The UnderGarden Hands-On

This downloadable side-scroller offers shades of Flower and PixelJunk Eden in its soothing ambience.


Digital distribution channels like Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network have helped certain game types flourish more than others. While we haven't seen hardcore strategy games explode in popularity, things like side-scrollers and games with endearingly bizarre art styles have certainly done far better than they would have in retail stores. One upcoming downloadable game that combines both of those traits is a title from Atari called The UnderGarden. It's described by Atari as both a "zen" and "casual" experience, which is really just a fancy way of saying that this game looks utterly adorable.

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The UnderGarden takes place in a stylized underground world of vibrant flora. You play as a little creature whose job is, essentially, to swim and bounce around this world, spreading pollen around to help plants bloom to life in an explosion of color. Navigating around these two-dimensional planes is a simple matter of moving the left stick around to float freely through space, though you can also hold a button to charge up a boost to send yourself quickly rocketing in one direction.

This is not a game where you can die, so the challenge does not lie in trying to keep your little character alive. Instead, there are a variety of physics-based puzzles that you need to solve to progress through each of the game's 14 levels. In the early level we played, we would find large platforms blocking our path to the next area. The solution was to swim around and pick up sea fruits to weigh down the platforms and open up a passageway. Later parts get trickier when we encountered a maze of platforms blocking our way that needed to be moved with both weighted fruits and floating fruits.

The atmosphere in The UnderGarden is probably its biggest selling point. There are shades of Flower and PixelJunk Eden in the way you move through an initially plain landscape and bring it to life with new flora. The audio offers a nice sense of ambience as well, though you can also pick up little critters along your way called musicians who add their own music to the game's overall audio. This tends to pick up the mood a bit and adds a little extra something to an otherwise very relaxing soundtrack.

Naturally, the big question with The UnderGarden is just how much the gameplay can match the impressive mood and atmosphere that the game establishes from the outset. Will those puzzles and the minimal level of difficulty keep players interested over the course of 14 levels, including single-player and local co-op? You can find out when the game is released next month on Xbox Live and the PC, as well as early next year for the PlayStation 3.

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