When looking at the trailers for Gardener’s Path, it looks like you are moving around an arena killing various objects in an action packed dungeon crawl puzzle hybrid. It’s actually a slider puzzle and that misconception drove me to write this very late review. I wish the trailer was more explicit with what is going on here (the store texts are) as the puzzle game itself is fairly well done. Just don’t hype the game into something its not.
You are tasked with each level to kill the various insects and fauna around you to reach an illuminated beacon. There is an environmental message in the story, which is told by various garden gnomes but the story takes a backseat to these puzzles. Your character, like most slider puzzles, moves in one compass direction until he hits something. That could be an enemy to hurt or kill it, it could be a simple hedge or wall to use for redirecting yourself, or it could be a cactus that instantly kills you. The levels are tightly packed and often there’s only one solution. I often found that going in reverse in my head was the easiest way to solve some of the trickier puzzles because they rely on you opening up paths and sliding into a one way corridor. Working backwards from there helped my brain reduce the options available.
One of the best things Gardener’s Path does is offer new mechanics and balance its difficulty curve. Levels are given to you in sets of 5. The first level introduces a totally new mechanic. The second will show its nuance. The other three will integrate the mechanic into the game with everything else you’ve learned. This means the difficulty curve is more like a slowly deepening set of waves. It also keeps the game fresh as you are never more than five levels away from seeing something new. In the grand scheme of slider puzzles, not much is actually innovative here, but seeing how it all piles up together is well designed.
My main problems with Gardener’s Path come down to its visual design and somewhat odd additions. All too often I died sliding into a cactus or thorns that I thought were safe bushes. The greens are dark and pixelated, often cloaked in darkness of the fauna around it and so its visually quite messy to know what you can touch and what you can’t. This slowed down my progress a lot and became a quite annoying. There’s also hints for side quests that don’t appear to trigger (or exist) and whilst some game mechanics are mainstays, others are dropped almost immediately after being added. The last area has some really interesting caterpillar styled enemies that I thought would spawn loads of puzzle ideas but it comes so close the end, it leaves you wondering what if.
There’s nothing hugely wrong with Gardener’s Path. You can skip levels you get stuck on although you’ll need to complete all 60 for the cross buy platinums. Just don’t expect too much action as outside of the sliding, its strictly hands off. Do try it without a guide first though, you’ll find yourself getting much more enjoyment out of it that way.
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