The Garden Path appeared just about a year ago, a sort of slightly more complex-looking Animal Crossing. Lauren played the demo a few months back and found it to be lovely, and indeed, what’s not to love about a pretty 2D world where you potter about and plant things, and trade things with different anthropomorphic animals that wander through. There’s a slightly chonkier preview build knocking about now, and I’ll say this for it: you need to put the time in.
There’s more to say as well, but that was my main takeaway from the current build. Much like actual gardening, a lot of The Garden Path is inscrutable to me – at least from the visits I’ve made to the garden so far, which is actually more of a free-form forest at present. Presumably after some effort on my part I can shape it how I’d like. But if current trends hold that will take a long time. Cos plants.
And credit to The Garden Path, because this is already one of the most planty plant games I think I’ve seen. It’s a very nice garden, to be fair. It looks like a European-y forest, with some open areas mixed with tress and ground cover, and almost everything you can see is a plant you can do something with. There are different kinds of grass and clover, and many varietals of herb. Things flower at different times. I get massive Secret Garden vibes off the whole thing, and have set up my tent in an area that I now regret putting it because it’s too far from my favourite bits. I haven’t been able to test this out yet, but I’m pretty sure there are seasons that will make different things happen. And the next one is in about a month.
The Garden Path is like Animal Crossing in that it works in real time. Whatever time of day it is outside your window, that’s what it is in your garden as well. And there’s only so much you can do at a time in it. You’re supposed to visit your garden regularly, but in short bursts, tending to the things you can but not over-egging it. Thus, gradual progress is made (and it will therefore be an astonishingly tough game to review, so baggsy not). So far I have been able to plant four things and none of them have grown at all.
The problem I’m having with the preview build is that I have almost no idea how anything works. Sometimes this is fun. Fishing is done by sort of singing and hovering on the right note long enough that you hoik out a fish. The fish themselves also contain songs that you can release to different effect, like growing a specific type of seedling or clearing an area. That’s cool and weird and sort of intuitive even as it is confusing. But other things right now are hard to feel out. It took me about 15 minutes of repeated experimentation to figure out how trading works (kind of; it’s a bartering system and I’m still working out how you can tell the relative value of things).
It feels a bit like I must have skipped a step in a tutorial that triggered a whole bunch of other stuff to learn. I have what looks like a whole tab on my menu for an encyclopedia once I discover new plants and their uses, but nothing is popping up in there yet. I can listen to my seedlings but then they produce thought bubbles of things I don’t recognise, and even if I did I wouldn’t know what to do with that information. At the moment I’m just walking around taking cuttings of stuff and hoping I’ll figure it out in time.
The thing is, I’m not actually that annoyed by it. It feels like actual gardening, where sometimes stuff just doesn’t grow after six months of effort, and you have to stick your hands on your hips, go “Welp!” and try again. This is what it means to walk the garden path! The issues I’ve run into feel more technical, in that they can be fixed with a more robust starting tutorial that tells you how stuff works enough for you to feel confident setting out on your own, checking your map and following the sound of the river to find new stuff. The Elden Ring of Stardew Valley. But, being honest, I can’t be sure I won’t ever fiddle with the date and time on my PC to see if that moves thigs on a bit.