(This is my review of the title from HomeStation Magazine
There is a place for games like this: the obscure and beautiful, the gentle worldbuilders where just being there gives comfort. Where the challenges are never overwhelming. The games in which you do not continuously die.
In The Undergarden
die, though you may at times be puzzled, and even frustrated. But frustration rarely lasts for long. You soon see what you have to do. If you cannot do it in this session (having already, for instance, spent all of your weight fruit, or bombed shut the entrance to the tunnel) you will plan ahead next time, and accomplish it.The Undergarden
is published by Atari, and is available on various platforms, including the PS3; it can be purchased from the PSN Store. In reviews, the same words tend to be repeated: “gentle”, “puzzler”, “Zen”, “casual”, “physics”. And, invariably, “beautiful”. If I had to write a micro-review of the game, those are the words I would choose. Or, in keeping with its spirit, write the review in haiku:Gentle Zen puzzler,
Flowers blooming under sea:
And that would tell you all you need to know. But, since we do not review games in haiku, I will explain that The Undergarden
is a physics-based puzzler with 20 levels, a side-scroller in which you steer your avatar (a moon-faced baby similar to Teletubbies, though not as annoying) through a maze of underwater caves. You collect pollen from green sponge-cushions, and spend it by leaving a trail of blooming flowers. Making flowers bloom is the emotional heart of the game. As you progress, you paint the world in light.
Along the way, there are simple mechanical puzzles to solve: stones to push down or up, wheels to turn, obstacles to shatter. Puzzles are solved with the aid of special fruit, each with a specific action. There are heavy fruit and fruit like foamy helium balloons, lantern fruit to push back the darkness, and electric fruit to complete circuits. There are also bomb fruit, which explode a few seconds after you drop them. At first you scramble to get out of the way, but then you remember that you cannot die. Sitting on top of exploding bombs can be useful, and it’s fun. There are some areas that seem to have no purpose other than the joy of chain-reaction explosions. They’re beautifully rendered, and the physics is well-modeled.
Along the way, you find special flowers and crystals, and also the enigmatic musicians, dispersed members of a jazz combo who play on regardless of what happens to them. The musicians are one of my favorite elements of the game. Carrying them adds their music to the soundtrack, and makes the surrounding flowers change color. Carrying all the musicians in a level is one of the subgoals, along with blooming all the flowers, and finding the special flowers and crystals. In addition, I have read that gathering musicians in one place will cause things to happen. I haven’t seen it myself, but it’s still amusing to assemble little bands in the middle of the luminous forest, and listen to them play.
Solving levels unlocks costumes for your avatar — new body colors, horns and various sorts of headgear. Unlocking all the costumes opens new levels. Wearing various items also contributes to trophies. Be sure to check the trophy definitions, since some of the required combinations are obscure.
Among other PS3 games, The Undergarden reminds me most of Flower
and PixelJunk Eden
. It doesn’t have the Zen purity of Flower
; if one were to compare these games to music, Flower
would be Mozart, and The Undergarden
would be Enya. But there is nothing wrong with Enya — I have a fair amount of her music on my iPod. It puts your mind in a certain state, and it bears repeating. So does this game.
One of the hints displayed while loading The Undergarden
states, “Sometimes it’s fun just to float around.” And indeed it is. You soon get into the gentle looping rhythm of the game, and replay old levels, or circle back through completed areas to admire the scenery. There have been times I have set down the controller and just stared at the screen, amazed at the dark beauty of the world.Where is this place?
the hint text asks. Why is this place?
I gather there are answers, or at least hints of answers, in the final levels.
I’m not there yet. But I’m enjoying the journey.