Let’s face it, not everyone has a green thumb. Okay, most people don’t have one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least have some form of garden. That’s where a subtle breed of zen-like Facebook titles come into play. We’ve seen them as far back as June of last year with Hive7’s Zen Garden, and though they have never caught on strongly, there is something to be said about the gentle, relaxing nature of virtual gardening — and the success of other simulator games on Facebook.
Perhaps a developer will find the perfect combination of social gaming features and beautiful plants. That in mind, we took a look at a new beta release from Canadian developer, Springbay Studio, and their current Facebook title, Living Garden.
It’s a simple app that has players growing and caring for a variety of different flora as they decorate their own virtual space. Ranging in size from a simple container to a farm field, to a back yard, players watch as their seedlings slowly sprout and bloom.
Okay, to be fair, it actually isn’t that slow. Whenever the player logs in, mousing over a plant will display what it needs, be it water, nutrition, pruning, or “magic.” Once all of the plants requirements are met, it will begin growing to the next stage of development, which often only takes a few minutes.
The “magic” element appears to be what causes your flower buds to actually bloom. But there’s not a big barrier here, as the element is not terribly hard to get. It only costs a small amount of in-game currency and it’s also given as a reward every day.
Unfortunately, as an early beta version, the caring element feels a bit buggy. Perhaps it is intended, but as the flowers are growing, it seems that you constantly have to prune and water them. Granted, doing it constantly does earn a lot of experience towards new levels – which, like most games of the virtual space ilk acts as a gating mechanism for earning better decorations – it does feel like nothing is getting done.
Of course, periodically the plants do change, and even though they are static images, they don’t look half bad. In fact, you can actually make some very beautiful looking scenes as you expand to bigger gardening palettes.
The only real disconnect, artistically, comes from the avatar. Honestly, it is nice to have, but it has a sort of paper cut-out look that feels a bit different from the rest of the game. Everything else is vibrant and shaded, but the personal character is a bit flat. Again, it doesn’t look bad, it just doesn’t seem to fit.
Another nice thing that Living Garden does is a small social element. Yes, yes, you can visit and help out friend’s gardens, but Springbay takes a page out of SnappyTouch’s book – the developer behind iPhone app, Flower Garden – in the form of gifting.
After the player has fully grown their flowers, they can cut them, and while selling them is an option, they can also choose to send them as gifts. It’s not a lot, and yes, other players can grow the exact same thing, but it’s the thought that counts, right? The feature actually does put a nice personal touch to gifting, and something we hope to see expanded upon, perhaps with bouquets or custom made flowers.
Certainly, custom flora would prove most useful as, currently, the selection of decorative items is a bit lacking, but then again, that’s a common complaint for just about any virtual space application that just goes live. More likely than not, this will be beefed up as time goes on.
That said, the only really significant complaint is that the game doesn’t really seem relaxing. Aesthetically, it will appeal to many people, but the mood of the game is, well, stagnant. This goes beyond just some form of movement. Apps like these benefit from peaceful sound effects and music, but the only sound in this app is an outdoor ambience loop of birds that is a bit too short to be effective. Consider the sort of music one might hear on a tropical beach, the gentle melody of a classical score, or the zen sounds one listens to during Tai Chi. Those are the best soundtracks for gardening games. Of course, that’s just an opinion.
In the end, Living Garden feels like it’s still growing. It has some kinks to work out, but the core of the game is still well rooted.