I cant for the life of me work out why Gnomes Garden has been released two months following release of Gnomes Garden 3. Surely, when porting games, it makes more sense to release them in chronological order? I mean, why would potential fans be content with stepping backwards – in terms of gameplay complexity – through a series? Nevertheless, it is what it is and here we sit with Gnomes Garden on Xbox One. To be fair, Gnomes Garden is pretty much identical to the third game in the series, save the handful of minor differences.
Much like the third game, the story is easily the weakest component here. The game’s plot centers around a collection of kingdom gardens, gardens that were once lush and beautiful. Now, however, poor weather has withered the titular gardens and due to despair, the king has fallen ill. It falls to you to restore them to their former glory, and hopefully make the king feel better again in the process. This is all relayed to you through a collection of sliding screens. You can dismiss it altogether and dive on in, you really wouldn’t be missing much.
Gnomes Garden is a resource management game that doesn’t really do quite enough to truly stand out. Starting out at the castle of the aforementioned kingdom, players must make their way across a fairly sizable map in a giant loop, moving from one of the four differently themed areas to the next, landing right back at square one once complete. The idea here is that each of these four areas presumably represent a garden, and the several levels within each section present different parts of said garden. It’s simple to digest.
Each marker on the world map serves as a level, and by simply selecting that level, you’ll be taken to your garden section, ready to tackle whatever issues sit in wait. The game does a good job at feeding players into the fields of play. You can of course disable any help via turning the guide off, but in truth, everything is fairly self explanatory nonetheless. Each level within will grade you from zero to three stars, a system that’s dependent on the time it takes for you to successfully check every tedious problem off your list, level-by-level.
You’ll know how well you’re doing during each level, as the star system is placed to the right of the screen and will slowly deplete as time passes by. There’s no gated progress here. Whether you finish a level with three stars or none, you’ll be able to move onto the next. There’s some in-game milestones that will acknowledge better play, as well as an achievement for ranking three stars on every level, but outside of that, there’s not much that you’ll be missing out on if you simply move through each level and disregard rank.
The game’s interface is clean and concise, as is the game’s controls, which being point and click, is a very important aspect. I do have one issue with interaction, however, and that is that when two objects are placed in close proximity, it can oftentimes be difficult to accurately interact with the right one. This, several times, led me to accidentally interacting with the wrong object. It’s relatively easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things, but it’s wildly frustrating when you mistakenly upgrade a building that didn’t need upgrading.
Either way, the main crux of Gnomes Garden is to resource manage and restore these withered locations. To do this, you’ll need to build bridges, repair buildings, fix crop huts, clear gravel, light beacons and several, several other nuisances that stand in your way. Each level will begin in the same way. You’ll have a starting hut with just one worker (you can upgrade this hut for additional workers) and must continuously gather a number of resources that are needed in order to work your way through your list of problems.
For instance, to restore a farm, you’ll need at least one worker, four logs of wood and two lots of crops. Wood can be picked up through hacking away at path-blocking logs or by building a sawmill – which will grant you a constant flow of timber. Crops are typically littered around each level and in the case that they’re not, you’re able to build a mill for that too. Once you’ve gathered the desired amount of resources, which is made clear whenever you hover the cursor over an object or mound, your worker will do the rest post-click.
As alluded to above, Gnomes Garden doesn’t throw too much at you to begin with. You’ll have little more than a few crop huts to mend, some timber to shift, stone to gather and buildings to repair. Later on, however, the game’s complexities shine through. You’ll be planting trees, lighting signal fires, chasing away trolls, trading items, and much of the above (and more), all at once. Thankfully, due to not being beholden to any gated progress, you’re free to do all of this at a brisk pace unless those stars really do mean a great deal to you.
I’ll admit, I quite enjoyed the challenges that Gnomes Garden threw at me, especially during the later stages of the game. Having to work out where to best gather and then focus my resources, to then prioritize what I should work on first, was a blast. This is when Gnome Garden shines at its brightest. Sadly, the game’s biggest drawback is that it does become quite repetitive. You see, irrespective of what problems the game places on your lap, you’re still using the exact same concept and resources throughout, which becomes tedious.
It would have been nice to see some additional resources or management systems implemented to uphold the decent list of problems that the Gnomes Garden relays, but in the grand scheme of things, you cant really grumble when you take the generous asking price into account. Whilst the gameplay loop doesn’t really alter, the game does only cost £3.99/$4.99, which is a steal if this is your proverbial cup of tea. With that said, you’re looking at roughly four hours worth of play here, with an hour added on to max it out.
In regards to the game’s visuals and audio design, I’ll extend the same outlook that I did for the third game. Gnomes Garden looks and sounds like a cheap Facebook or mobile game, nothing more and nothing less. There’s a nice variety of levels included, and a fair bit of detail considering the cost, but it’s hardly a game that will knock your socks off. The soundtrack does well at hitting the right mood, but again, it’s not something that’s going to turn heads. When all is said and done, if you enjoyed the last one, you’ll enjoy this.
The problem with Gnomes Garden is that, much like the recently released Gnomes Garden 3, its core gameplay loop just doesn’t evolve enough to maintain its initial excitement. There’s certainly enough content for its cheap cost, but even so, it’s content that doesn’t quite meet the standards that games of this type have been setting for years. Fun in small doses, but ultimately repetitive in the long run.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.