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Garden City Review

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Garden City is not a game themed around Welwyn or Letchworth (I know, I know, I was disappointed too). It also isn’t a game where you do much in the way of gardening. You might prune a topiary, but that’s about it. Instead, it’s a resource management sim where the resources feel like they have been conjured up by someone who has read about gardening, but never done it themselves. What’s the main resources for all the garden-based shenanigans? Gardening gloves. You need to build gardening glove factories if you want to get anything done. Gardening glove factories. 

Garden City is not exactly a simulation that’s based on reality. Instead, it’s the latest in a long, long line of resource management and city-building games from 8floor Games. You may have seen umpteen Gnomes Garden and Lost Artifacts games on the Xbox (we count fourteen), and this is a sequel in all but name. If you’ve played any of those fourteen games, you’ve played something incredibly close to Garden City.

garden city review 1
There are tons of levels in Garden City

The pitch is something like this: your second uncle, twice removed, has left you a mansion in their will. Rather than be chuffed about this, you grumble about having to manage the huge grounds. But there’s word of a treasure chest on the premises, so you reluctantly fix up the manor to be a park, all while keeping an eye out for gold (reading it back now, the main character is a bit of a dick).

It’s a flimsy excuse for some cursor-based management. Each level plays in much the same way. You start at one end of a maze-like series of paths. Each path is blocked by obstacles like potholes and broken bridges, and you have to expend resources to clear them up. Most of the time it’s by spending those gardening gloves (it tickles me to think that the broken bridge is fixed by replacing bricks with tightly packed gloves), but it could also be water, fertiliser or paint resources. 

You’ll need to generate those resources, which is where the second layer of Garden City kicks in. You’re not only spending resources to clear paths, you’re using them to rebuild amenities. Glove factories, water towers, greenhouses and paint factories can be made great again, and they will pump out endless items for you to tap with your cursor and drag back to your main storage area. Knowing when to rebuild and when to clear paths is a large proportion of the puzzle in Garden City. 

As puzzles go, it works pretty well. There’s a tension between the exploring and the doubling-down on resources. Explore too much or too far and you might run out of the resources needed to clear a path. It’s even possible to get stuck in this way, needing to restart completely. If we had a penny for every time we forgot to build a path to a paint factory, the producer of the second most important resource in the game, then we’d have at least three English pence. Double-down on resources, by building and upgrading the constructions that generate them, and you could find yourself fighting against the clock. There’s a star-rating for how fast you complete the objectives in a level, and it’s entirely possible to dawdle when you need to be sprinting. 

garden city review 2
It’s all about the gloves in Garden City

If we’re being honest with ourselves, they are also puzzles that have a similar solution every time. Over-exploring is folly, and starting the game with a solid base of upgraded buildings is almost always the right play. After over fifty levels (by golly, there are over fifty of the things), that playbook doesn’t change much – sometimes you might need a surplus of one resource, or maybe a resource isn’t even in the level, so you have to trade for it – but they are all riffs on the same song. 

It’s been the problem with all the Gnome Garden and Lost Artifacts games, so it’s no surprise to find it a problem here too. There’s just not enough variety. There’s not enough variety within the fifty levels of this game, let alone across fourteen other games. Some might feel comfort in the repeated actions, but we found it numbing, as all conscious thought evacuated our mind and we endlessly tapped on gloves, paint, gloves, water, gloves, paint. 

What Garden City has going for it, above and beyond the Gnomes Garden and Lost Artifacts series, is a very slight – and it is incredibly slight – taste for innovation. The resources are different from those other games, and the graphics feel bolder and riper than their counterparts, which is nice, but the real differences come from the levels. There are secret levels on the map, slightly more challenging than the others, and there is a rug-pull moment when a new ‘polar’ set of levels kicks in. They’re tiny touches, but it’s heartening to see 8floor Games deviating from their formula, even to the tiny degree seen here. 

Talking about deviating from a formula, the save-bug that’s been plaguing their games seems to have been fixed. We reached the end of the campaign – miracle of miracles – without once having to replay a level because the game hadn’t saved properly. Perhaps it’s because we’ve gotten good at anticipating it (we always manually quit the game on the home dash, so that Quick Resume doesn’t corrupt things as usual). Regardless, the issue has reduced, or potentially been pumped with weedkiller and is no more. 

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Garden City is deffo about those damn gloves

The result is our favourite 8floor Games experience so far. We should be clear what that means: it certainly doesn’t mean that this is a revolution of the template set down by Gnomes Garden and Lost Artifacts. Instead, it’s a visual polish, a minor deviation to the resources and buildings, and some cheeky additions to the game map. But when you’re starved of something – anything – that’s different between the games, it feels like lost treasure. 

It makes Garden City the suggested starting point for anyone looking to see what this little sub-genre of games is doing. It’s a strategy game for people who’d rather they didn’t have to do much strategising, and a resource management game where the ‘management’ comes in inverted commas. If that sounds like your thing, kick back, don your gardening gloves, and partake in some armchair gardening with Garden City. You might want to stop well before you get to level 50, though.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Nice art, buffed to a sheen
  • Pressure-free strategy gaming
  • Gentle puzzling
Cons:
  • Incredibly repetitive
  • Incredibly repetitive
  • Doesn’t challenge in any way
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review), PS4, PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 7 June 2023 | £4.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Nice art, buffed to a sheen</li> <li>Pressure-free strategy gaming</li> <li>Gentle puzzling</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Incredibly repetitive</li> <li>Incredibly repetitive</li> <li>Doesn’t challenge in any way</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review), PS4, PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 7 June 2023 | £4.19</li> </ul>Garden City Review
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