Developer: Noio Games
Publisher: Noio Games
Genre(s): Simulation, Sandbox, Casual
Platform: Xbox Series X|S (Also available on PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 01/09/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
I’ve been following the development of Cloud Gardens for quite some time. In fact, to my utter disbelief, it has been a whole year since I covered the Early Access Steam version! Having enjoyed it thoroughly, I naturally was alerted when an Xbox code dropped onto our list.
Now, since I’ve already covered it in early access, I’m going to try and avoid repeating myself. Rather, this review will be focused on how far it has come as well as what it’s like as a final product. So have Noio Games sown seeds of success with Cloud Gardens? Let’s take a look.
The campaign mode in Cloud Gardens now features a handy overworld map. Here, you can see the names of the levels and how they each trail off into themed sections. For example, you can follow the path of the junkyard levels or the railroad ones. I much prefer the visual diagram compared to the menu in early access.
To summarise the aim of the game, you must make plants grow by placing objects down next to them. I didn’t find that this was made very clear in the early access. However, the full game takes you through a tutorial that clarifies this objective. You begin with seeds and have to make them bloom by using the objects provided. They bloom into flowers and collecting these fill a plant meter in the bottom right-hand corner. This will create a new seed for you to plant. The percentage of plant growth must reach 100% in the bottom left-hand corner for you to progress to the next stage.
It’s a relatively simple concept but completing levels isn’t so simple. You can’t rush through them, as there is an almost logical element to it. Sometimes you’ll find yourself breezing through objects then realising you’ve run out without reaching 100%, having to restart the level! I found the best way for success was planting all my seeds before using the objects to make them grow to their full potential. There’s no use placing objects if there’s nothing for them to affect, no matter how cute the rubber ducky may be to your crafted scene! Don’t crush your plants with objects either, as this will set your percentage back.
I experienced quite a few bugs in my time with the Cloud Gardens early access, so I’m pleased to say I did not experience any this time round. There were some fantastic new additions to the UI which made everything a lot smoother and more accessible. I much preferred the new cursor, a charming gardening glove which makes it that little bit clearer what you’re picking up. There are two new tools featured too; a vacuum and a chainsaw. The vacuum has made picking up seeds a great deal easier. Before, I would be rapidly clicking my PC mouse to collect them all. Now, I can suck them all up in one go. The chainsaw lets you cut down sections of plants, if you want to place an object there without crushing them.
Each of the main controls are clearly marked too, and very easy to use on an Xbox controller. If you get stuck, visiting the setting menu lets you see all the controller mapping. Even the pause menu looks better, uncluttered, and visually pleasing. All these combined polish Cloud Gardens into a finished, professional game.
Leaf It To Me!
I was so happy to see plants discussed in the Cloud Gardens Discord server come to life in-game, and just generally found it exciting to experience a wider range of plants. My absolute favourite was the phragmites, long grass reeds blooming with pink and purple flowers. It also brought a variety of colour palettes to the levels; pair this with the photo mode’s lighting presets or customise your own, and you could produce stunning scenes. A green, misty setting transforms the scene into something spooky from a horror movie, yet changing it to a pink-hued sunset left an almost peaceful feeling of hope in this apocalyptic world.
Speaking of photo mode, this was one of my favourite things about Cloud Gardens when I first played it. With a clearer UI, you can now adjust preset lighting to get the exact colours you want, then take screenshots or videos which automatically save to your Xbox. Rotating around your masterpiece and watching plants grow over the urban scene is such a treat. It also allows easier sharing so you can send the results to fellow fans or even the devs of the game.
Now we’re on the topic of the visuals, the low poly graphics, though not physically demanding, look stunning on the Series S. They work incredibly well in weaving the apocalyptic setting together, moving from basic platforms to skyscrapers brimming with plants and objects in scenes that you created. Despite the artistically cluttered environments on screen, no drops or stuttering occurred.
The creative mode has also had a significant update. Upon first playing it in early access, there were a few bugs with items not unlocking and far less to work with. Now, there’s a really handy catalogue where you can see just how much you have to play with. You unlock items by playing through the stages in the campaign mode, so there is an incentive to go through them all to unlock everything.
With new plants, props, buildings, and more, you could honestly spend hours in Cloud Gardens‘ creative mode alone. The one issue I did find is that though I could rotate objects, there were some that were top-heavy and could fall over, like this new Xbox controller. I would have liked to have placed it on the ground with the buttons facing up, but you could only rotate 360 degrees from its original position. I then wasn’t able to select it and undo for some reason, which is a problem when trying to perfect a scene. The only solution I could see was starting over, which is not something you want to do when you’ve spent a lot of time on it.
Without gushing too much as I already did in my early access preview, the ambient soundtrack is the perfect partner to your journey. It makes you feel alone in this urban world being overtaken by nature, with the hurtful pang of past memories. At the same time, there’s a glimmer of determination, of starting over and rebuilding the Earth. The creative mode featured slightly more instrumental music, which was a joy to listen to while working on my own piece.
A humourous addition to the sound effects besides the cawing crows and satisfying audio of planting a seed, are the gnomes and rubber ducks! When you place them, the gnome lets out a joyful cry, and the duck a little squeak! Though it may sound jarring against the melancholic atmosphere, it actually helped it not be all doom and gloom. The toy objects, though they could tell a story of sadness, also helped reinforce hope and children being the future.
Seeds of Success?
It has been an absolute privilege to see Cloud Gardens go from Early Access to full release on a next-gen console! It’s relaxing, creative, visually gorgeous and just the perfect game to spend an evening getting lost in. The only thing holding it back for me is the issue I had being unable to undo in creative mode. If you’re quite pedantic with your creations, it is very frustrating. Otherwise, if you’re looking for something chill you can look no further!
Rapid Reviews Rating
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase Cloud Gardens for Xbox at the Microsoft Store here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.