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? Okay, 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 emphasize 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.

Review: The UnderGarden Is A Relaxing Dip In The Ocean
Who needs lights when you've got glowing plants?

Are the puzzles hard? Not really. But that's okay. 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

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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, colors 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 US$9.99. A copy of the game was given to Kotaku for reviewing purposes. Completed all stages.