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Garden Simulator Review

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Garden Simulator is less a simulator about gardens than it is a Tiny Farm Simulator. It’s for people who believe that a garden is for growing cucumbers, producing germalias for market, and running their own compost empire. It’s nothing like our garden: there are no land-ownership spats with neighbours, no sudden infestations of ants, and definitely no losing halloumi through the bars of a barbecue. Although, thinking about it, that might have made for an even better game.

Garden Simulator has an idealised view on gardening. A garden needs to produce enough crops that thousands can be made from selling to others. And it needs to have gnomes: lots of gnomes. It’s not how we would run a garden empire, but we went along with it. 

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Garden Simulator Gnome

There’s a surprisingly downbeat story to all this Titchmarshing: you have recently had something of a breakdown, which has led you to buying a ‘doer-upper’. The theory is that, by cultivating a small patch of land, you will get in touch with yourself again and find peace. It’s at this point that Garden Simulator promptly forgets the backstory. 

You start the day in the back garden with your cat. This flipping cat will get in the way of everything you do. We lost count of how many times we watered the thing, or accidentally mowed it. Off it would squeal, offering up an achievement and some enjoyment the first time it happened, before becoming a bloody nuisance after that. 

The two of you survey your land, and it’s mostly overgrown grass, cardboard boxes, a single shed and a dumpster bin (honestly – who has a dumpster in their garden?). But then tasks start popping into your mailbox, and the first moments of recovery take place. You begin to mow the lawn, clear areas with a shovel, and then plant a miscellany of plants, flowers and crops. 

An admission: when I see ‘Simulator’ in the title of a game, I often get an involuntary shiver and imagine labyrinthine menus, controls that were made for PC, and a dry, stodgy experience. But it’s clear from the start that Garden Simulator has pulled the slider away from ‘realistic’ and towards ‘relaxation’. This is not a game that will appeal to nerdy purists: this is accessible and friction free, and nothing at all like other simulators. 

Take the process of planting a strawberry. You wander over to your laptop in the corner of the garden, purchase some strawberry seeds, and then wait for them to arrive. Clearly someone has invested in Amazon Prime, as the seeds arrive roughly thirty seconds later with an always-hilarious grunt from an invisible man. This is our favourite moment in the game, when the physics engine tries to work out how twelve crates can co-exist in the same physical space. The engine gives up and explodes, and then just propels them off in random directions. A barrel fired into the upper stratosphere and broke us into a fit of giggles. 

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Garden Simulator Mowing the Cat

With the strawberries on a hotbar across the bottom of the screen, you head to your nearest cleared area and chuck them into the ground. A helpful phantom-plant appears to show where there’s room. Next, you want to water it, which means hotfooting it to a tap and filling your watering can, before pouring (a little too long) on the fledgling plant. Add some fertiliser if you want (gained from the composting of mown grass or weeds), and then head for the backdoor of your house, where you can skip to the next day. When it’s the next day, your plants may well be grown, as the rules of time and growth are stretchy in the world of Garden Simulator. 

There’s no crop disease. Fertiliser isn’t essential, aside from a couple of edge cases. Insects don’t eat your plants, nor does the cat trample on them. Weeds only take up space, rather than throttling your crops. In fact, the biggest danger to your plants is you: a wayward mow or the accidental purchase of a roomba-style mower will often do for them. That roomba needed a confirmation prompt before using it, damn it. 

That’s all: you harvest your strawberries when they ripen. After that, the plant infinitely produces strawberries, forevermore. Even if you neglect to water it, the plant will shrug and wait. Harvest strawberries, gain XP, gain ‘garden coins’, purchase more seeds. Rinse and repeat. 

Giving some structure to this frivolity is a task system and a catalogue of things to buy. Strangely enough, the tasks are rubbish at providing structure, while the catalogue is far more effective. The tasks soon dry up, resorting to ‘make some garden coins’ tasks and a few procedurally generated objectives like ‘Harvest X plant’. They could really have done with thematic grounding: we were on a wellness adventure after all. 

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Garden Simulator watering can

But the catalogue is where it’s at. This restricts certain items until you have fulfilled criteria. Want a barbecue? Of course you do! But you’re going to need expansions to your garden first. Want to grow melons? Yes please! you will have to grow twenty-odd other plants first. These objectives felt far more attractive to us, and we set ourselves mini-targets of completing them. Although, we’d have loved to pin them to the HUD. 

And so the game goes on until the catalogue is complete or you get bored beforehand, and it will be a race between the two. Because while there is an accessibility and generosity of spirit in Garden Simulator, it can also fall into the trap of becoming a tiresome grind. 

Watering plants is the main culprit. For things to grow, they need to be moist, which means watering them every day. Initially, this will be manual with a watering can which holds about three pipettes of liquid. It’s a laborious task that will push an audible sigh out of your belly. Later, the watering can size increases and you unlock – praise be! – some sprinklers. But the problem still abides, as every new plot has the rigmarole of setting up irrigation or watering manually. It’s the main action you perform in Garden Simulator, but it’s also the grindiest – and not the fun kind of grind either. 

As is often the case with these Simulator games, there are some gonzo weirdnesses in the engine. Often, they’re hilarious and don’t get in the way at all. We had a shed full of fences, simply because we needed them for unlocks, but the shed would vibrate and spasm like we had poltergeists.

But on other occasions, the physics became a pain in the bouquet. Planting in plant pots is a surprising ballache, as you try to find the single pixel that allows it. Once the plant is in the pot, it will often do a barrel roll for reasons that can’t be explained. We’d recommend you stick to planting in the ground if you can. 

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Garden Simulator finished bed

And then it’s all over. Because rather than escalate to bigger and better gardens, making a business for yourself or working through a wellness narrative that offers redemption to our little gardener, it all kind of sputters to a finish within four or five hours. We found ourselves surveying our garden with 100% completion and a lingering sense that we hadn’t reached a resolution. Surely we should have progressed somehow, or gone someplace new? There’s a pervasive sense of ‘unfinished business’ by the end of Garden Simulator. 

To its credit, we felt calmed and peaceful after our time with Garden Simulator. We can’t deny that. Perhaps that’s what it aimed to do: to flutter into our lives and offer a short period of serenity. We planted increasingly large and lucrative crops, and let the sprinklers do their work. 

But although we undeniably did all of those things, perhaps too much substance was chucked in the compost bin. There was a feeling of emptiness behind the bliss, as we wondered where it was all heading, and whether there was any depth beyond the planting and watering. There’s a strong chance that the rustic therapy of Garden Simulator will be enough for you: but in our case, our green fingers were reaching for a little more depth.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Doesn’t strive to be too complicated
  • Creates feelings of calm
  • Physics creates hilarious moments
Cons:
  • Physics creates clumsy moments
  • Watering and mowing borders on the tedious
  • Little depth or longevity
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - SunDust
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC, Switch
  • Release date and price - 10 May 2023 | £22.49
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Doesn’t strive to be too complicated</li> <li>Creates feelings of calm</li> <li>Physics creates hilarious moments</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Physics creates clumsy moments</li> <li>Watering and mowing borders on the tedious</li> <li>Little depth or longevity</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - SunDust</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC, Switch <li>Release date and price - 10 May 2023 | £22.49</li> </ul>Garden Simulator Review
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