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24th December 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
In what could be described as a tactical form of appeal, the formula uses the premise of garden incubation and development as an underpinning device for the real focus of the package: Hidden Object scenes. Players are introduced to Austin, the groundskeeper for what was once a highly-regarded garden attached to a mansion. Over the years, the maintenance has fallen by the wayside, but after letting this come to pass, it dawns on this lowly butler that the previous owner left behind material possessions as inheritance along with the property. With the garden in desperate need of repair, he decides to enlist your help in pawning off a collection that a hoarder could identify with, consisting of gently-used trinkets, articles of clothing, and other items that have been deemed as unimportant.
While Austin directly takes care of the clean-up work, you oversee the rummage sale, which sees to exactly 20 customers each day or session. On the top screen is a horizontal list of up to five items that must be located in rooms that are in as big of a mess as the courtyard itself. The longer you take to retrieve a particular object, the more a customer will begin to lose interest in paying top dollar for it, resulting in values being decreased until you reach the halfway point of the original price. Somewhat surprisingly, they won't give up on the sale entirely, even when you get them steamed over having to wait for so long. It would've been more realistic and, in turn, added motivation if the opposite were true, but I don't think many will get fussy over that admittedly minute detail.
As far as how the scenes are laid out, there is plenty of layering going on, with a mix of things that clearly don't belong (e.g., a wall outlet on the edge of a stair), a few that have a thin white outline while resting in front of a larger item, and a good portion that are concealed fairly well. You'll also find a series of coins free for the taking, hidden behind and around the items on your list. Most important is the presence of an interesting hint system which inserts itself into the gameplay mechanic of discovery to be granted use.
This system is apportioned into three sub-sets of hints. The first are standard question marks that will reveal the image of the item you're looking for underneath the listing on the top screen. The second and third hint types are tucked away in places that aren't as easy to spot: a camera with a brief flash that will isolate the location of all items on your list, and a thermometer that must be dragged around the screen to determine proximity to individual items. These are great mechanisms, and they're also smart in how they apply limited use, only relating to items at the time of its activation and treating anything that gets added after the fact as ones that must be sought out the normal way.
Upon meeting your goal of 20 items for the day, you'll be sent back out into the garden where the second component of the game takes relevance. Coins earned through sales and bonuses awarded for not using hints are then used to purchase new upgrades, accessories, and ornaments to decorate the garden. On the Touch Screen are a series of directional options that will allow you to interact with Austin in different ways, from pruning shrubs to casually taking a rest. At some point, you can also feed a swan residing in the small pool, and it's somewhat amusing to, as is suggested by the angle, make the mistake that he's actually throwing rocks indignantly instead of feeding it. Additional cues pertaining to the townsfolk will also appear from time to time, which include things like speaking to the editor of a local newspaper for advertising purposes, or revisiting rooms in the house to collect 20 versions of a particular item for someone in need.
To be frank, there's not much change that takes place in the garden besides what you yourself initiate by way of purchased goods. Feedback is given as to how Austin accomplishes each of these tasks, but if you keep pressing the button more than once, his responses seem more and more automated as you see a cycle of sentences being followed. Even with this being the case, everything still feels minimal in effect, to the point that if you allowed yourself to neglect certain duties, it would hardly seem like that big of a deal. I might even go so far as to say that these are non-essential activities that can just as easily be ignored in the scheme of things. Seeing that the upkeep aspect isn't explored more is a bummer, because there are definitely elements that add a measure of life to the principle of Hidden Object hunting. But as it stands, the concept only feels like it's only partially successful in its aims.
There are two particular ways in which repetition in this game has been defined, and both of these are worth pinpointing. The first will be expected for fans of the genre: the scenes used in the game, though somewhat varied, will be seen on several occasions. Thankfully it's not a matter of straight memorization, because the placement and even appearance of items are shifted around slightly (e.g., a small object moving from the table to the dresser a few inches away), and even then, you're not always given an identical list. Generally items are repeated across scenes to add a measure of comfort, but in light of what was just discussed, it's not appreciated as much. The second manner in which repetition rears its head is through the overall flow. The catalogue of items for the garden are arranged in a gradual fashion by price, with required costs growing more and more and thus imposing longer stretches of repeated hunts, rather than a balance of both tending to the garden and earning money. I've definitely seen worse, but it can certainly reach a point where you can lose your will to continue.
On the bright side, I'm positive it won't be a case of bothersome issues that push you away from the game entirely, and I can say this freely because there is honestly no frustration to be had here whatsoever. In small doses, Gardenscapes is great fun and is something I can absolutely see kids enjoying very much, both for the challenge it would pose and the sheer distraction that the garden maintenance supplies, even if it's not to a well-guided level. The game does a fair job in the way of presentation, with a nice layout and an environment that demonstrates slight enhancement when 3D is enabled. The music used isn't your typical backyard soundtrack, and while I wouldn't call the music serene, some of it is relaxing in its softness, even foreign-sounding.
Overall, Gardenscapes is organized in a less-than-ordinary fashion that just might leave you with a better impression or outlook on Hidden Object games. With welcome delivery, there's quite a bit for both fans and non-fans of the genre to get excited about. The only thing that will leave you feeling a little cloudy is the fact that the simulation aspect needed better treatment. But the fun still shines through and the game can rightly be awarded a friendly recommendation.
21/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Hidden Object scenes have good mechanics and are mostly laid out nicely, gardening aspect isn't the most effective
Presentation 7/10 - Performs adequately in this department, decent visuals with slight improvement when 3D is active, music is a positive
Enjoyment 4/5 - Very fun and might even be addicting for fans and non-fans, held back by repetition and other flaws with the organization
Extra Content 3/5 - A few hours of entertainment to be derived, best experienced in small doses, repetition affects willingness to continue
Equivalent to a score of 70% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System