STAFF REVIEW of Garden Simulator (Xbox One)

Friday, May 12, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Garden Simulator Box art While I enjoy my online shooters, competitive racing and 100+ hour RPG’s, every now and then I need a gaming palette cleanser. Sometimes I don’t want to be hyper focused, I just want to relax on the couch and chill while I play something. Life has been chaotic lately, so Garden Simulator came at exactly the right time, allowing me to just chill and play at my own pace.

As the title suggests, you are in control of creating your own garden, from mowing the grass, planting the seeds for vegetables and flowers, to even designing your whole backyard from scratch. While there’s a brief story intro about how you needed a break from the big city life and quit your high paying tech job to go into the back country for something more relaxing. This is a simulator, you aren’t playing it for a narrative, not that there is any here anyways.

I generally enjoy simulator games like these, as they are often relaxing, but there’s something I don’t mind about odd titles like these. While I’m used to having simulator games having a bit of ‘jank’ to them, Garden Simulator is far from perfect, but it was much better than I expected as it was stable and I had no crashes or framerate issues. Oh, and there’s a cat that wanders your lawn, so feel free to give it a pet when you like.

Garden Simulator begins and simply drops you into the front yard of your new secluded home in the woods. There’s no tutorial, not even anything about the basics or even controller commands. While I was able to figure it all about and discern what did what and what I should do next, a brief intro would have been welcome for those that may not game as much.

You begin with only having a portion of your front yard unlocked, with the other half, sides of the house and rear all taped off, unable to access at the moment. This is fine, as it gives you a concentrated area to focus on and to start earning your Garden Coins. Essentially you’ll need to plant flowers and veggies, then once a few days have passed and they are ready, you can sell them for profit. This is how you’ll slowly earn more and more money to purchase new decorations, different seeds and a handful of different decoration items for creating your dream garden.

You’re given a task list, like quests, to complete and guide you. While you aren’t forced to complete these, doing so will earn you extra money, which in turn helps you grow your garden space and purchase new seeds. Each action you do, from planting, picking, watering and even mowing, you earn XP which fills and gives you levels. Each level you get a skill point to use to increase profits or overall experience earned, speeding up the watering process and more.

Your little sectioned off backyard has a dumpster, a little shed and an area to hang up the tools you don’t need, along with a laptop. This laptop is basically an online store that once ordered, will have a direct drop shipment sent to you within about 10 seconds. Literally a drop shipment, the crate will be flung from the sky and land in the same area every time, so be careful not to start building your garden near there initially.

Before you can start your dream garden though you better clean up the place. It’s clear this house has been ignored for quite a few years, as there’s empty boxes, withered vines, garbage bags and wooden planks that were boarding up the windows. Simply pick up the trash, run it to your garbage bin and you’ll earn a few coins and XP for your trouble. Next you’ll need some tools, like a shovel, watering can and mower, so start saving those coins.

As you choose what seeds to plant, you can see the cost, how long to grow and the selling amount. There’s always a profit regardless of what you plant, it’s just a matter of how many days it takes for each different item to grow fully.

Days end once you go to your front door and choose “Call It a Day”. This has you rest and sleep until the next day. While each day doesn’t progress past 6PM, it doesn’t force you to stop playing on that day until you choose to progress, so no need to feel rushed. Most of the first few days will simply be watering each plant then sleeping to progress to the next day. Until you start to unlock the other sections of the yard and earn some coin you’ll be limited to what you can do in your garden, but that’s where the 'play as you want' nature of these simulation games are relaxing.

Your basic tools will get you started, but there will be upgrades you can purchase as you progress. Many tools, seeds and items are actually locked behind progress as well, and each is clearly labeled as to its progression within the laptop. Later on you can get automatic sprinklers, robot lawnmowers and more to aid your mundane tasks, though it’s completely up to you how you want to setup your garden.

While you begin with a lush lawn of overgrown grass, you’ll need to use your shovel to dig the ground up to prep for planting seeds. You can choose to snap to an invisible grid if you want even lines, or freely dig wherever you want. If you’re lucky you might even big up a gold nugget which will earn you some extra coins once you throw it in the garbage bins, though how that makes sense I’m unsure.

While you’ll only have a seed or two in the beginning, eventually you’ll unlock a large variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Each tier costs more to purchase, but nets you more profit once sold. You’ll start to notice weeds that appear each new day, which can be thrown into the trash for some XP and coin, but once you can afford a compost bin you can dump them into there to create fertilizer for your plants. Putting this fertilizer on your crops before they’ve fully grown will increase their quality which earns you more money once sold.

You begin by planting in the ground, but eventually you’ll unlock planters of different shapes and sizes if you prefer. There will be different furniture items, decorations and even hedges to create your dream garden, but most of these will come near the end of the game when money is no longer an issue.

Being able to place stones, wooden floors and even a barbeque grill is fun when you get to the design portion, but also showcases how ‘wonky’ the physics can be. If there is any overlapping of items you can expect objects to start acting weird or fling in directions. Clipping items is going to cause issues, though you’re able to lock items in place if you want to make sure they don’t move by accident until you unlock them.

Shovel the ground, put in seed, water the hole, move onto the next day and repeat. This is the basic gameplay loop, and while it may sound quite boring to some, I found it quite relaxing after a long day. Certain seeds will need to be unlocked by planting a certain amount of previous tier or selling better quality versions, then unlocking the ability to buy the newest seeds. While there’s not as much variety in plants and decorations as I expected, nor any cross pollination like Animal Crossing, it’s more than enough to last you a handful of hours to unlock everything.

For being a garden simulator, you can probably exactly guess what to expect for its visuals. Usually these simulation games aren’t terribly impressive, though it looked decent. The flowers are especially colorful and bright, grass looks like grass before being mowed, and it’s all serviceable. The light music in the background is sure to put you to sleep during a late night session, but makes for a relaxing time.

With a healthy amount of interesting achievements to work towards, I didn’t even notice that a good five hours went by the first time I played before I realized what time it was. Very addictive and relaxing, Garden Simulator is a great way to de-stress when you need a gaming palette cleanser and don’t mind the ‘jank’ from simulator games. Flex your virtual green thumb and place those garden gnomes for all to see.

**Garden Simulator was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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