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The VR gaming market is saturated currently with shoot em ups, puzzlers, and even more shoot em ups! That’s not a complaint from me as some of these titles are excellent but it’s nice when something different comes along. Oculus Quest 2’s Garden of the Sea is definitely a very different experience. The best blurb I could give it is that it’s a little bit Stardew Valley, a little bit Minecraft and a whole lot of fun! Set in an immersive VR world this experience really is accessible to all gamers and perhaps even nongamers. Let’s get into it!
Garden of the Sea VR Origins
Garden of the Sea was developed by ‘Neat Corporation’ which is no stranger to the VR world. Their most famous release prior to this was ‘Budget Cuts’ which was a very well-received puzzle/stealth VR title. A winning bundle of stylish graphics, hilarious dialogue, puzzle-solving, and stealth combat made this one of 2018’s must-have VR titles. This was followed up with the much-loved sequel Budget Cuts 2: Mission Insolvency in late 2019. Again, providing more stealth action with improved graphics and refined gaming mechanics. Neat Corporation has clearly proven they have the confidence and the skill to produce quality titles, so Garden of the Sea was on many VR enthusiasts’ radars even in the early stages of development.
Steam VR Early Access
Although only launching in January 2022 on the Quest 2, if you are lucky enough to have PCVR, then you’ve been able to play Garden of the Sea for over a year now. Releasing in early access on Steam, Garden of the Sea has gone through many updates and changes over the past year and the end result is a very polished and serene experience. Officially releasing on 13th January 2022 and becoming officially Garden of the Sea version 1.0 on both Steam and the Oculus platform. As of the time of writing, Garden of the Sea has received 330 reviews on Steam alone and sits highly in the overall ‘very positive’ category. This is unsurprising as the game developers have always been open and honest throughout the process, releasing regular news updates to the community. Since launch, they’ve already had plenty of tweaks and bug fixes and they actively listen to the gaming community for feedback. They have links to a survey for feedback and regularly intend to add and expand the game based on the feedback they receive. If you want to fill out the survey for yourself, you can find it here.
Garden of the Sea VR Graphics
Let’s start with the visuals. Nothing here will blow you away. It’s cartoonish and plain but has a real sense of charm. The art design is simple but effective and it means that Garden of the Sea can play smoothly on even the most limited of hardware. The cutesy cartoonish vibe really helps this game as the lands you’ll visit and the animals you’ll meet look simply adorable. It makes exploring and progression fun but also helps to keep you calm and mellow. Calm and mellow is exactly what makes this game a true gem, but we’ll come back to that point soon.
Steam VR vs. Oculus Quest 2
Graphically there are some differences between the two platforms. The Steam version benefits from having high-performance PCs to give everything a little boost. That said, the differences are nominal as the Quest 2 is well able to handle decent performance here. The main difference is textures and pop-in. The PC version shows more variety in foliage, grass, and leaves. On the Quest, trees appear as green spherical blobs with no detail whereas, on PC, you can see leaves. The pop-in also is very noticeable on Quest especially when you are cruising in the boat. Textures and details only start to pop as you get closer to an island and it’s very noticeable. But none of these differences really matter. As I’ve mentioned, the graphics are cartoonish and although the extra detail is nice to see, it’s not a game-changer. In similar regard, the pop-in doesn’t really affect your gameplay either. There is no combat here and nothing is fast-paced. This is by design so pop in although noticeable never makes any difference to your gameplay or indeed your overall experience.
Both versions are reasonably priced on Steam and on the Oculus store, so it really comes down to your preference and also your equipment. Personally, I would always choose the Quest 2 version over PC for the simple wireless experience. This is such a relaxing game to play that it’s nice to have no restrictions. Feel like lying down in your newly created flower garden? Go for it!
Its simplicity is its most inviting quality. All guidance is provided visually and there is no dialogue between you and your animal friends. The world is pretty much a silent bar relaxing ambient music, and this helps you feel like you’re in control. Go at your own pace and do whatever you want. That’s the key message running through the entire game and it’s brilliant.
Speaking of doing what you want, there is plenty on offer here. Farming, crafting, and feeding animals are just a starting point. Cooking, fishing, upgrading your house, visiting new islands, and solving puzzles, are all possible in Garden of the Sea. Everything is optional here though. You may just find yourself sinking hours into growing your perfect crops and designing a blooming garden before setting off for some fishing out at sea. It’s can essentially be a beautiful waste of time and I really mean that as a compliment.
The general mood here is all very positive and uplifting. It almost feels like a meditation session as you sink deeply into this calming cartoony world. The relaxing background music coupled with the simple, yet pretty visuals help to get your mind into a quiet place. Add to that the ridiculously cute creatures and the complete lack of pressure and you really are on to a winner here. Every task I completed here or upgrade I invested in was simply because I wanted to do it. There are no quest markers or checkpoints. There is nobody guiding the way or telling you what to do. It’s all up to you. Learning the secrets of the islands and finding gems to unlock each island’s totem is amazing but also completely optional. I enjoyed the puzzles and found it satisfying to solve them as I slowly progressed. That said, I also had many play sessions where I didn’t even try to progress at all. This game is just great to unwind with. Definite chill vibes and very good for your mental wellness. In a time where we’ve suffered through lockdowns and restrictions, it’s amazing to have this little game to escape into.
Garden of the Sea Story
This one is open to interpretation. Yes, there is definitely a story here if you choose to explore it. As mentioned already, there is no text or dialogue and every action you take is optional. You might never see the end game credits but if you choose to pursue the gameplay quests, you can! I won’t spoil any of the stories although there isn’t much to spoil. I enjoyed progressing to the end, but it wasn’t really the end for me. The game itself deserves to be revisited even after the credits and to be fair, the gaming experience itself is the winner here. The story doesn’t particularly matter which is a rare comment to make of any game.
Overall Review of Garden of the Sea
Garden of the Sea is a triumph. There is no real game difficulty or learning curve to overcome so it’s accessible to all players. The game itself is perfectly tailored to help you relax and regardless of your gaming preferences, I believe this is one title that can truly be enjoyed by all. Not one to be missed. I look forward to the continued community and developer support and I hope they keep adding content for many months to come. Shake off the stresses of your day, grab your headset and disappear into a world of comfort. Enjoy!