Review: Evergarden06 Sep 2018 2
Released 16 Aug 2018
A gardener’s life is a busy one. There is always weeding, pruning, and dead-heading to be done; not to mention the constant battle against slugs, snails and battalions of other pesky creepy-crawlies. Evergarden is a puzzle game that lets you create glorious floral displays without ever getting soil under your nails or suffering from an aching back.
The aim of Evergarden is to bring life back to the forest by filling the world with impressive displays of flowers. The play area consists of a hexagonal grid and the basic premise is to match like-for-like flowers. Matching two flowers will produce one of a higher level. You will begin the game with seedlings, which only have a single petal, but drag two adjacent seedlings together and you will create a new plant with two petals. You carry on like this, eventually creating huge six-petal blooms. Flowers of any size can also drop a new seed into an adjoining space. Ending your current turn will give these seeds the opportunity to germinate into seedlings.
This all sounds pretty straightforward, if you have ever played Triple Town then you will be on familiar ground. However, dig a little deeper and things begin to get more interesting. A horticulturally-savvy fox-like creature named Fen oversees your progress and will request various patterns of flowers. Meeting his aesthetic requirements is definitely worth the effort, as the reward is a flower that you can add to your inventory and then place on any space of your choice. Evergarden has a further trick up its sleeve, in that combining two of the highest-level flowers will create a stone monolith, which will earn you three extra turns. This is a big deal as you initially only have ten turns to amass a high score. Monoliths are extremely useful as they can also be used as wildcards to help complete Fen’s requests, and at the end of the game, each monolith will produce a gemstone.
Between games, you can explore the world of Evergarden, in what is billed as a narrative adventure. This seems to be stretching things a little as it basically amounts to justcollecting additional hidden gems andsolving tangram-style puzzles. It never feels like you are part of an overarching story, but the rewards on offer make up for this minor disappointment. Completing these puzzles will reward you with either sage words of wisdom, which often provide clues to the location of new gems or gramophone records. There are a total of eight records to collect, and they are not only pleasing on the ear but also allow you to add a new special ability to your inventory. The abilities on offer include summoning a falcon to rid you of a garden pest, or you can summon a rainstorm, which improves the levels of all nearby plants. Your inventory is limited to only three items, so with bonus flowers and new records to accommodate, it quickly fills up and requires some careful management.
Initially, your choices seem fairly obvious, but after a while, you realise that the game requires more thought than first impressions suggest. Managing your dwindling space is the key concern, especially when you start creating monoliths and creatures begin to invade your garden, taking up even more of your precious space. Some of these pests (I’m looking at you Mr Rabbit) even enjoy munching your flowers. The increasingly complex demands of Fen and tight turn limits will soon have you scratching your head. Fen’s requests often require quite high levels of spatial awareness and it can be very demanding to cultivate the correct level flowers in the appropriate places. Although the atmosphere always remains chilled-out and relaxing, the game’s challenge is not to be underestimated.
This atmosphere is enhanced by some very pleasing aesthetics. Evergarden’s simple geometric graphics are both very pleasing and very practical. The autumnal colours set the laidback scene and the calming audio feedback and short bonus tunes add to the relaxed feel. The simple controls also work well; dragging the flowers together is intuitive and responsive. All of these factors conspire to make a game that remains stress-free and hardly ever becomes frustrating. Evergarden takes a minimalistic approach to presentation; an air of mystery is maintained by encouraging the player to discover how the game works through actually playing rather than explaining. Some may find this approach a little off-putting. When you start playing you are not really sure what you need to do, but the game is simple enough and everything slowly reveals like a flowering bud.
One major concern is that each attempt has to be completed in a single sitting. A playthrough can take around twenty minutes, which means that the lack of a save game option could be a problem for gamers on the go. I also found the game tended to chomp through my battery quicker than slugs through a lettuce patch. The main puzzle game itself is interesting but doesn’t really change from game to game. The initial incentive to keep playing is to unlock the special powers. However, it is a bit disappointing that some of the bonus abilities are obviously more powerful than others. Having to battle away to acquire large amounts of gems to earn an ability that you will probably never use can feel anticlimactic.
Evergarden’s developers estimate that the game will take between four to eight hours to fully explore. After this, it is all about breaking into the global high score tables. Consequently, it is more of a Tetris high score chaser rather than the type of puzzler where you have to pit your wits against increasingly difficult levels. Unlocking all of the game’s secrets does not require particularly high levels of skill, just the persistence to keep playing and adding to your gem collection. The game’s so-called narrative aspect is disappointing, being just a means for acquiring the additional abilities. I didn’t feel that it was really telling a story. Having said that, I still think that many people are going to enjoy this polished and relaxing puzzler. You don’t need green fingers to create a wonderful floral display, but you will need to apply a fair bit of thought and planning.