This is the start of our Half Hour Games column, a series where we experience free games within the span of half an hour and then tell you about them. Call it “judging a book by its cover” because it’s certainly not representative, but for the millennial world, we need all the time that we can get.
Viridi is a free-to-play indie simulator game, designed by Ice Water Games (the game studio also responsible for Eidolon) and released for Steam on August 20, 2015.
Viridi is marketed as a brief lunch-break game to be “a place you can return to for a moment of peace and quiet whenever you need it”. The game revolves around growing and maintaining your personal pot of succulent plants and keeping them watered and alive. That’s it – you get a pot of plants, and you treat it pretty much like a real pot of plants. No goals, no gameplay, no stress. It’s just you and your cacti, relaxing.
It sounds interesting in practice – a quiet, comfortable place to watch little plant buddies chill out? It’s certainly a Far Cry from all of the Call of Fallout Battlefield games out there. But is it really substantial enough for it to hold its own? After the jump, we’ll give this game 30 minutes to impress us or wither trying.
The half hour
The game starts on a Unity loading screen, which has never been a promising sign for us. The Unity game engine has the simultaneous qualities of being both immensely easy for low-budget game studios to use, and also immensely freaking unstable. Sure enough, we sat around for a while as the game froze to a white screen struggling to process the immense burden of, uh, plants.
It comes in a tiny little window that’s thankfully resizable. All of our screenshots were taken in the out-of-the-box resolution.
You start off by choosing a pot, which comes in a variety of patterns ranging from creepy to cute. We chose the one named “Thousand Eyes” (it’s exactly what it sounds like) because it was the scariest and most inexplicable. After you select a pot, you’re given a choice between three different sets of starter plants to populate it.
Your pot starts out with a few weeds in it that you will have to pull out by clicking on them. This is not explained at any point in the game itself (for people who are truly new to plants – more on that later – it’s a lucky guess that you’re not uprooting something important), but the weeds do not inhibit your plants in any way other than stopping them from growing a certain size. It would have been nice to see, like real weeds, that they would make your plants grow more slowly.
After picking weeds, the next thing to do is water your plants (they’re all labeled as “Thirsty”). You have to water all of your plants individually. Overwatering is possible and can quickly kill your plants if you drown them.
For the most part, plants in Viridi are named after their scientific nomenclature, but there are some outliers where they are titled after their common names. We have several Kalanchoe rotundifolia in our pot, but the centerpiece is a large “Blue Glow” agave. You can rename your plants as you wish, though, and we decided that our agave would henceforth be known as Long John.
You can ‘sing’ to your plant by clicking on one and zooming in on it: after a few seconds, animated musical notation will manifest on the screen. It would have been nice if it actually played audio that matched the ‘sheet music’, but alas, singing is completely silent.
It won’t make an appreciable difference for the first half-hour, but it does increase the speed of your plant’s growth. The plant’s status became “Vital”, but we couldn’t figure out what this meant.
The aesthetic was a little too eerie for us, given that the game is meant to feel like a safe space. If you haven’t purchased a backdrop, the pot just floats in the void; good luck if your pot is one of the ones with eyes on it. Even the music is a bit out of place. It’s a random series of songs, and they’re all a gentle series of notes played on the sound of electric piano, but all of the ones we heard were a little more morose than hopeful.
The graphical user interface is difficult and non-explanatory. You can’t access the menu if you’re zoomed in on the plants. At first glance, all buttons appear completely unlabelled. The text appears, very small, in the top-right; unreadable on our large monitors, in fact, so we didn’t notice it until much later. Not being able to know exactly what each button did made us hesitant to play with it, especially since the “move plants” button looked like it would uproot the plant entirely.
The music options are in the main menu, and the music does not turn off if you tab out. This can get frustrating fast when the music simply does not shut up because you wanted to keep your plants open while you did something else. Fortunately, the music is the only sound in the game and will stay quiet once turned off.
An unexpected factor is microtransactions. Nowhere in any details about this game did we know there would be a payment system in this game. We downloaded this game under the expectation that it would be totally free. We’re not disappointed that it has microtransactions – game developers can’t burn their code for warmth – we’re just surprised that it hadn’t come up at all before we started playing.
There’s a nursery where you can get new plants. You can buy seeds for the specific plants that you want, or get a random one every week for free. The seeds are incredibly inexpensive, ranging from nine to fifteen cents per plant, so we must assume that the margins on this game are very slim.
The nursery also sells new backdrops that put the plant pot into two new areas. The first of them is a purchaseable backdrop ($4.99) called “The Grove” – it’s referential of the developer’s other game, Eidolon, and you unlock it for free if you’ve already purchased Eidolon on Steam. The other is called the “Cat House” ($2.99) and we have no idea what it is. It’s presumably a room filled with cats, but we found very little infomation on exactly what would occur if you had either backdrop active.
There is a snail. The snail paces a never-ending circuit around the rim of the pot, sliming its way from one end to the other and generally being cute. There are odd things that you can do with it: you can water it, changing its status to “Wet”; and sing to it, changing its status to “Enthralled”. Other than that, it just exists to confirm that the game hasn’t frozen. It’s a nice little touch that adds a breath of actual ‘life’ to the game, and just might be our favorite part of the Viridi experience.
We weren’t sure of the scale of the game, so we found ourselves checking the game repeatedly, which quickly became mildly stressful. Our plants never became thirsty again. We sang to our precious agave Long John, but we couldn’t really determine if it was growing or not. So we waited. And waited.
After the fact…
Our plants grew a moderate amount, but none of them got thirsty again. We kept checking, getting a little stressed out about them dying, but quickly learned that these are some seriously hardy plants.
We discovered “Vacation Mode”, a mode where your plants live in stasis. They don’t require watering, but they don’t grow, either.
We didn’t feel a need to buy the ingame plants. Sure, they’re cheap as the dickens, but the pot starts with a good variety of plants and we didn’t really feel the need to overcrowd it. In fact, when all was said and done, we ended up wanting our own real-world Long John. Could Viridi be a nefarious scheme to revitalize the succulent market? Probably not.
But yes, the only thing to do is nothing for long periods of time. It’s just like real plants in that regard, except you can’t always look at them. The instinctive response is “That’s it?” – not because we’re unused to web toys, or long-term games, and certainly not because it’s boring. It’s just that Eggware.XYZ’s current headquarters is already overrun with plants, and this feels like an extra chore on top of everything else.
We’ve already got that responsibility on our hands, but we’re sure that this is an excellent game for someone who doesn’t have the room or attention to keep real plants alive. Just don’t expect Viridi to compare to the real thing: the game is still significantly faster; weeds aren’t a concern; and in real life, a snail amongst your cacti is more likely to be eating them than being cute.
3 out of 5 – Worth Trying (Wouldn’t Play It Again)
This hardcore intensive plant-em-up hits its marks, but those marks weren’t very hard to hit. Sure, it’s exactly what it says it would be, but it’s nothing more than that either. If you want a calm, collected experience that you can attend to as a part of your daily ritual, then Viridi might be the game for you. We here at Eggware.XYZ, however, have enough in our daily grind to worry about besides not killing a digital aloe.