levitating nuts or glowing orbs to clear away fog. But all-in-all, you can breeze through the entire game in under four hours.

Despite the fact that you’re essentially re-pollinating the same places nine times over, with slightly different paths, the visuals and scenery is what The UnderGarden really has going for it. Rushing by dead flowers in an underwater current and watching the entire level slowly bloom to life never really gets old. The character, despite the question of whether it’s cute or an evil devil child, is well designed and responds exactly to where you want him… or her… or it… to go. The later levels also introduce white amorphous blobs that throw your character away from where they’re guarding. With no combat or no enemies seen anywhere else in the game (besides, maybe, shiny orbs that cause bomb rocks to explode if you aren’t careful in navigating) I welcomed these guys. And again, you don’t need a degree from MIT to figure out how to get past any of them, but anything is better than nothing.

Unless you love walking slow, you'll most likely be spending the entire game zipping around in the water

Unfortunately, there is a thin line between mellowness and boredom. The UnderGarden crosses this line after level one. You aren’t tasked with enough, and the tasks you do have aren’t substantial enough, to warrant any sort of replays of the levels. Each level’s goals, from growing 100% of the flowers to finding each  hidden gems are, quite frankly, just leaderboard checklists. They do nothing for you inside the game (besides unlocking new costumes), and you can totally ignore them and still finish each level, which is the reason for the under four hour breeze through. Yeah 100% completion will make it longer, but with no bait on the end of the stick (besides a few achievements) will you want to do it? Answer for me? A very polite and considerate, “No thanks.” The co-op is also disappointingly uninspired. My friend and I played a couple of levels, and anytime (and every time) he went off screen without me, he got an instant death and respawned next to me. There’s no lives system so there’s no real consequence, but it’s an obvious hindrance to motivate exploration for the second player, and became frustrating and boring for him really quick. It also adds nothing to the overall game, it’s the same levels from single player, just with a friend to mostly get in the way.

Cute or evil? If spiral and spiked horns were never a sign for a hidden agenda, then I don't know what is

Mitchel’s Final Say

I’m all for casual and calm games (we can’t always be murdering aliens, I guess) but it’s only to a certain extent. The UnderGarden gives me no reason to ever revisit it, and despite its beautiful environments and generally enjoyable gameplay mechanics, I just can’t quite recommend it. It fails the two main criterion of what it’s classified as. It doesn’t pass as a casual and mellow game, due to boring and repetitive levels; and it can’t quite be called a good puzzler, due to yawn-worthy environmental “brain teasers.” And for a sort of questionable price tag for such little content ($10) you may want to look elsewhere to forget your Call of Duty blues.

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  • PlayingMantis

    Try Lumi on Xbox Live Indie Games. It’s about the same idea, but in gorgeous 2D, and more of a platformer than a float around anywhere sort of game like undergarden.