Idle games occupy an interesting position in the video game climate. Most of us don’t really think of games like AdVenture Capitalist or Cookie Clicker as core video games, or even really recognize them as games at all. They’re really just distractions, nice ways to pass the time and still feel like you’re accomplishing something thanks to ever-increasing numbers, enticing you to get the higher amount of points your heart desires while waiting for your download to finish or microwave to beep. Little distractions, usually cute, and always a good way to fight off the always approaching threat of boredom. The issue is when an idle game manages to screw up even those basic fundamentals and becomes a bore itself.
Enter Plantera, an admittedly cute clicker game that was recently released on Steam. My first thought when booting it up was just how pleasant the whole thing looked from afar, with some bouncy sprites and a warm color palette. I clicked on some butterflies, planted some root vegetables, and relaxed as a little blue guy unearthed them with a satisfying ‘kaching’! It was honestly quite nice, unlocking bushes and trees to place in the world while also clicking on fruit to speed up the process. Boy, did that process need to be sped up. As it turns out, your helpers are in somewhat limited supply, and they aren’t too urgent. It seems they’re quite bored as well, just sort of strolling along and occasionally plucking something you can earn coins from. If you really want to go anywhere in Plantera, you have to pull the weight.
This leads to the one very big problem with Plantera. It’s a glaring problem, one that makes me want to just put my hands up and say “I’m done!”. This is the fact that you have to upgrade how much your little guys will work while you’re inactive. The very idea of idle games is that while you’re idle, you’ll still be collecting currency, be it through cursors clicking cookies or whatever the heck you do with anime girls in Sakura Clicker. The fact that the game won’t progress while you’re idle literally defeats the purpose of an idle game. Sure, other idle games can sometimes require your browser to be open, but having a tab open is completely different from an application running in Steam. If you need to close that application to play another game, you better have spent coins into actually letting the game idle for longer than a few games of Counter Strike.
Of course, you could invest coins into it, but what’s really the point? In just two hours of play and maybe ten hours where the game was actually idling, I had already unlocked everything. Sure, I could expand my garden to plant more bushes or place more cows, but why would I want to? All that would do is make me have to click on more things falling from trees, and have more animals to click so that they wouldn’t steal my fruit as the slow-moving blue workers collected them at a pace much slower than me actually manually clicking on every fruit and vegetable grown. I think we can trace everything on how to do a clicker game right with the title that made the genre explode, which was Cookie Clicker. There were reasons to care in Cookie Clicker. There was always a new goal to work toward, one that would guarantee even more money and get you even farther along that upgrade tree. There was an actual conflict, as weird as that may seem, with things like the Grandmapocalypse giving the game a unique uneasy feel.
Do you want to know what the real nail in the coffin is? The thing that puts nearly every other idle game leaps and bounds above Plantera? Really, when you get down to it, all of them are about watching numbers go up. The only difference is that in Plantera, it costs money to watch those numbers rise.
Plantera was reviewed on Steam with a key provided by the developer.
Plantera has a charming aesthetic that makes for a nice screensaver and nothing much beyond that.