Now, before I begin my review I must mention that I will be making one or two comparisons to Flower. I try not to do this when I review games as it is unfair to compare one game to another, especially if the game you are comparing it to is brilliant. However, The Undergarden does share a trait or two with the PS3 game and as such it is difficult not to mention it.
Many people have argued over the ‘Are games art’ debate and Flower certainly did add fuel to that particular fire. Anyone who has played it will know what I mean. It isn’t so much a game as an experience, with you essentially playing the wind as you glide through the various levels collecting petals. You can certainly see the inspiration that Flower had on the developers when making The Undergarden.
The game itself has a simple premise, control your character through the many underwater gardens, pollinating the various plants and flowers as you go. And to be honest, that’s about all there is to it. You control a little blue water creature (the best I can describe it). The underwater garden is dull and lifeless and it is your job to find pollen spores and fill up your pollen meter. You then travel the edges of the gardens, spreading the pollen which in turn brings life to the flowers and turns the once dark corners of the Undergarden to a bright a vibrant place.
Finding the pollen spores is easy enough as there are plenty lying about; however you can’t carry that much pollen at one time so you often find yourself going back and re-stocking. This can prove very boring especially seeing as the creature moves and an incredible slow pace. It takes ages to get anywhere. You do have the ability to charge up his movement by pressing A, but this means he shoots off in one direction, leaving you with no control of his movement. It’s a real shame as this is one of the biggest problems the game has. Flower controlled perfectly and implemented the Sixaxis extremely well; it kept the game flowing and left you feeling in complete control. The Undergarden control’s leave you frustrated and means that you spend most of your time trying to get from one end of the screen to the other.
Pollinating the garden isn’t just as simple as spreading the seed about (oh-er). There are obstacles in your way that have to be overcome in order to proceed. These often involve collecting fruit and dropping them in to weight controlled contraptions or picking up musical monkeys (yes, you heard me) and placing them in areas that will cause the plants and flowers to react in a special way. It does add a little challenge to the game, but this too can become dull quickly. There is also no sense of dread to keep you on your toes. There are no enemies and you cannot die and therefore the element of danger has been removed from the game.
The game is ultimately a walking/floating simulator. The game does support local co-op play (although it doesn’t tell you that). If you want to share the pain with a friend, all you have to do is press start on the second controller in game. You can then play together with two odd creatures on screen instead of one.
On the plus side, the game looks really good. As you pollinate the flowers it really gives you the sense that you are bringing life to the proceedings. The levels become bright and colourful and you can tell your actions are making a difference to the underwater world. The music is also well done. Soothing and subtle, it suits the mood of the game perfectly.
Unfortunately, these things are not enough to lift The Undergarden above mediocrity and you will probably find yourself wondering why you bought it after thirty minutes. The game may appeal to the younger gamer out there, and parents can be safe in the knowledge that there isn’t a drop of blood in the game. But to anyone looking for something as well crafted and beautiful as Flower will be sorely disappointed.
The game is trying so hard to be something more than just a game. Even the developer’s name has ‘Art’ in it. But by making a game with no real direction and with a slow and monotonous pace, all that they have managed to do is send me to sleep.
Review copy provided by publisher.