Have you ever had that wonderful moment where you hear a game being described and you only have one thought – ‘that sounds perfect for me’? I had that wonderful experience when I learned of Strange Horticulture, something pitched as an occult puzzle game in which you run a plant store, solving (or potentially even committing) crimes. Frankly, for a man who sometimes struggles to find engaging puzzle experiences, it seemed like a dream come true. And, as it happened, Bad Viking’s game is a great time if you like mystery and intrigue.
You play as the owner of a rare plant shop (the eponymous Strange Horticulture) in the town of Undermere. As you get to grips with the business, customers start to emerge with requests for plants – using an edition of The Strange Book of Plants, which helps you identify plants, you work to satisfy your customers. If you resolve their complaints correctly, you unlock new pages in the book and expand your knowledge. You can also grow your plant collection, through helping your customers, going out into the wild, and dealing with travelling salesmen.
What I especially loved in Strange Horticulture is its distinctive character – it is presented with a semi-cartoon art style, and it features a quaint and gentle score that fits it like a glove. There’s an image at the top of the article, but it really betrays how beautiful the game looks in action, and how engaging the story is. The developers swiftly establish a creepy atmosphere and it’s one that lasts throughout the experience – I was genuinely interested to see what would come next. My engagement was, in no small part, because the game is a very gripping one with a selection of unique and tough puzzles – both in terms of identifying the plants, and in a selection of others that drive forward the story.
Strange Horticulture is not one of those games that will suit everyone
Of course, given the narrative drive, there are points in which you get to choose how things develop. In one early encounter, a customer comes in with a complaint, and you can choose whether to heal them or make things worse – this affects how the game plays out, and it’s only the first hint at the darkness lurking in Undermere. There are mysteries surrounding your clients and your own ancestry, and I wanted to crack them – the game presents the pieces at just the right pace to keep you interested.
There are some issues with the game, most of which seem to have emerged in the transition from PC to console. I had to hook the Switch up to the television at points, because some of the text is really small and the zoom feature is not the most intuitive. Some of the controls are also a little fiddly, in a way I expect a mouse would not have been, and although it’s not enough to ruin the experience, in can take you out of it. I wouldn’t count it necessarily as a negative, but I also felt like the inclusion of voice acting might have brought life to the characters a little more.
Strange Horticulture is not one of those games that will suit everyone – it’s a distinctive type of gameplay that will bore some people and thrill others. I’m in that latter camp, and if you’re like me, then this is a game that is well worth checking out. Lose yourself in the quaint world of Undermere, and make sure not to touch the plant life when you’re there.