I'm not sure what it is lately, but life sim games just haven't been grabbing me the way they usually do. It's totally possible that I burned myself out playing copious amounts of Animal Crossing last year, or maybe it's that I need something that demands my full attention lately. Whatever it is, it's meant letting some really unique looking farming and slice of life games pass me by. But when I saw the Garden Path, I was pulled in right away. And as I played the demo, I fell even further in love with this wonderfully crafted, relaxing, world.
the Feeling of Familiarity
Initially, The Garden Path grabbed me because it is spectacularly beautiful. The solo developer, Louis Durrant, is an illustrator, which clearly shows through the game's storybook-like watercolor graphics. The cozy hand-drawn feeling lends such warmth and comfort to the game's environment, which perfectly fits their goals of creating a welcoming space to relax and ponder in. It was this feeling that completely captured me, as I find it's difficult to nail the feeling of familiarity in a game that is brand new - but this fit me like a glove right from the start.
When I began playing the demo, I quickly found that this beauty and comfort was backed by a lot of substance. Before I had actually played, I assumed it would be a gardening game with some NPCs and things to see, maybe like Spiritfarer. But The Garden Path is lot more similar to Animal Crossing or Cozy Grove, with its real-world clock and laid back approach to objectives. And even more than others you could compare it to, The Garden Path focuses on having a living breathing world to get cozy in.
friends and fronds
The Garden Path is essentially a horticultural fantasy, where a wide variety of plants need to be found, tended to, and planted. You won't need to stress about checking on them multiple times a day either, as things grow on their own time and it's designed to be played in small chunks, not to consume your every waking thought. I found it so relaxing to go around trimming plants and making my own small garden, listening to the soft piano soundtrack as I went along my day.
You won't be alone either. Visitors come and go, offering up small quests or opportunities for trading. Their schedules happen in real time, but instead of trying to make you follow their plans, it's exactly the opposite. You're encouraged to play when and how you prefer, and visits are more like nice surprises than events that must be capitalized on to progress. I love this approach personally as I don't always have a lot of time to consistently commit to a real-time game, but I enjoy when there are new things to experience each time I play.
Fishing and Finishing Touches
What really delighted me while I played though was the ways the game felt alive. There are so many small touches that contributed to the feeling of a little lived-in world that you're just getting to know - like your character walking more slowly though tall grasses, and tools hanging off of your character's backpack when they're not being used. Less obvious but still appreciated is the beautifully crafted and intuitive UI elements. Each type of item has its own slot too, so it feels simple to navigate and easy to understand from the jump. I was particularly delighted to find that when you're trading items, stacks over three are placed in a box instead of being loose items. These details, on their own, may not sound ground-breaking, but working together they weave a world that feels incredibly special.
As a final note - I've probably fished in a hundred games over the years. At this point, I feel like I've seen every possible representation of pulling fish out of a body of water and into my inventory. But I had definitely never seen whistling for fish. Instead of wild splashing and frantic pulling, you're just matching up a tune. I found the controls for this to be pretty intuitive (I did much prefer controller to mouse and keyboard for this game) and the whistled tune perfectly suits the gameplay and environment. To me this perfectly exemplifies the level of detail, thought, and care that is going into every aspect of this game.
I personally was blown away by the small slice of The Garden Path I was able to experience through the demo, and cannot wait for the full release. From the Ghibli-like art and environments, to the extremely well thought-out UI and the overall level of detail, I look forward to being able to carve out a small space for myself in this gorgeous peaceful world.
The Garden Path is currently on kickstarter, and at the time of posting has already reached 76% of their funding goal with two weeks to go. Backing it now helps make sure you've got a copy secured and that the developer has the funding they need to finish this incredible game. If you're not able to back them on kickstarter, you can check the demo out on their itch.io page and wishlist the game on steam.