For those who don’t know, horticulture, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, is “the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants.” In Strange Horticulture, you run a shop (named Strange Horticulture) and delve into the mysteries that the plant world of the town of Undermere has to offer.
Strange Horticulture follows you, the protagonist simply known as the Horticulturalist, as disaster strikes the fictional city of Undermere and the land around it. A demonic Servant is risen and wreaking havoc, leaving a trail of chaos and dead bodies in its wake. Surprisingly, the local plant specialist is exactly the person who ends up embroiled in these terrifying events – one way or another. The story offers several branching paths and different endings, which can change the fates of several key characters as well as yourself. That alone has quite a bit of replay value, and it’s not always easy to see how to steer the story the way you want it to.
Besides yourself, a simple and reclusive shop owner and lover of plants, the game includes characters such as the librarian Simone, psychic Faye, villainous Isidore, and the ever-enigmatic Woman in the Jade Mask. Plus there’s also Hellebore, the local shop cat who greatly enjoys scritches and occasionally nibbling plants he’s not supposed to. While I can’t claim that every character has great amounts of depth and backstory, they are all multi-facted, and it’s interesting to see what is changed or revealed of them depending on which branch of the story you choose to follow. As for the protagonist, you get to choose their personality – villain? Victim? Valiant?
While the overarching narrative of the Servant and its mysterious Master is strong, most of the gameplay focuses on the plants in the shop. As the game goes on you collect more plants to sell to people as well as more entries for your encyclopedia that you use to identify them. That’s right, the plants don’t come pre-labeled. Figuring out which plant is which is all part of the fun, and the game does allow for mistakes rather than accidental poisonings, letting you do it over as many times as you need before you finally figure it out. There is also a hint button that you can make copious use of, which will direct you to the plants or pages you need.
Both plants and pages are found by deciphering clues in the game. You’ll get letters and hints from visitors to your shop, including the postman, and at the start of each day you’re given a new Clue card that will also direct you to a location on the map. While some of these are easy to figure out, like the letter that Simone sends to you requesting you meet her at the library for more book entries, others are much more difficult to figure out, but all are solvable with logic, and some ingenuity.
The gameplay is entirely point and click or more often, click and drag, with helpful arrows and a tutorial menu if you do happen to get stuck. As mentioned before, it’s not a game that you can fail out of, but there are times when you will be forced to restart part of your day if you make enough mistakes.
One of the things I loved about Strange Horticulture was the general ambiance in the shop. From the constant background noise of rain falling, to Hellebore’s contented purrs, it genuinely sounds like you’re in a not very crowded plant shop, whiling away your time while the rain just falls in the dreary storm outside. The game’s art also complements this, being a similar if less cartoony style to fellow Victorian-esque adventure Bertram Fiddle. The plants each have unique designs, with no reskins or color changes, and each of the people is different and yet utterly severe looking.
Strange Horticulture is a lovely, gothic experience, perfect for fans of Fallen London or Cultist Simulator. With engaging gameplay mechanics, solid puzzles, and a well-written mystery with branching paths that warrant replaying, Strange Horticulture is the perfect game to kick back and relax with on your own rainy day.
TechRaptor reviewed Strange Horticulture on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Relaxing Ambiance
- Well Written Mystery With Choices
- Excellent Puzzles
- Not Always Clear How Choices Will Affect the Path