Cloud Gardens is a relaxing nature creativity game by indie developers Noio, known for their Kingdom series of games, and is currently in Early Access on Steam. The atmosphere and chilled vibes from the game’s trailer captivated my interest and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it. Now having played it for a while, it’s such a zen game, perfect for the end of a rough day to relax and unwind whilst playing with nature.
There are two modes in Cloud Gardens, campaign and sandbox modes. Upon first opening the game, you’ll be thrown straight into campaign mode with a simple scene of a block of land that has a sign post and a yellow sign. At the base of the sign is what looks like a green weed. The game doesn’t give any verbal instructions, rather it shows a white circle with a hand icon over the green weed, suggesting you should click on it. Clicking the weed gives you a seed in the bottom middle of the screen, and dragging it up to the sign plants the weed – in this case it’s a creeping vine.
The vine grows and quickly covers the yellow sign, then wraps itself down around the pole. There is a icon with a green bar on it that fills up as the vine grows. Once the icon is full, you can then progress to the next level. I watched a developer playthrough of the game and they said there is a hidden camera that measures the amount of greenery in the scene which is what fills the icon’s meter. I wish I knew this before playing as it would have saved me a few frustrating moments as I learned how the game worked.
As you come across more complex structures, you’ll be given multiple seeds to use to cover the scene in greenery. The seeds also change in colour and an indicator in the bottom right of the screen allows you to choose which type of plant you want to grow. Starting out you have two types of vines and a small tree. You are soon given additional objects to add to the scene, such as signs, metal brackets, bottles, shopping trolleys, and later on you get full rusted car chasis, tractors and even train carriages. As you add these items to the scene, it promotes the seeds/plants to grow further.
You learn through trial and error that you want to place items such that the plants reach out and promote growth. You need to be careful though that if you put an item on top of or two close to a plant, it can destroy a new branch/vine that you just grew, reducing your green meter a small amount. But without any instructions, I ran out of things to do in some early scenes where I had no more seeds and no more items to place. I had to restart those levels and it wasn’t until I watched the developers play that I understood what to do. There are also sometimes issues with the camera angle when you’re trying to place an object close to a pillar or where you’re trying not to crush some plants, but these weren’t too often.
You essentially want to place items such that the plants want to reach out and take over the scene. You can’t just plant a seed in the corner of the scene and then build a really cool post apocalyptic car or train scene, leaving the plant to the side not being able to reach anything. You need to connect together the land and items such that the plant can continue to thrive. As you progress through the campaign levels, plants will start to sprout new seeds which you can collect and swap out for other types of plants. Some of the scenes you can play in the campaign are fantastic, and as you start completing levels you will unlock items and objects to use in sandbox mode.
In the Cloud Gardens sandbox mode, your creativity is set free. You can choose a small, medium or large scene to create and then can go absolutely nuts, creating anything you like using the items you’ve unlocked. It’s this sandbox mode where the game really shines as it’s so relaxing at first creating a post apocalyptic scene to your desire. Then by adding seeds, you can watch as nature is reborn and takes over the scene. The photo mode really comes into play here, and even better is the ability to record a 360 degree flyby of your scene. You can even save these as video files to share to your friends and on social media. Some of the scenes people have made are absolutely incredible.
I loved the ability to change the background filter for your scenes which, with subtle changes, can really change the mood and atmosphere of your scene. You could create a calm sunset vibe, or make your scene appear as if it’s underwater with soft green and blue undertones, or a rusty desert glow. Your imagination can really run wild here, and there’s something beautiful about watching the greenery take over your scene in the video flyby.
Being early access, there are three out of the planned six chapters available to play through. You start with highways and then progress through the junkyard, then to rooftops. There’s also two preview scenes of the greenhouse chapter. All of these gives you ample content to create some wonderful masterpieces. The other two chapters listed as coming soon are heavy industry and train stations which I’m quite excited for. According to the Cloud Gardens steam page, early access is expected to last 3 months, so we could see the full release before the end of the year. It’s such a good game to chill out to and I look forward to seeing what other players can create.
This review utilised a game key provided by Future Friends Games. Cloud Gardens is available now in Early Access on Steam for AUD11.50.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis