If Pixel Junk Eden, Flow, and Loco Rocco had a beautiful love child it would likely be UnderGarden. Borrowing heavily from the aforementioned three PSN titles Atari sets UnderGarden apart with beautiful environments and vivid colors, but is that enough?
Like many games of this genre, not much is explained story-wise (nor is it needed); you’re essentially a cute sea monkey bent on dominating the world through the diabolical distribution of plants. Flowing through a sea of caves you collect pollen and dispense it automatically to turn the drab world into a veritable cornucopia of floral color and light. Being that you are underwater your character flows gently, but the speed and direction you head are entirely up to the user. A simple two-button control scheme makes the game easy for anyone to pick up; and the first level does a sufficient job of hand-holding in order to get the point across. “A” gives you a boost of speed and “X” picks up various objects in the environment that will help you get past the obstacles of the abyss. Ultimately the controls are sufficient but may prove a tad annoying in some of the tighter spots you need to navigate. The interface is simple and lets you know what you need to without being distracted from gameplay.
Couch co-op is supported but play over XBL is not. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that while co-op can be fun and help to keep you from backtracking in order to bloom extra flowers, it can be terribly frustrating for the second player. The camera system in UnderGarden has preset zoom-in and zoom-out points, and if the second player moves more than 10 feet from player one, they are blown to bits and reassembled magically next to player one (and anything they may have been carrying). It should also be noted that nothing in the game requires coop, and it doesn’t do a whole lot to enhance the gameplay itself.
As you progress through this enchanted environment you will need to use fruits that you have bloomed in order to get past various obstacles. None of these are very challenging but may require some thought. Different fruits have different effects on the environment, some blow up walls while some hold up levers or platforms, or cuts the way through smog, etc. You can also pick up smaller versions of your ‘sea monkey’ pals that beat away at musical instruments and reinvigorate the world around you. Their presence is largely for aesthetics, but you’ll want to pick up each one at least once to snag an achievement. The game develops at a decent pace and adds new fruits and challenges to keep things lively while not outpacing a younger gamer. I did feel as though it wasn’t a perfect pace, but it was acceptable, they could have done a bit more to develop the game and player. Unfortunately the game stops short of really developing itself and adding any challenge of substance; but that isn’t really the goal of the game.
It’s a fairly brisk journey through the sea, 5 hours is the absolute longest anyone should really have to spend on the game. This is probably a good thing, since by the time you hit this mark you are going to find there isn’t a lot of variation to the environment or music, no matter how beautiful they both are a bit repetitive. The game is best played in quick sittings and when you just need to unwind – this is not a game you should play to beat but to enjoy. That said, you will likely find yourself completing this in one night; as you progress you unlock new costumes for your adorable sea cherub that will keep you saying “one more level.” From top hats to horns, I couldn’t help but seeing what I could put on next. There is little replay value other than various collectibles you may have missed, which isn’t unusual for an XBLA title. The game does support leaderboards, but they are largely unpopulated and devoid of the competition found in other similar games.
UnderGarden while with its shortcomings is a charming romp through the sea, and an exceptionally relaxing adventure. There are few games today that let you play them for the experience and simple enjoyment of the task itself. While PSN has had access to large majority of these games XBLA finally has one to call its own and it should not be ashamed of it either. A blending of art and music UnderGarden should be taken as an experience more than a game. Take a break from shooting your friends in the face and cleanse your palate with this tranquil travel.
Review by Brandon Waters