With winter now in full effect you may be thinking of getting your seedlings in the greenhouse and turning over the turf. Take a piece of advice though, do not play Magic Garden instead. If you are brave enough to face the rain and snow then you have enough courage to take on a very different style of game. Magic Garden is not a horticulture simulation: it is unlike anything you have ever played.
Grobble is a naughty Gnome who has been banished to a rural garden by the Gnome King. He is imprisoned there until he has all grown up and responsible; which he can prove by making the dilapidated garden both beautiful and functional. The garden contains flower beds, a lawn, vegetable patch, an old hollow tree, a fountain, a greenhouse, a garden shed and a well.
Grobble is the sprite, that has to put right, this English country garden. Wandering about he looks like just the sort of jolly, chubby sort of gnome you would be proud to have in the front garden (Only if you are one of those weird people who think that a small concrete statue looks good - Ed).
He is controlled by either joystick or mouse, and can scurry anywhere in the garden. To access the various areas just move him there and up pops a close-in screen of the building or location.
Magic Garden is a test of time and object management. Grobble has a shoplifter's coat that is packed full of pockets, where he carries his garden-tending tools. To plant seeds for example, he needs a digging tool, seeds and to stand in the flower bed. By accessing his pockets (press fire) he can select which seeds to plant.
Clicking on the 'use' icon starts Grobble planting, provided he is carrying the trowel. This takes time, though, and while the flowers are being prepared, the lawn may be going to waste, the fountain could be leaking or roof tiles could be falling from the shed.
One action has to be traded off against the other, to gradually bring the garden up to the Gnome King's standards. There are two ways of telling how well Grob is doing. First, and most immediate, is the food gauge. If Grobble is not constantly fed he will starve and die! A good garden is a working garden, so Grobble has to swiftly become self-sufficient and grow his nosh. Once this is under control it is time to worry about the garden's overall fitness - a percentage gauge at the base of the screen shows the garden's current status. The more Grobble does right, the higher the percentage goes and if it reaches 100 per cent, he is free and you have won. If it slips down to zero though, the Gnome King will try to fry Grobble with lightning bolts.
Gardening is always seen as a relaxing, therapeutic past time, but Grobble has to contend with the random elements that make his life rather hectic. Weather is his primary concern. A forecast meter tells him when bad weather is on the way: this can ruin a good garden.
On top of this are the impish elves who sneak out to steal bits of the lawn and fish that escape from the pond for a float around the garden. Both must be caught and put back in their proper place if the garden is going to be magic, not tragic. These add new twists to the game, forcing Grob to chase, sprite style, around the garden and the tunnels beneath the well.
Magic Garden has a strangely cute feel. Its individual nature is strong enough to stand and be counted as a major development on the Sim City management-style genre. Everything needs to be done at once but only one job can be done at a time. It forces players to grasp the core elements that influence the status of the garden, to maintain these bare necessities and then tweak the peripheral elements.
The graphic language this test uses is its strongest asset; a refreshing and boldly original approach. Using the gnome theme the management is cute without being twee, it is testing but does not feel it. The symbols, flowers, vegetables, lawn mowing, gnome catching etc. interact logically if the humorous logic of the game is appreciated.
Magic Garden is not an action game and can be slow especially when accessing pockets and different areas of the garden. These are not fatal flaws, but they do annoy. If you get into the game, and it does take a while to understand why and what you have to do, it becomes riveting. If you like your games to be instantly accessible stay away from Magic Garden, but if you do not mind a little learning and you fancy something different then it is worth going through the gate for.