If, like me, you can’t tell a tulip from a daisy, a rose from a lily and can’t even pronounce rhododendron, Strange Horticulture may be a daunting prospect.
Thankfully, the flowers in the game are all made-up, so any actual flower distinguishing doesn’t require any prior knowledge. At least, I think they’re made up; for all I know these could be real-world flowers. Although, after reading up on some of them, they are probably best given a wide berth.
Strange Horticulture is a puzzle game at heart; one that has you deciphering clues and descriptions from customers in order to give them the correct plant so that they can go about their day. Well, that and the threat of a huge shadowy monster prowling around town. And yeah, everyone knows you are the only person who can defeat it.
After inheriting a shop in the town of Undermere, you notice that its location is prime real estate for continuing to grow flowers there. So, you decide to keep the shop open and help the weird and wonderful residents out with their natural remedy requirements.
Your shop starts off with a relatively small amount of flowers, but will quickly expand. Giving the correct flower will usually reward you with additional pages for your compendium, and it won’t be long before the clues come rolling in to help you find more flowers on the map.
Your first excursion will likely come after the first day in the shop. You will be given a card with a cryptic clue on there to solve. Expect one of these every day, helping you build your collection by choosing the correct grid reference the clues are pointing towards. It won’t be long before other letters and strange devices find their way to you, helping you explore the map.
For me, this was the best part of Strange Horticulture. The clues given to you by customers and your compendium for choosing the correct flower can often be vague, to the point where guesswork is often a major contributor. A puzzle game shouldn’t be that way.
There is a hint system, but this can sometimes spell out the flower you are looking for far too easily. But the map clues strike the perfect balance between not being immediately obvious and giving you a dopamine boost when you solve it. They are surprisingly varied in their designs too, as opposed to just checking the shape of a leaf, time and time again.
Fail to find the correct plant three times in one day and you will need to complete a different kind of puzzle in order to continue. These ‘Rising Dread’ puzzles don’t appear to have any permanent effects and are easily solvable. Should you repeatedly be getting plants wrong though, these Rising Dread puzzles will quickly become tiresome.
Another odd design choice is that searching the map for additional clues and plants is on a timer. I’m sure there are those out there who would click on every grid reference sequentially just to find all the secrets in one go, but if they want to ruin it from themselves, let them. Instead, those that want to play the traditional way are seemingly being punished.
You can speed up this cooldown however by watering your plants.
Making the jump from PC to console is never easy, and Strange Horticulture is no exception to this. You still move a cursor around the screen, only now you are using a thumbstick and not a mouse. And when you have multiple letters, books and trinkets all on the desk at once, you’ll really wish you did have a mouse.
The transition to a larger screen also has unique pitfalls here. The cursive handwriting can look illegible at times when blown up onto a TV screen. As such, I had to turn this off in the menus. I appreciated this accessibility option, but it meant I was instead given a generic font throughout, losing some of the occult vibes in the process.
And at times, customers can come in asking for one of two plants. These decisions can have a bearing on the outcome of the tale in Strange Horticulture. There are multiple endings with a whole lot of plants to identify so if you want the best ending you need to pick up every tiny piece of information you can.
Strange Horticulture gets off to a slow start. Navigating the screen is messy and some of the clues are hardly any help at all. It picks up when you start to discover the many secrets within the various items you find, along with the treasure hunt, opening up all the plants on the map. There’s no doubt that it all looks great, but perhaps it isn’t best suited for consoles with awkward controls and the necessity to change the font style. And whilst the slow start does pick up, Strange Horticulture then overstays its welcome, dragging out the story and interspersing it with needless ideas.
There is a charm to Strange Horticulture, even with the occult themes and downtempo music, but only if you can stick it out long enough.