Following its appearance at the recent Indie World Showcase from Nintendo, developer Picogram have now released their wholesome adventure Garden Story. As a lover of all things cute and fun, it was already a game that was on my radar. I mean, come on… who wouldn’t want to play as a grape that has to help bring prosperity back to the land?
After playing the game, I’m happy to report that the adventure is just as charming as the premise – even if it can be a little bit too simple in design. If you’re a fan of games like Stardew Valley or Littlewood that require commitment from the player as they help build up their own world, it’s certainly an experience you’ll enjoy. It is worth noting that Garden Story is more action RPG than farming sim though, with the grape protagonist also having to battle all sorts of foes as they look to defeat the Rot threatening the world.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Garden Story sees players take on the role of the lovable grape Concord as they become the ‘Guardian of the Grove’, meaning they’re tasked with vanquishing the invasive Rot that has savaged the land in order to restore it to its former glory. With four towns based upon the seasons to help restore, Concord’s journey takes them across a variety of colourful locales that each need a touch of tender loving care in order to be reinvigorated.
I made a comparison to Stardew Valley earlier in this review, but it’s worth mentioning that Garden Story isn’t a farming sim. Yes, you’ll be gathering resources to contribute to each town (which can involve farming) and you’ll even have a hand in helping re-build certain aspects of them too, but it’s more ‘slice of life’ than a bona fide farming sim. There’s room for customisation though, so you will be able to give each of the four towns that you’re working at your own personal touch, whilst you’ll also spend some time growing crops to vegetation.
“Yes, you’ll be gathering resources to contribute to each town (which can involve farming) and you’ll even have a hand in helping re-build certain aspects of them too, but it’s more ‘slice of life’ than a bona fide farming sim.”
The core of Garden Story’s gameplay revolves around completing tasks for the townsfolk, with quests on offer that see the player having to gather resources, vanquish enemies, or help rebuild different aspects of each town. There are main quests to complete that progress the story and see players move between seasons, but these tasks help improve the different aspects of each town in order to hit that higher point of progress as well as open up new tools for the player to use. It’s a simple system, but it gives the player plenty of different things to do on their journey that helps mark the progress that they’re making. Be warned though: you can expect to have to do a lot of the same tasks over and over again as you move between towns, so some of these can grow a little repetitive with time.
Whilst things like gathering resources or helping fix up different parts of each town are simple enough, the combat mechanics do spice things up a little. Concord’s actions are all tied to a stamina meter, which is used up when performing attacks, avoiding danger, sprinting across each area, and so forth. This means you’ve got to be careful when managing your attacks, otherwise you can leave yourself vulnerable – something which might happen a lot early on, especially since you’ll have low stamina and health (these build up as you progress). It might look a cute game, but combat can be tricky if you aren’t careful.
“Concord’s actions are all tied to a stamina meter, which is used up when performing attacks, avoiding danger, sprinting across each area, and so forth.”
Combat itself fairly straightforward, with Concord using different tools to perform different attacks in an action-based battle system – think of the old-school Zelda titles and you’ll be on the right track. The need to maintain stamina means you can’t just mash attacks though, so you’ve got to keep your distance from enemies and pick the right moment to strike. This can be overwhelming at times given that a lot of enemies can pursue you at once, but it’s something that gets easier the more experienced at the game you get. It makes for a decent combat system, but only decent; Garden Story’s combat doesn’t have a lot of depth and keeps things fairly simple, so battles are never too exciting.
The boss fights are a lot of fun though. They demand a bit more strategy than typical enemies, with the player having to navigate through a myriad of incoming attacks whilst picking the moment to strike their foe’s weak spot. I was a big fan, whilst the reward for beating them was always worthwhile. My only peeve with these encounters was that the game did recycle some of the bosses later on, but there was enough variation with them for the battles not to feel repetitive.
Another personal highlight came with the Zelda-like dungeons that housed these bosses, each with small puzzles to complete and minions to beat up along the way. Again, like almost every other aspect of Garden Story, these were fairly simple in design, but they offered some fun little tasks to complete that complemented the gameplay. I never struggled getting through them or solving their puzzles, but I still enjoyed them.
“Combat itself fairly straightforward, with Concord using different tools to perform different attacks in an action-based battle system – think of the old-school Zelda titles and you’ll be on the right track.”
Concord is also able to learn different memories as you progress through the game which bring with them different stat boosts and skills. Multiple memories can be equipped at a time, with each bringing with them a little something different to help the player out in varying ways. Admittedly, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the system to really fine-tune the way Concord feels to play, but it’s still nice to have a few extra buffs to help you out during Garden Story’s trickier moments. Extra stamina was always a treat for example, though a boost to your health can certainly help when facing off against some of the nastier baddies early on.
There’s one consistency across most aspects of Garden Story’s design: simplicity. Whether it’s completing tasks, battling enemies, clearing dungeons, or improving each town, everything in the game feels simple and doesn’t bring with it a lot of depth. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially since the game is fun in itself, but it does mean that you can see everything that it really has to offer quite quickly. Whilst new towns do introduce new mechanics, they don’t invigorate the gameplay too much, whilst it’s also possible to beat the game without even toying with some of the options at your disposal. The best way to describe Garden Story would be as a ‘jack of all trades but master of none’; it succeeds at giving the player plenty to do, but doesn’t excel in any way. That’s fine, especially since the game is certainly enjoyable, but it might leave some players wanting more during the more repetitive sections.
“Whether it’s completing tasks, battling enemies, clearing dungeons, or improving each town, everything in the game feels simple and doesn’t bring with it a lot of depth.”
However, there’s no doubting that the presentation of the game is wonderful. The art style is adorable, with the simplistic pixel art fitting the vibe of the adventure perfectly. I loved seeing all of the different sights of the world and encountering all of its creatures, with it all proving very heart-warming in design. The soundtrack is perfect for the game too, with the chirpy tunes setting the tone perfectly for Concord’s whimsical journey.
Garden Story is a neat slice of life adventure that doesn’t excel in any aspect of its design, but that still offers plenty of heart-warming fun. I had a good time revitalising the world as Concord and battling away the Rot, whilst completing tasks brought with it a satisfying sense of progress (even if they could get a little repetitive). The presentation is on point too, with the visual and audio design perfectly suiting the game’s whimsical vibe.
The only problem is that Garden Story doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen done before. It brings together plenty of little ingredients to make for an enjoyable adventure, but it’s all presented in a simple way. This is fine and didn’t deter from my enjoyment, but it’s worth keeping your expectations in check if you’re expecting a deep adventure or an exquisite gardening sim.
Publisher: Rose City Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC