Hey there, green thumb! Do you know how to manage your time? Barb sure does, and she proves it every day with her fervent dedication to her fast-paced job at Big Corp! The stress is really getting to her, though, and finally both her boss and co-workers insist she take a vacation. Sitting in a diner with her pal, Flo suggests Barb take up gardening to sooth her nerves and restore some balance to her life. What does Barb hear? "Start a business selling fruits and vegetables!" So begins Garden Dash, a time management game that takes place in the Diner Dash universe featuring a host of new ideas, characters, and gameplay!
As with most time management games, Garden Dash is all about learning your trade and performing tasks as efficiently as you can. In this case, however, you're much more focused on the protagonist rather than customers. In fact, hungry shoppers are little more than icons and numbers at the top of the screen. Your real concerns are taking care of the plants and keeping an eye on Barb's nervous system!
Customers march in the door and ask for certain items. You immediately snap to work, filling pots with soil, planting the appropriate seeds, watering and trimming the plants, and finally harvesting them and delivering them to the customers. Each time you harvest a pot a relief leaf token falls to the ground. Grab them to fill the bar at the bottom of the screen. When it's full, unleash Barb's relaxation potential to pause the timer and give full hearts to every plant growing in your garden.
Beating levels isn't about earning money, it's about filling a number of orders within the time limit. Surprisingly, for a game about relaxing, the timer is a bit of a pain and manages to put quite a bit of pressure on you. It won't be long before you feel the sting of repeating a level because you were a few seconds too slow in tending your garden. You can add seconds to the clock by chaining together color combos. Each plant is associated with a particular color (tomatoes are red, grapes are green, etc.). Growing a tomato turns that pot red, so if your next crop is also a tomato, you'll start a chain. Keep these chains going as long as possible to keep the timer at bay!
Analysis: When you see another game with "Dash" in the name from PlayFirst, you pretty much know what to expect. The series, if anything, has proven its commitment to high-quality titles that stick closely to a set formula, deviating just enough to provide a unique experience with each release. Garden Dash is perhaps the most unique of the lot, switching the focus of the gameplay as well as rearranging other elements to create a game that not only feels different, but one that actually is different.
Not having to worry about customers is a departure for the time management genre, especially games in the Dash series. Instead, Garden Dash shifts the focus to the character and the plants, creating a much more personalized experience. Dealing with anonymous customers, no matter how interesting and unique they are, is dealing with a faceless crowd. Now, you're working with plants and trying to help Barb better herself. It's a subtle shift that adds impact to the game, something you don't see so often in casual games.
Unfortunately, the upgrades shop suffers a bit in Garden Dash, and this is normally one of the high points of any time management game. Some of the bonuses are neat, such as plant pots that harvest themselves, but a few are almost entirely useless, giving you little incentive to actually spend cash between levels.
Garden Dash is a departure from the established time management tradition, but it's a welcome set of changes. Gorgeous visuals, intriguing new styles of gameplay, and a character-driven plot makes this one a clear winner, even if you aren't a fan of time management games!