Plantasia is a charming and addictive downloadable game about gardening from the folks at GameLab, creators of Diner Dash and other excellent games previously reviewed here. The game requires you to dig up rocks and soil, plant a variety of multi-colored flowers and vegetables, water them, and defend your garden against malicious bugs. These gardening chores earn you mana to spend on upgrading tools, moving plants and buying new seeds. Unlike the back-breaking labor of real gardening, Plantasia's flora grow back in moments, and they have faces, which is cute in a game but traumatizingly creepy in an actual garden. The storyline puts you in the role of a forest pixie charged with repairing the gardens of an old estate, and there is a love story involving the pixie's relationship with the isolated young Lord of the manor. The game sports a lot of content to keep you content: five garden regions each with about ten gardens in need of repair. The visuals are lush, the colors vibrant, and the gameplay pulls you in like a weed in rewind.
Plantasia, like Diner Dash, is a queue based game that encourages the player to line up material actions at the same sequential step. You get more points for harvesting a bunch of flowers at once, just like the combo bonuses Diner Dash gives for chaining the same kind of actions in consecutive order. Plantasia's queue-based gameplay also incorporates a spatial element like Diner Dash's restaurant layout; you are rewarded for harvesting plants at the same time only if they are next to each other.
There are also colored spaces that amplify your score for harvesting plants of the same color from them, like Diner Dash's bonuses for seating customers in the same seat as the color of their outfit. The main difference in the two systems is in the user interface: Flo's great ordeal in life was moving around her restaurant, there was always a delay between the click and the action; Plantasia's fairy is only slowed by the speed of your mouse, a click brings an immediate action. By limiting the impact of spatial organization Plantasia lets you focus more on bringing groups of plants to harvest simultaneously, and it lets you think about these groupings as you plant them. You're encouraged to make the garden beautiful and try to get the high score—the two go hand in hand.
Tip: sometimes there's more than one type of seed you can buy, the more expensive seeds grow into plants that yield more mana. The trick to affording these seeds and raking the big points is to go ahead and buy the cheaper seeds, plant them in the appropriately colored soil, and use their mana to fill out that color section with the more expensive counterparts. The bonus you get for grouping plants together is based on color, not species, so lilies and daisies can group together to propel you past the expert goal.
Plantasia does have two interface issues. The game forces you to manually switch the seed type to plant by choosing from a button column at the top of the screen; sometimes plant a flower of a color other than what you intended, with a cost in correcting the error. A solution would be providing a sub-menu of plant icons every time you click on plantable soil, requiring another click on the desired plant to get it in the earth. Since planting is one of the most infrequent actions that could be an elegant alternative to the static menu. The other issue is that plants give you fair warning when they begin to wilt, but blossomings happen in an instant with no visual warning. While blooming might seem universally good, sometimes you try to water a plant and it suddenly blooms, causing you to harvest too early. Adding a simple transition cue might have fixed that issue, a few frames of animation or even flashing the bloomed graphic would do the trick.
Despite its minor flaws, Plantasia serves as an example of what casual games should be: an inventive setting with conceptually integrated gameplay and a positive vibe.