Review – Strange Horticulture
Many people look to video games as a way to blow off some steam or unwind through a casual, cathartic experience. This is one of the reasons why games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Spiritfarer are so popular. Strange Horticulture from Bad Viking is an occult puzzle game that offers players a laid-back experience of identifying various plants for your customers. However, underneath this seemingly simple premise lies a dark mystery awaiting to be uncovered. As intriguing as this seems, it’s a lot more interesting in theory than it is in practice.
In Strange Horticulture you play as someone who has inherited the titular occult plant shop after their family member passes away. Being an already well-respected shop, you will have many customers who request specific plants for their various medicinal/magical properties. In addition to carefully identifying each new plant that comes into your possession, you will also learn more about your family’s history, as well as the peculiar, rainy town of Undermere and its surrounding areas. I will say that I did actually enjoy having most of the story parceled out in small increments. It made the realization of who these people were and what was happening more compelling.
My biggest issue with Strange Horticulture is that even with all the creepy mysteries to unearth, the vast majority of the game itself is simply not that interesting. As far as the gameplay goes, Strange Horticulture revolves around you speaking to customers one at a time, listening to their requests, and then finding the correct plant they are asking for. Their descriptions are often vague, but this hardly ever presents a challenge since more often than not the game will straight up tell you the name of the plant they are asking for. All you have to do then is look up the plant in your book and find the one that matches it on your shelves.
However, if you happen to offer the incorrect plant to your customer, then you will begin to fill up a “Rising Dread” meter. In the event that you make enough mistakes to completely fill this meter, you will then have to complete a very simplistic puzzle in order to be brought back to your game. You won’t even lose any of your progress either, making this inclusion feel unnecessary. There are no real stakes to failing before it’s right back to identifying plants. What starts off as a somewhat relaxing and cathartic gameplay loop quickly begins to feel tedious once it’s apparent that’s most of what Strange Horticulture has to offer.
I say most of what it has to offer because there are occasional puzzles to solve in between identifying plants. These are without a doubt Strange Horticulture‘s highlight. The puzzles can range from deciphering cryptic messages, discovering hidden clues, and even finding secret plants and locations on your map. These puzzles not only help to break up the monotony of identifying plants, but they also provide the only type of challenge throughout the game. Unfortunately, they are very few and far between, with only one or two each day (think of days like chapters or levels). It’s a shame, because even though the puzzles were often clever and engaging, there just weren’t enough to break up the monotony of the primary gameplay loop.
Another reason Strange Horticulture might have felt tedious was in part due to its art design. Don’t get me wrong, the hand-drawn art style is clean and vibrant, but the plants and text are tiny on the screen. There is a magnifying lens to help with this, but it often feels cumbersome to use. Also, the game is limited to the shop itself, never showing any other locations the world has to offer. This doesn’t take away from the game too much, but I do feel it was a missed opportunity to show some of the creepy imagery rather than just describing it in small text.
The sound design is fairly unremarkable. There is no voice acting and very few sound effects, but what’s there is decent enough. The music sets the tone with a melancholic score. Although, after playing Strange Horticulture for a while, I soon realized that almost the entirety of the score is one somber melody played on a nonstop loop. That discovery seemed to eventually compound the feeling of monotony after a while.
As a whole, I wouldn’t say Strange Horticulture is a bad game, just somewhat disappointing. I can see the appeal, but it’s honestly often boring. There are some truly great ideas in here, but nowhere near enough to combat the game’s tediously repetitive main gameplay loop. Having more puzzles, riddles, and even a few more visible environments I feel could have made Strange Horticulture a true gem of an indie game. That being said, the mysteries surrounding your patrons and your ancestry are intriguing, even if it takes a while to get to the truly captivating bits. With multiple endings to uncover, Strange Horticulture does offer some decent replay value. I would just recommend playing it in shorter bursts so it doesn’t feel so repetitive too quickly.
The hand-drawn art style is clean and vibrant, but the plants and text are tiny on the screen. Also, the game is limited to the shop itself, never seeing any other environments.
A point-and-click puzzle game where you identify various plants based off the descriptions your patrons provide you with. There are a few puzzles that are often fun and clever, but they are too few and far between the normal gameplay.
There is no voice acting, very few sound effects, and only one somber song that is played in a nonstop loop.
Fun Factor: 7.0
Identifying the correct plants for your customers is fun at first, but quickly becomes tedious. The puzzles surrounding solving riddles and reading your map are a highlight, but not utilized enough overall. Uncovering the dark mysteries around you helps to keep the game interesting.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Strange Horticulture is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Strange Horticulture was provided by the publisher.