Reviewed: December 18, 2010
Released: November 10, 2010
One of my favorite games, or perhaps “diversions” of 2009 was a little PS3 game called Flower, a game where you flew around restoring life to landscapes that were being brutalized by technology. While The Undergarden doesn’t aspire to such grand themes or statements against mankind’s affect on the planet, it does share a certain Zen-like quality with relaxing, almost soothing gameplay combined with psychedelic visuals and trance-inducing music.|
The Undergarden has you playing as this adorable little creature, not unlike a sea monkey, who swims around massive and complex underwater caverns collecting pollen from certain plants and using it to restore life to others. The game is part completion-based as you try to restore life to 100% of the level, with a few physics and logic-style puzzles tossed in to keep you from dozing off.
You start the game from a central underwater cavern that serves as a hub to 20 unique levels that will unlock as you complete previous ones. Once unlocked you can return to those stages and perfect your scores. It’s impossible to die although you can get into impossible situations that might have you reloaded to the most recent checkpoint.
Puzzles usually involve you collecting various pods that either serve as weights or as buoys that float upward against pressure plates – anti-weights if you will, while other pods explode. By manipulating the environment you can gain access to new tunnels and chambers and bring life to the plants growing from the walls.
The visuals are stunning, with plants bursting into vibrant colors and swaying with the currents. You can often revisit previously bloomed plants and enhance their colors or their blossoms with new pollen or even custom music. There is always an underlying soundtrack, but you will eventually encounter these teddy bear-like creatures, each playing their own distinguishable musical instrument that seamlessly integrates and complements the main theme.
You can collect and drag these underwater musicians along, effectively giving you some control in composing your own variations to the soundtrack, and by dragging these creatures through the plants, you will get an even greater variety of colors and blossoms.
The Undergarden offers a minor attempt at co-op play but with complicated passages and a camera that always favors player 1, its more frustrating than fun for player 2. Besides, this game is like listening to Dark Side of the Moon with headphones on – you don’t need to share the experience.
I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed The Undergarden. After a year-long killing spree with pretty much everything else I play, this was a refreshing and relaxing way to spend a few hours; almost like videogame meditation. Turn out the lights and turn up the sound and immerse yourself in one of the most colorful and delightfully charming non-games of the year.