Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

The Undergarden

Review: The Undergarden

2:00 PM on 11.15.2010 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

Describing The UnderGarden is a very tricky prospect, because every description you could give automatically runs the risk of turning potential customers away. It's a slow-paced game, with no narrative to speak of, and your only goal is to make flowers grow in a series of underwater caves. 

Yet The UnderGarden is an absolutely fantastic experience, one that is well worth checking out by all except those blinkered individuals who believes that games must always be about conflict and death. There's very little conflict in The UnderGarden, and no death to speak of. Only life. 

It's all rather wonderful.

The UnderGarden (PC, XBLA [reviewed])
Developer: Vitamin G
Publisher: Atari
Release date: November 10, 2010
MSRP: $10.00, 800 MS Points

The UnderGarden, like all good indie games, isn't too fond of explaining itself. You are a cute little guy who is underwater for some reason, and is charged with the task of bringing color and life back to a series of submerged caves. There are vague nods to some deeper meaning in text during loading screens, but their purpose is to fire the imagination and ask questions, rather than explain anything. 

In order to make the titular UnderGarden bloom with life, you need to hit pollen pouches liberally scattered throughout the levels to fill a pollen meter. When the mysterious aquatic gardener carries pollen, a glowing trail follows behind him, instantly bringing to life the plants that are scattered across the floors, walls and ceilings.

It's gratifying to see entire walls burst into alien shapes and pretty colors as you swim by them, and it becomes strangely addictive to try and find 100% of the plants in each level. 100% completion of each level is the most tangible goal of the game, although it's never strictly enforced. In fact, you could rush through each stage without bothering, but you'd be missing the point. The challenge of the game -- finding everything as you explore -- is self imposed, and you can take on as much work as you feel like doing. 

As well as making plants grow, there are other tasks to be had as well. Each level has one hidden crystal, and any number of secret flowers to bloom. There are also Musicians -- mysterious little creatures that play instruments and make plants change color -- to be discovered as well. Even though a level can be "finished" without finding any of these items, no stage is truly completed without them. 

Of course, the game isn't simply about swimming from A to B and playing with flora. There are a number of puzzles throughout that game that rely on using the environment to your advantage. Various trees throughout the game will spawn fruit when the surrounding plantlife has been grown, and these fruits all have special properties. Some explode when dropped, others weigh down platforms and switches, and all of them will be used in order to continue exploring. 

Puzzles are never very challenging, and exist more to keep you active than to actually try and impede progress. Nevertheless, they are all quite fun, especially as the game develops and more interesting varieties of fruit are found. Picking things up is a simple case of tapping a button to create a glowing sphere around the gardener. Anything in that sphere will then become attached to the player character by a glowing blue tendril and can be dragged around freely. 

This mechanic, and a short charge boost, are the only real controls to worry about in the game. The minimalist approach puts the focus on being relaxed and simply enjoying the game's gorgeous sights and endearing sounds. The music is incredibly beautiful, especially when you gather up some Musicians to accompany it. One of the loading screen messages is, "Sometimes it's just fun to float around" and The UnderGarden lives that statement from beginning to end. 

The game has some damn impressive physics, but those physics can also lead to a few issues. Because many of the puzzles are based on objects floating unpredictably underwater, the game doesn't always do what the developers expected it to. For instance, in one level I exploded a pillar that was propping up a trapdoor, but the pillar's shattered halves ended up stacked on top of each other, still holding the door shut. Using more bombs and a lot of luck, I improvised my way out of it, but other players may not be so fortunate or patient. Issues with the physics are rare, and you'll nearly always find a way to cope, but be warned that the rock you need to fall into a certain place may not always land where it ought to. 

To keep things spicy, The UnderGarden throws in some unlockable rewards that allow you to customize your own gardener. Different skin colors, unique horns, and a variety of hats can be won by completing levels, and playing dress up by simply swimming through each costume is fun in and of itself, not to mention some of the amusing things that happen to your sound and animation when you wear various hats. My only criticism is that I'd have loved even more costumes, since they become a compelling part of the game in their own right.

The UnderGarden's laid back pace won't appeal to everybody, and the environments sometimes take a little too much control away from the player, especially during those levels where you feel you're bouncing off the walls a bit too much, but for the most part, this is one of those games that are simply a joy to be in. Without guidance or strict structure, it's a simple, unpretentious, consistently adorable game that appears designed entirely to produce smiles from gamers. The closest comparison I can draw is the PlayStation Network's Flower, but even then, these are two very different games. 

More "experience" than "videogame", The UnderGarden is a pure delight that proves you don't have to be a super tough "hardcore" title in order to be fun. It's not action packed, it's not punishing, and it's not what you would normally turn your Xbox 360 on for. 

It is, however, something you should turn your Xbox 360 on for. 




THE VERDICT

9

The Undergarden - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Entrancing - It's like magic, guys. Time disappears when this game and I are together, and I never want it to end. I'm not sure if this is a love that will last forever, but if it is, you'll get no complaints from me.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
 Follow Blog + disclosure JimSterling Tips
Destructoid reviews editor, responsible for running and maintaining the cutting edge videogame critique that people ignore because all they want to see are the scores at the end. Also a regular f... more   |   staff directory



 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding *.disqus.com to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
The Undergarden


View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:



Please contact Crave Online, thanks!


Venture into the Borderlands - Epilogue

Pokémon X Review - Fairy Enough

Kitten Bowl x Puppy Bowl Stream Starts NOW!

Cool site never heard of before

Gravity Rush: The 6th generation game you didn't play

The Witness Review

Waifu Wars: Rei Ayanami (NGE)

Gaming's Beautiful People #3: Waifu Wars Edition (Bloggers Wanted)

Understanding How Street Fighter is Played

Cblogs of 2/05/16 + Digital Preservation

 Add your impressions

 Quickposts
Status updates from C-bloggers

Serethyn avatarSerethyn
The Banner Saga is pretty much a work of art. It's so incredibly pretty. I wonder why there aren't more games that use such a striking art style? The only other game with a similar-ish art style that comes to my mind is Cuphead.
BigDoniel avatarBigDoniel
The best Pokémon is, and always has been, Blastoise.
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Gotta eat 'em all..
ikiryou avatarikiryou
Why is there so much love for Pokemon, when only Digimon can you offer you the One True Waifumon?
BigDoniel avatarBigDoniel
Why is steam having yet another sale? At this point they'd be better just reducing the prices of the games year-round, instead of having the same games at the same discounted prices every 2 months.
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
Trubbish is the best Pokemon because he's basically a pile of trash.
KeithTheGeek avatarKeithTheGeek
Woke up to find the qposts filled with favorite pokemon. I'm gonna be that guy and say his favorite is Charizard. Too lazy to go dig up a picture, but I don't have to. Yall already know what he looks like.
Shinta avatarShinta
CONTROVERSY: I'm playing Ninja Gaiden Black right now and the truth of the matter is that Ninja Gaiden 2 is the better game. The combat is just so much better, and the pacing is as well. NGB is still a 10/10 to me though. NGB's combat is just alot slower
Sir Shenanigans avatarSir Shenanigans
Since I was a lad who actually followed Pokemon, Scyther was green and sharp and cut his way to my little heart, where he remains today.
JohnSmith123 avatarJohnSmith123
Hmm. I unlocked something called Balam. I wonder what that i-oh. OHHHHH.
Jinx 01 avatarJinx 01
Always respect your waifu. And never have more than one, polyamory is bad mkay
EdgyDude avatarEdgyDude
Just realized Deadpool releases this week and started praying it doesn't suck.
Solar Pony Django avatarSolar Pony Django
You guys probably already know this but Feraligatr is my favorite Pokemon.
JPF720 avatarJPF720
Proudly stand as (possibly) the only person whose favorite Pokémon is this guy
Scrustle avatarScrustle
Haven't cared about Pokemon in about 10 years, but I used to like this guy.
Oridan avatarOridan
Hello, here is a pokémon that I like.
Jed Whitaker avatarJed Whitaker
And another one. And another one. And another one. You smart.
ooktar avatarooktar
When did the Waifu War turn into a Pokemon debate?
Fuzunga avatarFuzunga
I think about this a lot for some reason.
Parismio avatarParismio
This is a PSA: Never trust anyone who doesn't wet their toothpaste before brushing their teeth! Those people are clearly evil and their waifus are probably shit too!
more quickposts


Contest!


Seriously

Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme


Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo



Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -