Fiona Finch and the
There's been quite a spate of agriculturally related time management games coming out lately, so what would make one stand out in a crowded field (sorry for the pun)? How about going in a more relaxed, simulation direction? Take the frenzy down a notch, as it were, and create a game that is much more easy-going without losing the excitement inherent in the genre. 1morebee has done this with Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers.
You begin as Fiona Finch, relaxed and happy with her new boyfriend (and gardening championship), explains the events of the past several months. Poor Fiona, she was drifting a bit, devastated by the loss of her father and unsure of what to do with her life. She returns from a trip to the Far East to visit dear Granny and gets involved in a local gardening competition, with the first prize not only a good deal of cash but a beautiful farm as well. Luckily Fiona is a dab hand with flowers, and is also quite the little genius at cross-breeding.
The basic premise of the game is simple: there are seven locations in which Fiona needs to create a smashing garden in order to win the prize. Between each location are cut-scenes moving along the story as Fiona finds enjoyment, peace, and a new love straight out of a cheesy paperback romance. Each area has its own unique features which can help or hinder the player when designing a garden layout. You begin with seeds from a few types of flowers, and it is up to you to dig out a patch, plant them, and watch them grow. Each level also has certain goals, such as planting a certain number of flowers, planting a certain variety of flowers, and earning enough money for the admission fee for that leg of the contest.
You earn money by cutting flowers and putting them in a nearby shed, where random passers-by can purchase them, giving you the money needed to get supplies. Because, of course, flowers need to be watered, fed, and rid of those pesky insects that will destroy them if allowed to go unchecked. As the game goes on you can add other things to the garden as well: beehives which pollinate the flowers and produce honey, blackberry bushes, grape vines, and apricot trees which add to the beauty of the garden and also add a variety of products that can be sold alongside the flowers. Even more upgrades allow you to sell wrapped flowers, perfumes made from the flowers, and a wide variety of products made from the honey and fruits such as juices, jams, and several different types of baked goods.
There are a couple of things that make Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers different from other games of this type. For one thing, there are no timers in the main game, a level is finished when you reach all of the stated goals. The only hint of a timer the player will see is when special orders come in. Rather than just randomly gathering flowers or other goods for sale, a special order is for specific types of goods, and must be filled within a set time, or the customer goes away unhappy. These special orders are what really boost the income, giving the player necessary resources to purchase more upgrades to make the garden more efficient.
The best feature of this little gem is the player's ability to cross-breed certain types of flowers to create even more varieties, making the game feel a bit like the classic Plant Tycoon. In the sale shed is a machine that Fiona created which allows her to instantaneously cross-breed plants to see if they will create something new, which doesn't always happen. You begin with flowers provided by the judges, these are the only ones that can be crossed, and during all the watering, feeding, pruning, selling madness you can create beautiful new colors and varieties to add to your garden.
The learning curve is smooth and easy, beginning with the basics of space, a shovel, a few types of flowers, and a very helpful tutorial. Other gardening tools and extras are added slowly, allowing the player to incorporate them into the garden gradually rather than dumping everything on you at once. In the later levels where the area that Fiona has to work with is greater, movement around the space is accomplished by moving the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll around. Everything is accomplished with the click of a mouse, from placing objects to sending Fiona to water, cut, or deliver.
Analysis: Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers is almost a cross between the Farm Frenzy games and Plant Tycoon. It lacks the, well, frenzy, of the farming sims while still being more action-oriented than Plant Tycoon, where waiting for flowers to grow could be like watching paint dry. A curious mix of relaxed and frantic, and it works beautifully.
Adding to the experience are the stunning visuals, from the backgrounds to the flowers, which look startlingly real and sway gently in the breeze. The cut-scenes have a much more hand-painted feel, and are as bright and vivid as the gardens. Special attention has been paid to the cute animations, whether it's the bees going about their daily business; the plant destroying insects descending; or Fiona herself, who, if you leave her standing around for too long, will wave at you to remind you that she's there to work. Calm music and realistic incidental sounds round out the experience.
If there is any downside to Fiona Finch and the Finest Flower, it is in the cross-breeding dynamic. Not every attempt will produce a new flower; and in the upper levels when you have a lot of varieties to breed from it can get a bit tedious trying to find the ones that will work. Fortunately there are also bonuses for filling out special orders in a timely manner that gift you with "recipes" for cross-breeds that will work. And, as stated previously, the story can get a bit... dramatic as it moves along.
Minor quibbles aside, there's a lot of fantastic casual gameplay here. Although there are only seven levels in story mode, each level takes progressively longer to complete, until a player might spend a couple of hours trying to complete all the goals. There's also a "free garden" mode, a more relaxed mode that allows you to have fun with any of the levels, creating imaginative plantings and just playing around with the pretty flowers.
Absorbing, engrossing, and hours and hours of fun await those who play Fiona Finch and the Finest Flower. Play as little or as much as you like, plan for efficiency or go nuts and create patterned, formal gardens. Enjoy the feeling of satisfaction from creating a lovely garden without the sunburn, dirt under your nails, or stinging insects. Just watch out for the weeds.