23 Apr 2009

A field of dreams: Blueberry Garden

I know I keep regurgitating the same old observation of how every new indie game I come across is beautifully expressive or lovingly wacky, but as a blanket statement it actually tends to be the case far more often than you'd expect. Currently it seems indie gaming is all about bringing the medium forward by delivering unusual feasts of gaming goodness that differ greatly from the slop we so often have to suffer on the high street shelves. You could say - and I often do - that small independent developers don't feel required to create what they think the consumer would like so much as what they themselves want to play, the product of which is usually off-the-wall content.

You could also be of the opinion that it's a conscious decision to stand out from the crowd. Bold colours and zany characters are the key to success and without a novelty device or some kind of graphical twist they will undoubtedly be left to rot in some darkened corner of the internet.

Without venturing too far along this trail of thought, I'll introduce Blueberry Garden by saying that it's not your standard platformer... but it is your typical indie game. It shows off abstract, hand-drawn visuals, classical piano music and several fruity gameplay twists. It's colourful and accessible, but having said that, it also surpasses the indie gaming stereotypes by being pretty damn good.

The winner of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF this year, Blueberry Garden is the creation of Erik Svedäng and a game that is well deserving of the praise it has received so far. Soon to be released, Erik has been kind enough to let me take a sneaky peek at his contribution to the indie scene.

'So, what's the deal?' I hear you not ask.

Well, as soon as you load it up you'll be confronted by a game that seems to take its inspiration from dreams more than anything else. As a result it's abstract and pleasantly directionless. Deeper though are the aforementioned additions that twist the gameplay away from what you'd expect from a simple platformer.

Enter the man with a beak on his face. You play as this guy, flying about and collecting various oversized household objects. Giant apples, books, top hats and suchlike litter the landscape which you must then trek across to find. Each time you succeed in doing so, you'll teleport back to the start of the level along with the object you found stacked above you to form a rudimentary tower. Each item you add gives the tower more height which allows you to fly longer distances and reach unexplored territory.

So that's the zany part... and now here I go with one of my many predictable statements: Blueberry Garden is instantly engaging.

When you start playing you'll be skipping about, reading the tutorial signs and trying to figure out what on Earth you're actually required to do and how to go about it. The trees and wildlife offer some pointers. Fruits that grow in the game essentially become power-ups and using these effectively will allow you to access previously unreachable areas in order to continue the search for another piece of the tower.

Within the game world you'll find a bunch of friendly denizens that are all too happy to go about their business, eating the fruit that's dropped and spreading the seeds to grow new trees. Whether this is integral to succeeding, I'm not entirely sure, but it's certainly a workable strategy and using the various plant and animal life to your advantage is part of the fun.

Amazingly, the object of the game didn't occur to me until my second attempt at it. A water level that is virtually out of sight at the start of each new game rises slowly as you play. It's your biggest obstacle and anything you can do to stop yourself drowning is best done quickly. Reaching pieces of the tower before they become inaccessible is obviously at the forefront of your mind, but so too is finding a way to stop it and escape. Have I managed this yet? No. Will I keep trying? Of course. Make that a yes, after a period of obsessive playing.

The most fascinating aspect of the game is that you are left almost entirely without direction from the off. Just like a dream, you're required to make sense of a world that is familiar, but not quite normal. The game contains several references to standard mario-style platformers, but it differs through the use of a few interesting devices. A completely real-time world that continues to evolve off-screen and coexisting wildlife are a couple of things that confirm just why this game received such credit at the IGF awards.

To return to my original comment, Blueberry Garden is your typical indie game, but in the best sense possible. It's original and innovative whilst taking the finest parts of a well-tread genre and expanding them to show what can still be done to keep it fresh and involving.

From what I've seen, I think a lot of people already have quite an affection for Blueberry Garden from just watching the preview videos posted about the internet and if you aren't one of them then what are you waiting for?


Anonymous said...

is there a way to solve it without "home button" ~~ got older dellkeyboard..

RetroPengo said...

I've only played the demo so far but I spent a good hour or two just running around and planting seeds on my own. This game definitely deserves the award that it won. I plan on buying this as soon as I can on Steam.

In response to the home button, I only used it when I have been trapped. If you become trapped though, it's the only way out.

Excellent review! Spot on :)

Anonymous said...

ok fine thanks adam.. im just to dumb for this game ~.~ cant finish the demo.
would you like to give me a little clue? got

apple 2x
for now, what is missing?

im going crazy about this

otherwise really great game.

Rowan Davies said...

I'm definitely getting the urge to go back and play this because of the buzz surrounding release. Cheers for your comments anyway... Tis a lovely little game.