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Official Review: The Undergarden

  • On February 15, 2011

Another week, another game to review! This time I’m very happy to have had a chance to review The Undergarden, a PSN game that developer Vitamin G and publisher ATARI (yep, THAT ATARI) are proud to present to us PS3 owners:

The UnderGarden is a brand new, highly immersive casual game designed to inspire, provoke, and hypnotize.

Gameplay is simple, yet profoundly compelling. Your goal is to master your character’s unique abilities to explore the furthest-flung crannies of this vividly hypnotic realm. Only by stepping beyond what is known will you succeed in navigating vast subterranean networks to find your long-lost band mates and lead them safely to the surface. Challenging puzzles and exotic, fantastical life forms guide you through the quest of a lifetime.

Before you dive into this review, you might want to check the Q & A we had with Vitaming G so you can get a bit of a background on the game.

All done? Ok, here we go!

This is a physics based puzzle-adventure-experience type of game that is a welcome addition to the PSN rooster of “no blood, no violence” downloads avalable for your entertainment.There is no story per-se for The Undergarden (fanfic writers out there, start your engines!) and I actually enjoyed it like that since it allows you to focus on the time you spend in this new universe without overthinking the motives, reasons or consequences of your performance. You can’t ever die either and that’s a welcome element when pretty much every game around us deals with one variant or another of the Grim Reaper Theme.

Controls for the game are very simple since the left analog stick moves your character, X is used for a quick boost (hold for a longer energy rush) and Square is your best friend. Why? Well, the Square button creates a bubble around you and anything that comes in range of said bubble is linked to you by blue strings that allow you to carry items and other characters around. Letting go of the button makes the bubble disappear and tapping it again will let go of all your possessions. The first couple of levels are actually easier if you just hold down the Square button at all times and just release and tap for solving a puzzle here and there since that way you’ll quickly pickup any seeds or musicians without having to first let go ot your current carry on luggage.

What are Fruits and Musicians? Well, we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves now aren’t we? First let me tell you what the main gameplay dynamic of The Undergarden is: you collect pollen from small green sacs lying around every level by boosting into them and this pollen fills out a gauge at the bottom center of the screen which allows you to know how much of the blue wonder dust you’re carrying. You use this pollen to bring to life all the flora that will eventually populate every corner of the world in magnificent, glowing colors of life, hope and a better tomorrow…

NOW let’s talk about Fruits. Using pollen to bloom the flora in the cavern will sometimes have the added effect of blooming special plants that will provide you with an assortment of seeds that are fundamental for your progress in the game. What you’ll read is what you get:

  • Heavy Fruit (Great for lowering switches/platforms)
  • Explosive Fruit (Once released… it goes BOOOOOM!)
  • Lantern Fruit (Helps you get rid of dark clouds in your way. Available in the later levels).
  • Light Fruit (The opposite of Heavy Fruit. So calorie-free it floats).
  • Rocket Fruit (So you’ve got this rocket and it moves where it pleases.. but if you let go it will behave as Explosive as possible).
  • Ok, on to musicians. The music in the game is dynamic and is used to complement the environment you’re helping to create thus taking on more of a minimalistic approach. In each level there are other creatures called musicians because, well, they play an instrument? Once a musicians shows up on screen a new layer will be added to the music making things more lively or soothing according to the type of musician you’ve found. You can even carry them around and doing so will allow the music to always be present and to change even more once you pick up your second, third or fourth musician. I’ve had as many as seven with me at a time and it really makes everything better and carrying musicians around effectively adds your own custom soundtrack depending on the type and amount of musicians available. Should you decide to bring in the whole band or just allow a solo artist in your entourage? Another nice bonus for having a musician with you is that they’ll allow you to re-bloom the flowers and plants, changing their colors and making everything whole again with a new lease on life… mmm, there must be a metaphor in there somewhere.

    Costumes, hats and horns of different colors, shapes and sizes unlock depending on how much you did per level and taking these items (which is done by running through them with your character) changes around some of the sound and visual effect while you play. What CAN you do in each level? Well, you can try and go for blooming 100% of all flora, obtaining a sub set of special flowers, finding the hidden crystal or even finding and carrying at least once each and every musician per level. You can tell if you’ve got 100% blooming if the small bar on the lower right of the screen has been filled but the musicians, crystals and special flowers you’ll have to keep count of. The end of the level screen will show you your blooming percentage, the number of special flowers found and two small icons that, if glowing, means you’ve obtained the crystal and carried every single musician.

    There is an online component that adds an extra incentive for doing everything on each level: a leaderboard. You get points once you complete each level (how those points are calculated, I do not know) and you can compare that either with your friends or with other Undergarden players on a per level board or for your whole score. It would have been interesting for there to be online co-op included with the game as well (there is only local co-op as is) but I guess that’s something to consider should this new IP turn into, at least, a two game series.

    As I’ve said earlier you really can’t die in this game and there isn’t much in the way of proper “enemies” per se in The Undergarden but you do have to stay away from two things: white orbs and blob ghosts (my names, don’t really know what they’re actually called). Touching either one will make you drop anything you’re carrying but coming into contact with an orb will also immediately deplete your pollen supply which can make you go back a bit for more pollen since the orbs are usually spread near plants that you should definitely bloom.

    There’s a total of 15 levels in the main game plus an extra two that, so far, are exclusive to the PSN version of the game and it is in these epilogue levels that the new ideas from the development team really show, ideas that could (and SHOULD) be considered for The Undergarden sequel (there IS a sequel in the works, right Vitamin G?). The further you progress in the game the more you run into new elements in your adventure as well as obstacles you must overcome that help keep the experience fresh until the very end.

    [review pros=”Great Music
    Colorful Graphics
    Good Length” cons=”Leaderboard takes some time to update once you achieve a better score
    No online co-op” score=93]

    Published by ATARI
    Developed by Vitamin G

    Cost – $9.99

    Available on PSN


    – Game was completed and all trophies were obtained.

    – Total amount of time played: 8 hours.

    – This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of The Undergarden provided by ATARI.