The Undergarden is a mellow little indie title from developers Vitamin G, currently available through Atari on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam.
You take the role of a cutesy, cheerful imp-like being who drifts leisurely through his environment, sowing pollen and collecting fruit while searching for the scattered members of a tripped-out ambient orchestra. Why he does this is not immediately apparent, but like so much about this game, understanding what’s going on is less of a concern than simply letting the sensory experience wash over you.
It’s both satisfying and relaxing to watch as vast swathes of glowing flora bloom in your character’s wake. Colours melt into one another and great trees burst forth with shimmering blossoms. The dynamic soundtrack compliments the affair, reacting to your movements and the plants you grow, and the musician NPCs you encounter can tag along to swell the musical score.
The controls are incredibly simple, since your character is able to ‘swim’ in all directions as though underwater. There is a cursory tutorial at the very start, but much of the gameplay seems intended to be intuitive. This works both for and against the game, as it’s very easy to pick up and play, but can occasionally be quite frustrating when you realise you’ve been doing something wrong for the past two levels.
Since you can’t actually die in The Undergarden; the puzzles are reasonably forgiving; and you can replace the only resource (pollen) with relative ease, there’s not much pressure while playing. At the end of each level you can see what percentage of plant-life you managed to cultivate, as well as how many of the hidden flowers and gems you collected.
It’s impossible to ‘fail’ a level, meaning that you can generally breeze along enjoying the interactive scenery without worrying you’ll have to go back to the start. Now and then the game’s physics might cause something you’re carrying to get stuck on a rock, leading to an awkward manoeuvre where you try to free yourself without dropping everything. Thankfully, this isn’t too common an occurence.
Collecting fruit, which serves various purposes for overcoming different puzzles, can be a little awkward, especially when you are trying to pick only a couple of items up and end up hoovering up everything nearby. Sometimes items fall into cracks or disappear behind scenery, which can be a nightmare if you need them in order to proceed.
The only other minor niggle is when the camera automatically zooms out to give you a view of the latest gigantic cavern in its entirety. Navigating some puzzles can be tricky at the best of times, but when your character is reduced to a speck you can barely see whether you’re still holding all your items, which is always fun if you get to the end of the room and realise you dropped everything five minutes ago.
Overall The Undergarden is a good-looking, wonderfully-scored, casual game that’s very easy to get into, but quite fiddly at times. You get a score for each level you complete and there are plenty of hidden items, meaning completionists can enjoy it just as much as those who prefer to admire the scenery.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 11/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of The Undergarden for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of three days on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.