STAFF REVIEW of Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator (Xbox One)

Tuesday, April 2, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator Box art Stop me if you’ve heard this from me... I love cozy games.

Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator has it right in its title, so I knew I was in for something relaxing involving gardening as I settled in to enjoy it. No gore, violence, or enemies (other than a few garden insects to deal with), it relies on a gentle pace as you create the garden of your dreams. While this is perfect for gardening enthusiasts, simulation, and cozy game fans, it might be too laid back for some people.

Developed by stillalive studios and published by Nacon, there are two modes in the game; a relaxed story mode that walks you through things step by step, and an open-ended sandbox mode where you can build without restrictions. In both modes, you will spend your time planting seeds, decorating, and expanding your garden, as well as helping out the local community who send you requests for assistance to your mailbox. There is something about the feeling of connection to the local community that gives Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator a real warmth that you don’t always find in these types of games.

When the previous caretaker of the community garden passes away, the garden falls into disrepair. You become the new caretaker and are tasked with creating a beautiful spot to honour Robin’s memory. When you first take over the run-down community garden it is full of weeds and rocks. The decorations and bridges are also damaged and in disrepair, so before you can do anything you have some cleanup to do.

The garden is composed of three parts. In the beginning, you only have access to the first one, eventually, you will repair the small bridge, opening up the second. Then removing a lot of rubble will allow you to access the third section (and greenhouse).

The weeds you remove can go into the composter to create fertilizer to use once you plant seeds. Flower seeds are obtained from a shop in the adjacent town. There is a limited variety of them to begin with, but planting them and letting them propagate will offer the opportunity to create other varieties of the plants. One of the tasks in the game is to fill out the book in the shed. It will show you how many varieties of each plant type are available throughout the gameplay. Each time you collect a new variety it will pop up on your screen and you will then have access to those seeds to plant going forward. Leslie the shop owner is helpful and kind, and once you help her she will give you access to a stall adjacent to the shop where you can sell additional bouquets you craft, cuttings, and even fertilizer. These are sold daily, so make sure to pick up your profit from the cash box.

The idea is simple, bring a dead and forgotten garden back to life. The mechanics are equally simple, you will plant, water, prune, cut or move plants. Adding décor items creates more personality to your garden as well as choosing paint colours for your greenhouse, shed and bridge. Based on the simple gameplay mechanics, I would say Garden Life is suitable for a wide variety of ages. Pruning did allude to being strategic, as you had to angle them to find the place to cut on the stems, but I am not sure where you made much of a difference. Each time you cut below a bloom you collected it. While it is possible that the higher you cut, the faster it rebloomed, I didn’t pay close enough attention to that. Flowers bloomed quite quickly for the most part. You can prune just the flowers or take plants right down to the ground to allow for a full regrowth.

The game follows a familiar loop. The day starts with you getting off the bus. You check your mail for any postcards with requests from the locals, these are normally requests for cuttings or bouquets made of specific flowers. Then weed your garden, spray for insects, water, take clippings or prune your plants. Craft any bouquets required and drop them and the cuttings requests in a drop box to be picked up. Plant any new seeds to help complete your tasks and end your day by taking the bus home.

You won’t have any hard deadlines for tasks, so everything can be at your own pace. This helps with the chill feeling of the gameplay. Rewards for completing tasks for the locals come in the form of coins or new tools. These tools aren’t upgraded but will be different cosmetics. Normally these change with the seasons and include items decorated with hearts around Valentine’s Day, pumpkins around Halloween and snowmen in the Winter. Coins can be exchanged for seeds, tools, and décor items in town.

Crafting isn’t just limited to bouquets either. You can build décor and furniture items like benches for your garden. You will also have an overall ‘to-do’ list left behind from Robin that you will work through. This amounts to primarily your tutorial. Two adorable kitties live in your garden as well, and yes, you can pet them.

As the days pass you will have different weather patterns as well. In the beginning, rainy days are welcome because that means you don’t need to water your plants, though once you get sprinklers this becomes less important. Days turn to weeks and then seasons will change. The seasonal changes didn’t seem to affect the flower's growth. Each still took the same amount of time and wasn’t limited as to when they could grow. Growing tulips outside in the middle of winter felt ‘off’, but I was glad to not have to manage weather conditions on my planting.

In the adjacent town, you will eventually open a pavilion where you can donate flowers to create beautiful topiaries. Each one has a list of what is required. This is essentially a fetch quest. I wish there was a way to make notes somewhere in the game to know what was needed as I would often forget while doing other tasks and have to go back to the pavilion to double-check what I was gathering.

Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is beautiful. It has a very fairy tale quality in its design and colours. Interactive elements are indicated with a golden sparkle, also lending to the fantasy feeling. Characters are beautifully drawn, each having their own charm. Unfortunately, your only real interaction with most of them is on a page, so they can feel a little distant. While the colours were bright and cheerful, many were too similar, and I found myself running into problems identifying some of them when trying to gather cuttings. For example, two of the hybrids were so similar in colour (both orange and pink blooms) that I couldn’t tell them apart. I would have to take a cutting and then check my inventory. I can see this being even more of a concern if you have any sort of sight impairment.

I also ran into the same issue when looking at seed packages in my garden shed inventory. The images were small, and the blooms looked very similar to one another, I had to rely on the written description more often than not. While speaking of the seed catalogue/inventory, herein lies my biggest problem with the game. There is no way to sort and organize your inventory other than manually. You can sort by flower type, colour, etc. Items are simply slotted into the first available space when collected. This became frustrating when looking for a particular seed type and having to scroll through 40+ pages in your inventory, only to realize you missed it and have to start again. Having the ability to sort and organize would be a huge benefit. This frustration, to me, really took me out of the cozy moments.

The soundtrack is also warm and cozy. It’s relaxing and varied. Sometimes the best soundtracks are the ones that don’t stand out too much but blend perfectly into the background. Sound effects were also realistic, from the bus’ air brakes, to the clippers, bugs buzzing and sprinklers.

While all of the above is taken from the story mode, the sandbox mode is similar in style, except that you have everything available to you at the start of the game. This lends itself to lots of replayability.

Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator was as advertised; a cozy gardening game, but I found the tasks quite repetitive and wished there was more variety of things to do. I am hopeful that the developers will add some additional content, possibly some more flower varieties as well. More than anything else, I hope they fix the messy inventory system. Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is like a seedling in a greenhouse. It has all the parts to make something beautiful and is just waiting for the right gardener to come along and spend some time with it.

**Garden Life: A Cozy Simulation was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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