By Eric Pankoke on Mon, 05/11/2009
My hope was to get this out before Mother's Day was over - at least by me - but I missed it by "that much". Anyway, I thought I'd take a couple minutes to talk about a relatively new iPhone application called Flower Garden. I hesitate to call this a game, because the only thing in it that's reminiscent of gaming is the need to unlock the various types of flowers you can grow. I suppose a better classification for this would be an "entertainment" package. In the end, though, it's really mostly one of those Zen like relaxation packages. It's interactive, but doesn't require you to stress your reflexes, tax your brain, or in any way feel inadequate for failing at something. In that regards it succeeds fairly well.
Flower Garden is much as its name implies. You have an area of 12 pots that you can grow flowers in. Each pot can hold 1 type of plant at any given time. You start with 3 different types of flowers that you can grow, and as you successfully grow plants and create bouquets you'll unlock more types of flowers that you can grow. Ultimately there are over 20 types of flowers to unlock in Flower Garden. So what do you do with these flowers once they are grown? Why, you make bouquets, of course! Once a flower is sufficiently grown you can clip it and add it to the current bouquet. When the bouquet is to your liking you can email it to whomever you'd like, along with a short personal message - more on that later. The down side to bouquets is that you can only have one at a time, so if you don't plan on ever sending one to someone be prepared to be tossing a lot of bouquets in your virtual trash.
Navigating the application is a simple enough affair. In the Garden screen you can click on empty pots to start new flowers or click on an occupied pot to maintain your flowers or clip them to add to a bouquet. When you click on an empty pot you will be taken to the Seeds screen, which you can also access directly from the buttons on the lower part of the screen. To start growing a plant you pick the seed type you want and then click again on the dialog that pops up describing the seed you've selected. If you decide you don't want to plant that seed, just click somewhere on the screen besides the dialog. Once you've planted a seed, or if you're returning to a flower that you've previously planted, you can add water to the flower by clicking the water droplet at the top of the screen. It would have been nice to be able to simply slide this control instead of having to press and hold the water droplet, but it's still easy enough to handle. Some plants simply have a green bar, so you can press the water as long as you want. Other flowers have a meter that might have either red on the left end, yellow on the right end, or both. If the watering meter gets into the red end the plants don't have enough water, and if the meter gets into the yellow end (because you held the watering button too long), the plants will get too much water.
The other part of Flower Garden is making bouquets. To start a bouquet you go to one of the flower growing screens and select a flower. A dialog with three choices will come up: cut the flower, discard the flower or discard the entire contents of the flower pot. Select the scissors icon and the flower will be added to your current bouquet. Once you feel you have enough flowers in your bouquet, select the Bouquet button at the bottom of the screen. You'll see all the flowers you've clipped so far arranged quite nicely. You can rotate the bouquet with left and right swipes, zoom and shrink the bouquet using two fingers, or move the bouquet up and down by dragging. You can also move the position of the message box by dragging it around. Finally, you can change the background behind the bouquet using the left and right arrow buttons to the sides of the screen. To actually send the bouquet to someone, click the message box. You will then have a screen where you can enter an email and a message. Finally, click the email icon to send your bouquet to the lucky recipient. In order to send the bouquet you have to supply an email address of your own, which you can either do in the settings or the first time you try and send a bouquet. I had some problems sending a bouquet to my mom, but I was able to send ones to my wife and myself just fine, so I'm going to attribute this problem to her end right now! The only things missing from bouquet management were the ability to delete the current bouquet and the option to rearrange the position of the flowers within the bouquet (I'll explain why I'd like this later). I didn't come across these items, anyway, and there are no instructions within the application, so maybe I just missed them.
The graphics in Flower Garden are pretty nice. It doesn't appear to use the Unity engine, but none the less it feels like the flowers are 3D objects. As you plant and water the seeds you can watch them grow, and when the stems are big enough they blow lightly in the breeze. There's nothing overly complex about the imagery, it just looks good. The only thing I was disappointed about is that in some instances petals from one flower look like they are slicing through petals from another. This is why it would be nice to be able to rearrange the position of the flowers once you've added them to a bouquet. The other thing that's pretty cool is that in the Garden view you can see the flowers in their various states of growth. The down side to this is that there's no way of telling what plant is in a particular pot until it's in full bloom. The ability to pop up a quick display showing the name of the flower in each pot would have been useful in this regard.
The sound effects are really well done. Watering the plants sounds natural, and when you select a flower to add to a bouquet you hear the snip of the scissors and the noise of the flower being wrapped up. It even sounds like the flower's being shoved into a trash bag when you select the option to discard a flower. The music is nice and soothing, just like you'd expect for an application like this. I just wish there was more than one track, because when you have a product as mellow as this one, it tends to be a lot more noticeable when the music keeps looking. I would say two more tracks to switch between would be sufficient.
Flower Garden is a pretty unique product. It's not really a game, and hesitate to even use the word "fun" to describe it. I think a more appropriate word would be "interesting", but I mean that in a wholly positive way. Flower Garden is really designed to help you relax and to help you brighten someone else's day. I actually did enjoy growing plants and creating bouquets to send out, and the 3D rotation of the bouquets was pretty neat. Of course, trying to unlock the additional flower types is always a joy. This is definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're looking for something different and serene, Flower Garden is definitely a good choice for you.