Over the past month, we’ve had a run of meaty releases from Ratalaika Games, who are champions of quantity over quality. Even the Ocean and Roommates have offered something a cut above the norm. By the law of averages we were due a stinker, and – oh boy – we’ve definitely got one in A Hero and a Garden. Buckle in!
There’s an Undertale-like premise to kick it off. The princess has been captured by a witch called Vesper and, as the princess’s faithful knight Cyrus, you have entered into monster territory to retrieve her. After chopping through monsters, you confront the witch, but she’s too strong: you fall and are cursed to live forevermore in the gardens of the monster witchdom. You’ll be forced to tend the plants and sell produce to the locals who aren’t quite the monsters you assumed they were. Perhaps, dare we say it, you are the monster. Dun dun dun!
This framing sets up the gameplay, if you can call it that: you will plant five different bushes, which will fruit at ever-so-slightly different speeds. When they grow a berry, you’ll press X, Y, B, LB or RB to harvest them, depending on the bush. Blimey, I almost fell asleep writing that, in a kind of Pavlovian boredom.
That’s it, really. Grow enough berries and you will meet the orders of various monsters. You’ll get to deliver the package in a stripped down visual novel section, then it’s back to your bushes and the slow, funereal pressing of buttons, like The Flash was forced to play Rock Band on Easy. The money you get will pay for some donation milestones, like constructing a market or fountain, but you don’t get to visit or see them. All they do is artificially prolong the game, as they represent Tom Nook-sized debts to pay off. Be prepared to grind.
It’s an idle clicker, but robbed of any escalation, variation, progression, or the ability to automate anything (you get a helper, but they’re absolutely useless, and the main character even says as much). If there was ever a game that didn’t need gameplay stripping out, it’s an idle clicker. It’s like saying that Tic Tac Toe could do with a bit of simplification, maybe remove the crosses.
The visual novel bits are cute, I suppose. There’s a fun little radish called Rootaboo who thinks everything you say is the best thing he’s ever heard, and a silent ent-ish thing called Era who thinks humans look strange. These interactions would be more enjoyable if the main character wasn’t a scumbag who takes an hour to realise that he’s a scumbag. Most of the story is built around that realisation, and he’s too irritating to make that satisfying. The main character has a habit of saying things like “what is the point in all this?” and “I don’t even know why I bother”, and I felt like hopping into the game to shake him, look him deep in the eyes and say “I KNOW, CYRUS, I KNOW”.
It’s not going to win any prizes for its looks or soundtrack, either. If you’re being generous, it’s simple and cutesy, but I’d plump for it being a bit back-of-the-notebook. It’s garish and broad-lined, like it’s a colouring sheet that’s been filled out with highlighter pens. The soundtrack has a music-boxy tweeness that grates after the first twenty minutes. I would say it’s not made for a male reviewer in his 30s, but I’m confident that it doesn’t offer enough substance for anyone else either.
It’s hard to write anything more, as the game is so lightweight. The end is roughly 90 minutes in, if you’re interested, and there are zero reasons to play through again. Achievement hunters, perk up your ears: the 1000G is easy as pie. The game is generous enough to let you skip to the end and replay the choice-based ending to unlock all five of the related achievements. At £4.99 (£3.99 in the current sale) that might be a decent investment, if you are so inclined. For all the complaints I have with the game, I’m not going to pick a fight with the price.
If you’ve ever thought that the door handle out of your room was a bit complicated and needed less gameplay, then A Hero and a Garden is £4.99 and might be your bag of seeds. For anyone else, this idle-clicker-meets-visual-novel is best buried in the garden and forgotten about.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.