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Strange Horticulture mobile review – “What’s eating at the roots of Undermere?”

  • Strange Horticulture has you inherit a mysterious plant shop in the town of Undermere
  • It’s your job to help customers with everything from ailments to more esoteric needs
  • But how does this game hold up after making the jump to mobile? Let’s find out.

When it comes to unravelling occult mysteries you might think of two ways to do so. You can either take the stealthy, analytical approach if you’re a Call of Cthulhu investigator or a fan of the X-files. Or maybe you’d prefer guns blazing and all-action, like the Evil Dead or Dusk. But one method you might not have considered using plants.

For those who don’t know, horticulture is the culturing and harvesting of plants for a variety of purposes. And the recently-released Strange Horticulture is where the magical, folkloric abilities of plants are in fact, very real. As the descendant of a recently-passed grandfather, you inherit the titular shop in the grim and unpleasant town of Undermere.

Your job is to satisfy the requests of visitors, offering them the plant that suits their needs. But things quickly spiral away from this seemingly straightforward task, and you’ll be forced to uncover a mystery involving local witches, a murder and more that will take you all across the region and beyond.

But how does this occult, eldritch plant simulator hold up on mobile? Well, let’s find out.

Gameplay

A view of the main store screen in Strange Horticulture, it's a mid-century shop with plants stacked everywhere, a desk loaded with letters and a customer standing at the ready.

In Strange Horticulture almost all the ‘action’ takes place within the confines of your shop. You have a desk on which to read your book of plants, study letters, clues and more. Meanwhile, by tapping the bell on the desk you can bring in one of your customers. This lets you take things at a relatively sedate pace, and figure things out at your leisure.

Initially, at least, their requests are simple. They’ll tell you what their problem is, and then ask for a certain plant to remedy it. The challenge then comes from using your book of plants to identify said plant and hand it to them. Fortunately, beyond this there aren’t any sort of challenges related to the upkeep of your shop.

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Day 1 in Strange Horticulture and a conversation with a uniformed man

However, failing to hand over the proper plant will slowly drain your sanity, eventually pushing you to a breaking point. When your mind does break you’ll have to perform a mini-game to piece it back together, or unlock it, at which point you can then return to the customer whom you failed to satisfy and try again.

Exploration

As we noted above the world of Strange Horticulture is very much open for you to explore. You’re given a map and various clues that will take you to the towns and locations around the region. Often you’ll have to piece it together from clues hidden in letters or be given an explicit location to visit that moves the story forward. However, most of the actual exploration is simply using a plant as the ‘location’ appears on the screen while you’re still in your shop. There’s a lot of text to be read in Strange Horticulture, but it all helps form a very engaging mental picture of this dark and gloomy land.

World map in Strange Horticulture game

Unravelling the mysteries

It would probably be too close to spoilers to reveal more of what’s happened. But as you progress and begin discovering more and more secrets, as well as the obligatory decision in these kinds of occult games where you potentially kill off a troublemaker, you’ll gradually be drawn into a wider mystery. Mysterious object from a dream

Add onto that the strange dreams which point you to new areas to explore, and secrets to uncover. And let’s just say that Strange Horticulture more than lives up to its name and promise of deep intrigue. I very much like that, without using hints, it’s still relatively simple to piece things together, and if you get stuck then leaving the shop to explore doesn’t interfere with helping out customers.

What I liked

I enjoyed my time with Strange Horticulture, mainly because I’m a sucker for unique occult-related games that don’t follow the typical horror genre. But not just because of that, as Strange Horticulture has simple but engaging puzzle and mystery mechanics that let you piece together the storyline without feeling like you’re at a dead stop or being led by the nose.



The game has a calming atmosphere that does more to build a sense of intrigue than dread, although the fact that many of the plants you sell have decidedly magical effects helps build up the idea that this world is a lot stranger than it seems. Add onto that the beginnings of an intriguing storyline I only managed to scratch the surface of, and suffice to say that if you’re sceptical of a ‘horroresque’ game this isn’t something to be quaking in your boots at. Identified plant, Mary's Breath

Strange Horticulture also offers a very helpful hints system which I recommend taking advantage of. Otherwise, you might do what I did and completely blank the Latin names of plants that are on each page when Mr Burbidge comes in demanding a specimen of Apis Demissus.

What I didn’t like

There’s very little that didn’t click with me when it came to Strange Horticulture. But what didn’t click was definitely frustrating. It’s clear that this is a game which was built for PC and has made the leap to mobile, and while things like the text that pops up on the screen are clearly legible, a lot of things feel like they’ve been squeezed onto a smaller screen, and are much harder to make out as a result. Fortunately, some accessibility improvements have been made, so if you’re having trouble reading the cursive script that’s one of many things you can alter. Disc broken into many pieces and the text in the middle

The main map for exploration, for example. You can zoom in of course, but that’s only if you’re fine with scouring for the place you want to go square-by-square. If you tap your finger then the name of the location does show up in much more legible white text, but this can be a bit finicky. Some of the puzzles for ‘reassembling’ your mind also suffer from this, and zooming in can be an issue since it means you can’t view the entirety of what you’re trying to solve.

Your tolerance for this stuff is of course going to depend on the platform you’re playing on. If you’re using a tablet for example then this is going to be much less of an issue. But it was rare for me to not have to squint at times when playing. Switching the text size does help somewhat in the store, but it doesn’t change the text for the map.

Final thoughts

Strange Horticulture logo

Overall, I think that Strange Horticulture offers a more comfortable, laid-back way to experience an occult mystery. You’re not put against a timer, or required to manage your shop outside of giving the right person the correct plant, and the various minigames and piecing together of clues can be quite enjoyable.

But it does have some issues in legibility and usability on mobile, like reading certain text or discerning details about plants without a close second look. There are many obvious improvements made to enhance the experience on mobile, and it’s far from unusable, but if you’re not a fan of dense visual information then Strange Horticulture may put you off.

But if you’re willing to overlook that and immerse yourself in the strange world of mystic plants and the mysteries behind the town of Undermere and the region around it, then Strange Horticulture will very much be a game for you.

Strange Horticulture icon

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