Gardening is said to be good for your health. It can relieve stress, help combat anxiety and depression, and improve your overall mental wellbeing. Studies conducted in the past have proven caring for a plant or garden is therapeutic and can better a person’s quality of life. So how does a video game about a virtual garden sound? In Plantera Deluxe you’ll start out with some carrots and eventually have an entire orchard filled with fruit trees, berry shrubs, vegetable patches and even animals populating the space.
It’s a relatively basic concept and one that doesn’t require too much input from the player as it is an incremental game. Depending on your own play style, you’ll either be doing a lot of button pressing or finger tapping when you visit your garden. When you aren’t about, light blue creatures referred to as “helpers” will continue to care for your garden while you’re away from the game. This means, when you return, you’ll receive a large sum of money based on your garden’s earnings.
Despite its simple premise, Plantera is still a very addictive game that can be hard to put down. If you’re a bit lost to begin with you can always refer to the game’s extensive help menu. Here you’ll be informed about the basics as well as the finer points of the game. To start out, you only have a single patch of veggies. From here onwards, you earn money every time you grow and pick the fruit and vegetables from your garden. This is tied to a levelling system, so as you plant more trees and grow more fruit and vegetables you’ll unlock more vegetation, animals and helpful items such as manure to speed up the growth of plants and the overall cycle enabling you to earn more money at an even faster rate.
Although you can play this title at a relaxed pace, it’s hard not to get caught in the moment. Before you know, you’ll likely be repeatedly tapping buttons to assist your helpers as they pick the fruit and vegetables in your garden. Animals and insects that inhabit your garden provide additional coin. Chickens will lay eggs and cows will drop bottles of milk while tapping on a butterfly will award you with even more cash. Friendly horses are included in the deluxe version of the game as well. There are also predators that put your garden and animals that reside within it at risk. These include rogue moles, rabbits that eat most of the plants, wolves and foxes that scare your animals and pesky magpies that steal the fruit from the trees. Fortunately, you can hire the services of dogs to scare away certain predators and also erect scarecrows to deal with the threats from above. It’s this part of the game that can be slightly stressful at times, as it definitely works against the idea that gardens are a place of relaxation.
You’ll quickly get to a point in the game where you realise your garden has become too crowded. This is when it’s time for an expansion. By clicking on one of the signposts on either side of the garden, you can expand the boundaries for a hefty sum of money. Once you’ve done this, you continue expanding with more trees, bushes and vegetable patches. Within a few casual sessions you should have a reasonably sized garden, and be earning a lot more coin than you were when you originally started out. You can also have a bigger garden in the deluxe edition of the game, and even decorate your garden in a special Christmas theme.
Star shards are what add longevity to the game, which is an added bonus considering how few unlocks there actually are. Once you have unlocked every item, you’ll receive a yellow star shard, making it worth more when sold. When five star shards have been gathered you then unlock a green star shard, making it worth even more again. If you can obtain five green shards you'll earn the ultimate super star upgrade, further increasing the value of items. This entire process adds an extra sense of purpose to your progression. The 21 achievements also add extra life to the game, with standard objectives included such as expanding the garden multiple times, planting a total of 100 plants, buying hundreds of animals, collecting 500 butterflies or bashing 50 moles.
Plantera has already had countless releases, including on the 3DS and Wii U eShop. The deluxe addition on the Switch doesn’t really change the game, but at least looks fantastic on the big screen and in the handheld mode. Aesthetically, the vivid and colourful sprites work well with the ambiance provided by the game’s soundtrack. The ability to use buttons or the touchscreen controls is also a thoughtful inclusion; however both of these options have issues. The analogue control is not as smooth as it could be, and the touch controls lack precision. Ideally, if you have a compatible stylus on hand, that's an option to consider. Else you’ll just have to stick it out with the default controls.
Plantera Deluxe is definitely a relaxing change of pace from the average video game experience. Often we’re encouraged by games to work hard for a reward, whereas in this game, you can to some extent step back and let nature take its course. Of course, if this isn’t your style, you can also actively participate in your garden’s development on a regular basis to accelerate the process and ultimately unlock new content or earn more coin at an increased rate. How you approach this title is up to yourself. Some might find it to be a shallow experience, or even resent this type of game because of its mobile and free-to-play heritage, but if you’re willing to give it a chance on the Switch, it’s a great game suitable for everyone and perfect for unwinding in between sessions of major releases.