Imagine if the vibes of chilling in Animal crossing was transplanted into an actual game.

Garden Story was one of a couple vegetable based games released in 2021 in what is commonly known as the Bugs Life Ants Paradox.

I initially started playing this game on a whim via Xbox game Pass but stopped half way through because I’m too much of a monk to allow myself that much a good time and B. Limited Run announced a physical release. Don’t subscribe to that sites emailer if you want your child to have debt free higher education. Anyway I ordered that in September last year, and got it last week in a bent case.

The game was made by Picogram, and that’s not a studio, that’s a single person. Absolutely disgusting. You can’t do art this friggin adorable and be any good at programming also. Talent concentrated at this level in a single person should be outlawed. Raw uncut talent must have pretty awesome street value though.

You play as a little grape who’s been lumped with the role of guardian of the grove, not because they’re the chosen one or anything, just because the workload needs to be spread out among the very few guardians who remain. I think more stories need to embrace the mundanity of being the chosen one of many.

The story has that very human writing style I’ve come to expect from thoughtful indy devs, like I’m reading their diary. It’s sweet enough to keep me in a good mood, but with the tinge of melancholy and goodbyes that keeps me wanting to see how the story ends. This is an adorable world that’s looking down the barrel of mortality. Don’t worry little fruit people, your little rotting bodies might make good alcohol one day.

There are a number of towns that you slowly unlock as you play, each with a mini dungeon run and a boss encounter to deal with, which offers a tasty little plate of combat. As you play you accrue memories which are building blocks for various combat buffs. Mix and match em to create the stat loadouts most appropriate for your playstyle. In real life I have collected all my memories of painfuly awkward moments at parties to give me a +2 to answering “maybe” on event invites.

Most of the time though you’re going to be familiarising yourself with the names of the surrounding map screens, because you’re going to be roaming them a lot doing daily mini quests for the village and gathering resources as required.

The days blast by, you’ll get a little quest to pick up some glass off the beach and kill a couple slimes and by the time you’re done with that it’s god damn midnight already.

The accessibility options can actually help here, delaying the night and harder monsters, or even granting you invincibility. This is a game for everybody and being no good at combat is not a requirement for entry if you don’t want it to be. I remember when invincibility was reserved exclusively for bullies and deviants who’d already finished the game a thousand times. Personally I liked how Age of Empires included a rapid firing shelby Cobra as a cheat unit, but that won’t be earning them any accolades for inclusivity any time soon I don’t think.

The town quests are pretty optional and serve to upgrade whichever town you’re currently in. Upgrades to the town equate to new gear in the shops to upgrade your weapons. So really, it is a primary mechanic for improving yourself.

They will crop up every day which will upset people who like keeping boxes ticked off, but just ignore em if you’re getting stuff for an upgrade or doing mainline quest stuff.

Your inventory is miniscule, But I think it teaches you to only gather when you have to, rather than compulsively vacuum the world of it’s items. It’s interesting that this can be a tool for better gameplay balancing. Do you remember how horrible it felt having a small inventory back in the day on No Man’s Sky? What did my guy go to space with, a fucking purse?

There’s also something about the floating pickups in this game that transport me back 15 years to picking up sticks in Maple Story and I am not complaining. All I’ve ever wanted to do with my life is pick up lightly bobbing resources in Maple Story. More games need to be Maple Story. Where are all the good Maple Story clones? I’ve been so friggin patient, please for the love of god someone make a new good chibi mmo platformer and let me know in the comments when it’s finished or if it exists.

I think I value games that make me just chill out and enjoy my time in the little worlds it’s crafted for me. The dailies really feel like a synthesis for the grind of daily life in a small town with vegetables you like. Picograms goal with this game was to “just making people feel connected and wanting one another,”

I talk a lot about the town questing because I’m avoiding falling into the trap other reviewers have, of mentioning the light building mechanics or evoking names like Stardew Valley for no reason to mislead you about what sort of game to expect.

In an interview Picogram talked about what led them to make this game. “The idea of doing labor for people you care about was something I really wanted to bring into games, making a connection between being the hero and also supporting your community,” they told IGN. “I think that the idea of a hero going out to a world unknown maybe isn’t as representative of the kind of heroism I want to see in games. I want people to elevate those in their community and make role models out of people who just want to contribute to those around them.”

I think that’s beautiful, and I like that this game lets me for a moment pretend I’m someone who could both kill slimes and fix bridges. I think they succeeded in their goal. And I can’t wait to see what their next title will be.