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Review | The Undergarden

Grow! Grow!

Format: PC/Xbox 360/PS3 (soon) | Genre: Cute ‘em up | Publisher: Atari | Developer: Artech Studios | Release date: 10/11/2010 | Price: £6.99/800 MS Points

Leena van Deventer gets out her green thumb in THE UNDERGARDEN.

THE UNDERGARDEN is a whimsical place, not quite underwater but not quite of the air either. It’s a unique ethereal place where these two familiar environments are blended into one. The occasional bubble noise and the blue serene nature of some of the backgrounds made me think the caves my little sprite was seemingly swimming around in and exploring were all underwater – before I came across currents that acted andsounded like wind. This left me with the impression that The Undergarden was not a place you could easily describe – a truly peculiar ecosystem. Either that or the sound work was sloppy.

You play as a small creature with horns and spotted skin, floating around his little garden paradise with a life-time aspiration of fertilising all the flowers he can find and making his surroundings flourish and bloom with colour. With no backstory and no real aim other than to cruise around making things pretty, it soon becomes very obvious why the game’s developers have coined The Undergarden a “zen game”. Via warp tunnels, you tour different levels, bouncing on pollen pads to excrete the life-giving glow-balls, collecting them and spreading them around the world, watching the plants do their thing. Spindly tendrils, trees bearing fruit and seeds, and coral-esque bioluminecent vegetation are all brought to life by your presence as you float past the buds, armed with pollen power. On the PC version you use your mouse to move, clicking and dragging to give yourself a power boost,  it doesn’t ask much of you – you can drink a cup of coffee and pat the dog while still happily clicking away. Intense is not a word that belongs anywhere near The Undergarden.

You can delve as deeply into The Undergarden as you wish, simply getting from A to B, or trying to 100% each level by collecting the ‘special flowers’ and the crystals. Your sprite can grab seeds and fruit grown on trees to achieve different outcomes. Pick up yellow heavy seeds and place them on a switch to lower it and pass through. Grab the blue floaty seeds to press a lever on the roof of the cave. You are also equipped with explodey bomb seeds to blast your way through rocky roadblocks.

There are not many threats in this world – you cannot die – although you may encounter green glow-balls that rob you of your precious pollen, or  gelatinous-amoeba-type-blobs that will grab and disorient you if you invade their personal space. The main obstacles getting in the way of your exploration, however, are rocks, black smog (which you need special light seeds to get through) and simple puzzles that usually require the heavy or floaty seeds to solve. You never feel menaced or at risk by anything in particular, if anything you feel invincible and chilled at your core. This feeling is helped by the adorable soundtrack. You can choose the music you wish to listen to by picking up little Musicians that are out and about and taking them on a journey with you. Once you get sick of the music, pick up a different one. The music was a highlight for me, especially the very delicate tribal drums. It added to the overall unwinding process.

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