“Where is this, why is this?” these are good questions the game itself brings up as you explore the massive otherworldly caverns of The Undergarden. What I found to be most interesting is the fact that none of these questions are really answered. However, what I do know is that it is not the puzzle game that it advertises itself to be.
The Undergarden does not have a story. The whole affair seems to be a discombobulated dream. You are suddenly placed in the role of a nameless gremlin set within a subterranean, underwater world that is also without name. The gremlin can collect pollen from pods and use them to sprout vegetation in its wake. The act is definitely a pretty sight to witness but like many things in the game, the element withers and dies by the time you’re at the third or fourth level. Growing the unique plant life only serves to harvest points for the scoreboard and grow a variety of fruits for problem solving, so it’s rather vexing to see an artistic process squandered on limited concepts.
As your little gremlin swims and floats through the water it can tow objects with odd ethereal threads. Despite the oddball setting, the underwater physics do apply. What tends to be more of a frustrating factor than dealing with some of the puzzles, is being able to squeeze into a narrow passage while treading water, or having an object you’re towing getting in the way or caught in some tiny niche.
The puzzles in the game hardly live up to the definition. Though there is an absence of instructions and tutorials the “challenges” are straightforward, all encompassing a theme of traversing a given route while blowing up the occasional cracked wall, lighting a path or applying weight to panels to open passages. It isn’t until the 11th level that the puzzles take on a noticeable increase in difficulty and creativity. The first ten levels seem like mindless wandering until suddenly the game adds the use of cannons, electricity, and growing weeds to use as handles for pulling apart doors. At this point, if the soothing music hasn’t lulled you to sleep, one begins to realize the age old concept of too little, too late.
This realization holds no quarter even towards the game’s soundtrack. The soundtrack is one that can be “built” by seeking out the scattered musicians of each level. Each musician plays a different instrument and provides a different layer to the game’s music. The game encourages that each and every one is found and taken with you through the exit portal at the end of a stage. However, as mentioned before, the game adheres to a strict set of physics which ruins this innovation. Trying to squeeze a group of musicians through narrow corridors is just not going to happen. Unless you like backtracking, the objective of each level might as well be to find the exit and take whoever you can with you. Like with the puzzles, the music tends to remain on the same monotonous theme until the later levels where you would feel more inclined to seek out the cute little performers.
Also holding off on the intrigue, until the last minute, are the level designs. If you were to show me snapshots of levels 1-10 I honestly couldn’t tell you which is which. The levels are almost completely identical to one another, using the same color scheme for rocks, growing the same foliage over and over, and the same background. And of course, level 11 is when things get interesting. I don’t know what it is with the development team but changing things up starting at level 11 seemed to be a popular idea in their meetings.
All in all, The Undergarden is definitely a game that is to be avoided by puzzle enthusiasts, ultra violent droogies, or people who like to be given a clear purpose before giving anything their attention. Due to the low challenge factor, lackluster design, and Death being a non-issue, the game is best played by children, the elderly, or introduced to that one person in your circle of friends who has never played a video game before.