This holiday season is packed full of quality games. Most of these games runneth over with violence. Where is all the love? Vitamin G Studios is offering a break in the mayhem with a beautiful 2D puzzle platformer called The UnderGarden. In this game your weapons are pollen, your tools are fruit, and the main enemy is an uncontrollable camera.
You are introduced to the UnderGarden by descending into a brightly colored hub level. Your avatar is some form of imp or baby demon. Choose whichever relaxes you more, and go with it. The first thing you will notice is the freedom of movement. The left stick will guide you anywhere. Your imp will rise effortlessly and fall so slowly it will seem like you are hovering. There are only two other functions on the controller. You can pick up items by holding one button, and you can charge movement for a dash by holding, then releasing, another. That's it.
This game embodies 'casual'. There are no real enemies. There is no narrative. The first available level is simply titled: "Welcome to the UnderGarden." This level will introduce you to the mechanics of the game. You step on a pollen sack to fill your pollen meter. Use the pollen to grow flowers. Move around the level to grow more flowers. There are pollen sacks everywhere, so you have no worries of running out.
You'll know if the UnderGarden is for you in the first five minutes, maybe even the first minute alone. Upon entering the the opening level from the hub you will hit a pollen sack, causing the flowers around you to bloom in a beautiful display of color and sound. This is when you will instantly think the game is awesome, or simply, 'meh'. You float through the level, blooming flowers to the soft sounds of new age music.
Here, the blue imp is carrying a tiny musician with an adorable little bass.
Occasionally you will run across musicians. These little creatures can be picked up and carried, their particular instrument adding to the soundtrack. You can hold more than one at a time, adding even more instruments to the music. When you are carrying a musician the plants react, growing larger when you draw near. There doesn't seem to be any purpose for these little guys, other than to add light and sound to a game that is simply based on experiencing light and sound. You apparently are scored on whether you pick them up or not. It's all just so much fluff. Which in this case isn't a bad thing.
Eventually some puzzle elements come up. Through early levels these puzzles amount to either triggering switches or moving a gear. As you pollinate flowers you will also grow trees that bear fruit. This fruit takes the form of heavy, floaty, or explode-y. There are some other types later on as the puzzles become more complicated. Herein lies my major grievance. It is only in the later levels that the UnderGarden really comes into its own as a puzzler. Nothing is mind-bending, but at least the puzzles become more advanced than 'put heavy fruit on pressure switch on floor, let floaty fruit lift switch on ceiling.' The game would have greatly benefited from becoming more complex early on. Even for the casual gamer, the game is far too easy for too many of the beginning levels.
At the end of each of the fifteen levels you are scored on the percentage of total flowers pollinated, the number of musicians carried, the number of special flowers bloomed, and whether or not you found a secret gem in the level. Online Leaderboards are available for each level and overall score. It can take anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour to clear an area, depending on how fast you want to rush through. If you are trying to blast through a level, you are missing the point. Also, with each completion you unlock new colors, horns, or accessories for your imp. I went with a blue body, red horns, and a top hat.