Let’s face it, a game called ‘Garden Simulator’ was never going to feature a complex plot or premise. That’s unless we’re talking about the kind of plots where plants grow. The text-based introduction explains that our silent protagonist is a stressed-out IT worker based in a bustling city. When the pressure becomes too much, they jack in their job and relocate to a small white picket house in the countryside. Upon their arrival, they find that maintenance hasn’t been kept up. Rubbish, weeds, and more must be disposed of to create an idyllic garden.
Quests can be acquired from a post box – usually of the grow X amount of plant Y variety – while a laptop is used to purchase new items, the vast majority of which are initially locked. To expand the catalogue – which includes flowers, vegetables, ornaments, decking, hedges, and tools – you’ll need to meet certain criteria, as well as earn ‘Garden Coins’ by harvesting fresh produce. Experience points, meanwhile, are gained by completing mundane work such as watering, lawn mowing, and throwing weeds into the trash.
The controls are intuitive, while the HUD is pleasingly chunky and consequently easy to navigate – a far cry from some recent console simulators.
It’s evident that the developers understood two things here. Firstly, gardening isn’t exactly the most thrilling of pursuits, hence why most actions are swift and effortless. With the exception of mowing and watering, most other actions only require a button press to complete. Secondly, that video games are indeed a silly medium – resulting in something that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are half a dozen gnomes of varying sizes and poses to unlock, a ginger moggy patrols the yard, and items are delivered in large crates seemingly launching into your garden via catapult.
Carrying on the silliness, some achievements have some daft criteria. One entails hitting a bird mid-flight with a projectile, while another requires you to throw an item into the trash from a distance.
Of course, the whole thing is backed by tranquil music and bird song, while the woodland backdrop provides a quaint view with swaying trees and flowing rivers.
Initially, only a small section of the front garden is available. The ultimate goal – albeit an unwritten one – is to accumulate enough ‘Garden Coins’ to unlock the remaining areas surrounding your newly acquired abode, which will take considerable time and effort. You’ll need to knuckle down on completing quests and invest in almost industrial-level farming by clearing plots of land for crop rotations. Indeed, it often feels more akin to a typical farming sim.
While this may sound admirable – and to be fair, it is for the most part – Garden Simulator has been sold on the promise of creating a personalised garden. This is where the experience falls short. Not only is the catalogue of items relatively small when compared to something like House Flipper, but the land cannot be sculptured (raised or lowered) and there are no water features other than a fountain. If you were expecting to carve out ponds and fill them with koi, you may be a little disappointed.
There are some helpful touches to assist in decoration though, including a choice of paint colours for certain objects. Items can also be placed freely or on an invisible grid so that they sit squarely. Now also seem a good time to mention that the physics engine is curiously entertaining, especially when naughtily launching junk into the wilderness. Stacking items can lead to your garden looking like an earthquake has hit it, however, with objects prone to haphazardly juddering.
Garden Simulator is only a partial success, then. It provides a continuous list of quests to focus on, a catalogue of items and tools to unlock, and a handful of new areas to purchase and rework – all while being extremely relaxing. But it also falls a bit short when it comes to putting your own stamp on things, and I’m sure more than one backdrop would have been appreciated.
A lack of online play also means that you’re going to have to ‘gnome alone’ instead of sharing the workload like in the recent surprise hit PowerWash Simulator. Chalk this one up as a sturdy foundation for something greater.
SunDust’s Garden Simulator is out now on consoles. Developed by PRODUKTIVKELLER.