Gardening — at least in real life — sucks. Everything I plant dies, no matter how hard I try to grow a single damn flower. Thankfully, Garden Simulator is here to ease my suffering, with a laid-back, relaxed approach to the popular hobby. Sure, some may say that gardening is relaxing enough in the real world, but why leave the comfort of your home to partake in this pastime when you can sit in front of the TV? Brought to us by PRODUKTIVKELLER Studios, Garden Simulator asks the question: can a videogame successfully mimic the soothing nature of the greenest of leisurely pursuits? Or is it destined to end up in the compost bin? Let’s have a look!
Garden Simulator begins with a small story introduction, and we see our nameless protagonist inherit a house from their recently deceased great-aunt, before quitting their work from home job to try and improve their mental health. This then leads them to the large garden surrounding their new home, and it’s up to you to turn this overgrown, weed-infested mess into a vibrant garden once again. That’s as much narrative as you’ll get here, which isn’t too surprising considering it’s a game all about growing vegetables and mowing the lawn. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by simulator games such as PowerWash Simulator — which features a very tongue-in-cheek light story that unfolds through text messages — but some plot beats to keep you pushing forward (aside from the very basic tasks given to you) to a final goal would have been a welcome addition.
The game is rather easy on the eyes, although there’s not much to see as the entire game takes place within one garden. Everything in Garden Simulator is very colourful and brimming with life; I particularly like how certain plants attract butterflies, making me feel slightly guilty when I accidentally ran them down with a lawnmower.
Whilst the music was initially rather relaxing, the same looped theme began to grate on me, despite its cheerfully peaceful tones. The sound effects were nothing to write home about, and aside from the satisfying meow of your pet cat when you give it attention, this is definitely a game to play whilst you’ve got a podcast on in the background. Coincidentally, why not give the GrinCast a listen?
Playing the PlayStation 5 version for this review, Garden Simulator ran smoothly, with no issues whatsoever. Which was a pleasant surprise, as many simulation games suffer with poor optimisation or a general lack of polish. Even the haptic feedback was rather well-implemented, for that extra immersion when watering your flowers.
As for gameplay, you won’t find anything complex here. Beginning with one small section of the garden unlocked, you’ll carve (or should that be dig?) your own path and unlock a wide variety of tools, plants, and furniture in practically any order. Whilst many items are locked until you accomplish certain milestones, you’re never left wondering how to obtain a particular vegetable or gnome, as all items have simple challenges that show you how to unlock them.
All the items, tools, seeds, and garden extensions are purchasable via a laptop (which is left outside in plain sight, must be a safe neighbourhood!) and practically everything in Garden Simulator rewards you with coins, and experience points. Coins, obviously, are used as currency to spend in the store, whilst the XP gained will earn you a skill point each time you level up, granting you abilities such as earning more coins for each flower sold, or making your watering can hydrate plants quicker. There’s nothing too exciting, but it was nice to feel a sense of progression and then see this when I’m flying around my garden quicker than before.
You do get tasks to tackle, sent via your mailbox, and the earlier ones can certainly help players get to grips with all the mechanics and how to use each tool properly. After the first dozen or so, however, they begin to repeat themselves and sink into simple — and mundane — missions such as “earn 40 coins”, or “grow 4 lettuces”. It’s a shame, because there could have been something like House Flipper’s mission system, with strict instructions on how to complete them, and bonus rewards for fully completing each task.
This does allow for players to get more creative, though, and after unlocking each portion of the garden, you really are able to create some beautiful areas! For instance, I had one corner sectioned off with hedges, hiding away a cosy little sitting area, with a few potted plants for decoration. The back garden was where I kept all my crops, with a sprinkler system set-up that let me forget about having to water them.
The issues begin to crop up after a few hours or so, when you realise that there just isn’t that much to do in Garden Simulator. There is no variety outside of how long it takes when growing your plants, and once I had fully automated them being watered, and had a robot lawnmower to keep my lawn nice and trim, I found that I was left with practically nothing to do. Sure, I could collect the bags of mowed grass and convert them into fertiliser to improve my vegetables (which earns you extra coins), but when I’d already purchased everything, the only reason I was still playing was to collect the last few trophies!
It’s an easy Platinum trophy, at the very least, with my final playtime clocking in at around six hours. It would have been great to be able to visit other gardens and give them a makeover, but after being stuck on the same small plot of land for the entire game, I felt that Garden Simulator’s charm wore off, with no reason for me to ever go back and play it.
Garden Simulator (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Enjoyable for a time, Garden Simulator doesn’t have the staying power to keep players coming back for more. Whilst it can become addictive, the lack of variety means that this wears off far sooner than I would have liked.