The Zen garden: a carefully arranged collection of rocks and sand. Does it remind us of islands in the ocean? Dogs in the water? Does it teach patience and wisdom? Is it meant to bring enlightenment—or enigmatic madness? If you are in the Zen Puzzle Garden, chances are, it is all about the latter.
In this simple, yet challenging puzzler from Lexaloffle Games, your goal is to help a happy little monk rake all of the sand in his Zen garden. Using the arrow keys or by clicking hovering arrows, you direct the monk onto the sand where he promptly begins to rake. With the gentle scenery and calming music, you might be lulled into thinking this will be easy. But then the monk keeps raking. He won't stop until he reaches the edge of the sand, or an obstacle, such as a rock or a stone lantern.
Step carefully! If he reaches the edge of the sand, you will be rewarded with the pleasing strum from the shamisen. If he rakes himself into a corner, he will turn to dust and be blown away on the wind. It may take some careful maneuvering in order to rake around each edge of every rock and fill in the gaps without getting stuck. As some Zen master somewhere may have once said, without the struggle of the mind, one cannot gain enlightenment... or the cheery fireworks that celebrate the completion of each garden.
You'll begin in the spring, practicing your raking skills around basic rocks as cherry blossoms fall in the background. As the seasons progress, the puzzles become more challenging. The gardens begin to include different elements, lanterns and fallen leaves, which must be approached in a different manner than the rocks. Lanterns may be gently nudged across the sand into the ideal position, while the leaves can be raked up—but only in order, yellow first, then orange, and finally red.
Analysis: Zen Puzzle Garden includes 64 puzzles (16 per season) which may be played in any order. This is a useful feature, as the early levels grow a little dull. It is simple to jump ahead into autumn and start raking leaves. Then, when you start getting stuck, you can return to the spring for practice. The game also includes a level editor, which allows you to create your own gardens. Newly created gardens can be saved and swapped using a tool which converts the layout to ASCII. These features, added together, provide many hours of casual gaming pleasure.
The game was created in 2003, so the graphics and sounds might seem a bit simple by today's standards. However, the beauty of this game lies not in graphics, but the sheer simplicity of the setting. This minimalist approach is counterbalanced by the difficulty and variety of puzzles. Altogether, it is an endearing game. Also, the Zen Puzzle Garden is perfect for those of us who always wanted a desktop Zen garden, but couldn't deal with sand in the keyboard or the cat suspiciously eyeing the sand.