June 6, 2009 8:51 PM | Michael Rose
Winning the Independent Games Festival Seumas McNally Grand Prize is always going to be a great boost for any indie developer (both mentally and financially), but it's a tough act to follow. This year's winner Erik Svedang had to follow in the wake of the likes of Crayon Physics Deluxe, Aquaria and Gish - clearly quite a daunting task.
Erik's Blueberry Garden is a playground of exploration and oddities. It's beautifully calming yet fast-paced. It's like every platformer you've ever experienced yet nothing like anything you've ever played. Most importantly, Blueberry Garden is definitely worthy of the prize bestowed upon it.
The 'fairytale' that is Blueberry Garden's goes as follows: Some absent-minded (sinister? playful?) soul has left a tap running with the water threatening to send your habitat Atlantis-wards. Your job is quite simply to reach the tap and save the land. Or so is my interpretation - there is technically no explanation as to what is going on; rather a feeling that you, the player, are meant to come to your own conclusions and make the story yours. Whether this was Erik's intention or not, I personally felt that it made the experience that bit more enjoyable.
And what an experience it is. Our beaked crusader (again, make your own story of this) is residing in such a strange world full of the most random terrain, edible fruit with eccentric effects and adorable creatures which scurry around doing not a lot.
On my first play through I spent the majority of the time simply exploring this extraordinary world, taking in all the sights the Garden has to offer. You should be well aware by now that our hero has the ability to hold out his arms and soar through the clouds in an incredibly dream-like fashion. The land is superbly wide in both directions, and you'll find gliding through the sky quite relaxing.
Initially, however, most of the playground is inaccessible and it's through gathering up the most incredibly bizarre items that progression to further areas is permitted. Reaching each new section rewards the player with different fruit, creatures and items to find.
The fruit is one of the odder elements of the game. All can be digested and each has an effect of some description. Trying to work out just what the effects are can, in some cases, cause a little head-scratching. With no explanation in place, a few are obvious while others not so. In fact, I eventually gave in and asked Erik for some explanations! While I am fond of the lack of narrative, some exceptions did naturally occur.
I feel at this point I'd like to have a stab at defining what level of strange Blueberry Garden falls under. A game can be described as atypical for a number of different reasons - for example, I'd describe most of Edmund McMillen's work as a twisted sort of strange, while a game like Stalin vs Martians is strange because... well, just check out that title for starters.
Reading into discussions regarding the previously released trailers for Blueberry Garden, many have commented that it all looks a little drug-induced; Like a huge mindtrip in game form. After experiencing the Garden, I feel that it's the complete opposite. Blueberry Garden's compelling strangeness is one of innocence and simplicity. I mean, didn't we all want to soar through the clouds as children and dream of a world where everything was a toy? This is everyone's childhood dream in a game. You press the Home button on your keyboard to go back home in-game, for Christ's sake! What's more innocent than that?
I also must mention the beautiful piano accompaniment. So calming and well-fitting, Daduk's piece managed to make me completely forget the fact that there was water rising fast and that I should probably get a move on. It's quite astonishing that such a score blends so well with this urgency.
So the big question - should you give Erik's playground a go? While I've piled on the praise for his creation, please be aware of the following: firstly, Blueberry Garden will not be for everyone. It all depends on how you interpret the experience as a whole. Fortunately, a demo is confirmed which will most likely appear at the same time as the full release, so if in doubt, definitely try before you buy. Secondly, the game is extremely short - one play through will last around half an hour. I played for about 2 hours and felt like I'd seen everything on offer.
So, time for Blueberry Garden in a nutshell. Remember the Moomins? Blueberry Garden is like the Moomins as a computer game (minus the dodgey theme tune). It is pure innocent strangeness that begs to be explored. Make sure to check it out when it's released on 8th June through Steam.
[Since this review was written, a price of $5 was confirmed. For that measly sum, I'd say forget downloading the demo and buy this straight off.]