POCKET Garden is the first, and in all probability the last game to deliver a sense of achievement through a tarte tatin.
Pocket Garden - iOS (reviewed)
Score: 8.0 / 10
It took me a little over an hour to create the French classic, having fastidiously picked the juiciest apples from my fledgling orchard before spiriting them to the skilled resident pâtissier at L’escargot, a homely eatery on the other side of town, who transformed the fruit into a succulent dessert - from farm to table in a few steps, with some coin thrown in to sweeten the dish further.
Such an organic process is not altogether obvious at first with the new title from Dundee’s Cobra Mobile. The setting may lead some to presume it is following in the achingly ubiquitous formula ploughed by the Farmville series of freemium Facebook games, which somehow cast a spell over millions with its laborious focus on harvesting crops. Thankfully, it is only the theme of Pocket Garden that is agricultural; the furrows in this game run deeper than its endearing graphical style suggests.
A fusion of flick-based mechanics, sorting puzzler and farming simulator, the iOS release serves up intricate and contrasting flavours. Every player begins with a humble patch, already ploughed and waiting to be cultivated with fruit and vegetables. Crops are harvested and stockpiled in baskets, while vermin is dispensed of so as to allow worms to flourish and improve the patch’s fertility, thereby boosting productivity levels.
In the early stages of the game, a few nimble swipes and flicks of the forefinger will be sufficient to fulfil these challenges, but as the seeds available increase, different pests will plague your patch and it becomes necessary to use multiple digits to protect your produce. This rigorously-designed and compulsive process could be an enjoyable if ephemeral iPhone release in its own right; in Pocket Garden, it is just one of several ingredients.
Enter a truck parked outside your farmstead and a charming animation reveals that your garden is part of a bustling village, home to a sweep of restaurants with hungry customers and chefs eager for locally grown produce. Produce the fare for their daily and weekly specials and you will be handsomely rewarded, allowing for greater investment in the quality of your crops and equipment. The idea is shrewdly designed, eventually opening up other themed restaurants with increasingly complex dishes.
Only so much can be done without paying
Over time, the sense that your ever-growing garden is at the heart of this community grows, and the resultant pride you feel encourages repeated visits. Facebook integration adds to this by allowing you and your friends to play in one another’s gardens, sharing the rewards. Prolonged sessions are possible, but as a free to play game, there is only so much that can be achieved in Pocket Garden in one sitting without relying on in app purchases. Yet the balancing act is generous. For example, it is possible to play six consecutive rounds in your patch before the soil’s fertility begins to suffer, resulting in a 20 minute wait. Even then, that time can be spent tinkering with the cosmetics of your farm, such as painting the picket fencing or hanging bunting.
The sheer variety of Pocket Garden does mean the immediacy of the sorting mini game sits at odds with the more ambitious RPG aspects that set the game apart from Farmville’s dull repetition. It takes time to become familiarised with the workings of elements such as currency, XP, gems, popularity and market tokens, and there are times you wonder whether the complicated system could have been pruned and streamlined. A few hours of play will overcome this problem, however, and persistence is most definitely rewarded. After you have provided the ingredients for your first few dishes, you realise that once Pocket Garden’s seed is planted, it can be hard to remove.