Imagine if PixelJunk Eden got steamy with thatgamecompany's flow and somehow managed to produce a throng of sprogs. One child would be good at sports, the other drawing. The third child would be the super-intelligent one, knowing everything about everything and eventually graduating at Oxford with a degree in nuclear physics. But the fourth child, would be the plain child. The one that says nothing, does nothing and hides at the back of family photos looking sorry for itself. That fourth child would be Atari's The Undergarden.
It's not that the zen-platformer is particularly bad in any regard, it's just that it's not particularly special either. And it's heart-breaking because it tries so hard to be. Everything from the minimalistic art-style to the floaty physics screams, "Look at me, I'm so zen. Please write on the Internet about how I'm the video game equivalent of poetry." But beyond the neon flower arrangements and underwater musicians, The Undergarden lacks the soul of the siblings it so dearly looks up to.
You spend most of your time in the game playing as a seamonkey-esque thing and collecting pollen. Pollen makes the plants grow and, well, that's it. The game's not concerned with holding your hand — much of the UI is not even explained, and the game pretty much leaves you to your own devices most of the time.
That said, there are no real consequences to any of your actions anyway. There are puzzles that hinder your progress along the way, but they can often be solved with the off-spring of a conveniently placed fruit-bush nearby. Of course, the game's self-aware sparsity is all totally intentional. "Look at me," the game screams, "I'm totally zen, man." And it is. Sure. It's definitely a calming experience, but in a totally awkward way. It's like when your girlfriend forces you to go to a yoga class. You can't exactly dash out screaming, "No this is not relaxing, and actually my bottom hurts, and I'd very much like to leave now," when the room is full of semi-overweight women desperately searching for some kind of false nirvana. That would just be weird.
The Undergarden's try-hard persona is perfectly amplified by the game's collectibles. It's packed with them. But guess what, you don't have to grab any of them. "It's totally up to you, man. Make up your own mind." Fine then, The Undergarden, we won't waste time looking for your collectibles because, actually, your wishy-washy physics are giving us a head-ache.
And ultimately that's the problem with The Undergarden. It tries really, really hard to match-up to the likes of PixelJunk Eden and flower, but it ends up feeling plain and uninspired. It looks and sounds great, but it's nothing we haven't seen before, and when you're trying to compete in the field where thatgamecompany rule, it's hard to make an impression. In that regard we do feel sorry for The Undergarden. A valiant effort, but one ultimately devoid of any personality.