There’s not much I’d rather do than spend a day relaxing in the garden. Whether it’s watering the plants, having a barbecue or just lounging with a Sangria, there’s no better place to be in the summer. Plenty of games capture aspects of this sacred place, cosy experiences like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley that let you live life at your own pace. When I saw the trailer for Garden Story during Nintendo’s indie showcase I was drawn to how it looked to combine laid back farming and top down monster slaying, and here we are.
Our hero Concord is a young grape destined for greatness. In a world getting overrun by The Rot, our fruity friend is appointed as Guardian of the Grove and sets out trying to unite the land against a common foe. The four season-based villages are struggling as the garden succumbs to darkness, so you’d better get out there and help rebuild and fight back.
A day in the life of a grape guardian features a bunch of activities. The berry residents all have tasks they need your help with, ranging from rot removal to fixing fence posts. Naturally some of these activities are more dangerous than others, but with three to do a day you’ll probably get in a sticky situation or two before bedtime. Completing requests will help raise various levels of the village, which means new upgrades to buy for the heroic fruit.
Garden Story: A chilled-out adventure
Combat, like everything in Garden Story, is fairly slow paced. Using whatever tool you have to hand you’ll need to bash the Rot into submission, taking care not to empty your stamina bar in the process. Your basic pick is easy enough to swing at the purple baddies, but as you progress you’ll get a hammer, a sickle and even a fishing rod that works as a ranged weapon. All of these tools will help you gather materials and fix things too, of course, but they are also satisfying items of destruction.
Alongside the daily quests Concord is given, there’s also always a main story objective to complete. This will eventually lead you to a dungeon in each of the season villages to dive in, full of enemies, puzzles and a big ole boss fight. It’s a pretty traditional setup, with a variety of box puzzles and other staples to overcome. The boss fights are probably my favourite part of the game, testing your skills with projectiles to dodge and unique gimmicks to utilise.
You won’t save the day and the garden if you don’t upgrade Concord, and fortunately there are plenty of ways to do just that. Weapons and your bottles of healing Dew can be upgraded if you’ve got enough coin and materials. You also come across memories as you venture about the garden, and every night in bed you can choose which of these to equip for some fairly hefty passive buffs (and a couple of negative effects to balance them out). If looking good is more important to you, there are some equally vital stylish hats to buy.
Improving yourself is a big deal, but making the garden a better place is also important. It doesn’t take long for Concord to learn how to craft items for the village. Using his trusty toolbox, you can place decorative items, useful fixtures, and even repair kits that will be used to open up new pathways overnight. It’s nice to personalise the village a little, and adding handy things like extra resource boxes will make your quest a little easier.
If you are of a greenfingered persuasion, then you’ll be happy to hear that you’ll be raising your own veggies in Garden Story. After planting seeds and watering them with Dew for a few days, you’ll have your very own delicious crop to sell. It’s a great way to make a few extra bucks and isn’t particularly time consuming, so it’s worth spending a little time every day farming for profit.
It’d be a crime if I didn’t talk about how beautiful Garden Story looks. The colourful pixel art is a feast for the eyes even in screenshots, and the animations are as impressive as they are adorable. Each season village is noticeably different to the last and a pleasure to visit, from the lazy beach vibes of the Summer area, to the more urban Autumn environment. The soundtrack is a laid back delight too, rounding out a joyful package.
I really enjoyed my time with Garden Story, but it’s hard to deny that everything doesn’t just move a bit slowly. Combat is sluggish, and even just moving around feels like you’re running through treacle. As you progress through the game your stamina meter is upgraded which helps a little, but running isn’t ever really quick enough. The framerate is also 30 at its best, with occasional noticeable dips.
Garden Story provides that cosy gaming experience that this world we live in often demands, and does so while looking spectacular. Concord’s quest to help his fruity friends is genuinely heartwarming, it’s just a shame that the gameplay is so slow. If you’re looking for a way to unwind though and don’t mind the pace, then you’ll find a charming outdoor world to relax in.
Relaxing gameplay loop
Gameplay is very slow
Framerate isn't perfect