The Garden is an Indie Adventure game with elements of action, puzzles, RPG-themes, and a fairly interesting storyline, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world following an alien takeover. Released on Steam on September 6th, 2016, from the creative minds at Pug & Dragon, The Garden offers full controller support (or the standard mouse/keyboard combination) and promises to take players on a vast, exploration-oriented journey in a world that has seen better days.
Alien Takeover, You Say?
John is a young man who grew up on a farm, with a small family there to support him, and plenty of chores to be done. He decides to take a nap in the wrong place at the wrong time, and wakes up months later after the world has gone to hell in a handbasket with no idea where his family is or what has happened. From here, players encounter the world that’s been compromised by an alien race, and humans who lack the necessary blood type are reduced to zombie-like creatures called The Fallen. Setting out on his own, with only a trusty pitchfork and some delicious ears of corn, John quickly realizes he needs to find other survivors and supplies if he’s going to be reunited with his family unit.
There are lots of critters to attack, loot to be found in barrels and crates, and new areas of the map to unlock as John progresses on his journey. It’s a story-focused narrative about John and the trouble that has befallen the planet, but the plot here is pretty much standard fare for a post-apocalypse title. Combat consists of using a melee attack or your trusty shotgun, or other weapons you unlock or upgrade into later down the road, and enemies occasionally drop healing items. You also begin to find seeds, which are used as currency (but that are also limited to a stack of 50), plus random, sporadic specialty items that someone along the way has been looking for. You save your game in a Port-A-Potty, which I found to be clever and amusing, but I would have enjoyed having more frequent save points or a manual save option.
How It Looks and Sounds
The Garden is a game that could be described as Retro-inspired, but rather than being an 8-Bit revival sort of deal we instead find very simplistic unimpressive graphics. The human characters, including our Hero, are a few steps up from rudimentary stick figures, but everything in the landscape is disproportionate and out of scale; even the enemy creatures alternate from looking like animated free clip art to more awkward 2D cartoons. It creates a campy vibe, and it looks like a free browser game created by an amateur or student rather than an established developer.
The poor, mod-podge graphics aren't a deal breaker, but they come with the added challenge of wonky hit boxes for combat; it took me awhile to get the hang of swinging over spiders but low on zombies, lending a learning curve that feels unnecessary and lacking polish. The controls are simple, whether you play with keyboard or a controller, but it doesn't diminish the clunky feel. On top of that, the soundtrack sounds like a track on a loop from the discard pile of Shining Force or some other 90s RPG, and the sound effects really aren't any more satisfying, which is a shame considering The Garden features an original music score; I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy the music – I did, actually – but it feels out of place in a landscape supposedly ravaged by aliens and chaos.
I had a difficult time grading The Garden because it does have themes that I enjoy: Post-apocalyptic survival, exploration, RPG undertones, and the opportunity for plenty of action. I found the story to be a bit mundane and cliché for the genre, but I was still intrigued enough to wonder what would happen next; sadly, none of the characters stood out as individual personalities, and I wasn’t able to get attached to any of them within the overall plot.
There’s certainly a lot of work that could be done to spruce The Garden up further, like a graphics overall and some more compelling sound effects, but it’s not a bad little game to tinker around with when you want something fairly low-key and casual. I only had one incident where the program crashed, but I that indicates there could be a risk for ongoing bugs and glitches, so please consider this a cautionary recommendation heavy on the quantifiers.