On the surface, you see a simple little block-fitting puzzle game where you place pieces on a grid. But it's also adorably cute with bunnies and grasses and snow and stuff. If that was only description you needed before knowing Little Gardens, a whimsical and clever creation from Michael Todd, would charm you out of your seat, then skip immediately to the download links at the bottom of this review. Otherwise, read on!
You begin with an undeveloped grid and blocks of various shapes, sizes and types. Pick a piece up by clicking and holding, turn it with [space], drag it into place and release. You can also right click anywhere on the screen and drag to rotate the scene 360° and use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. These features not only aid puzzle solving, they turn the experience into a tactile one. Meanwhile, ambient sounds, soothing music and weather effects make it beguiling and relaxing.
As you strategically arrange each puzzle piece, your tiny gardens slowly come alive. Careful planning is awarded with wildlife such as foxes, rabbits and birds, who romp around your garden as flowers bloom and waters flow. Success leads to a gorgeous picture of richly hued pastels filling your entire screen for a moment of happy satisfaction before you continue forward. Or, hit [escape] to quit back out to the menu. Select available levels by clicking on them or skip ahead with [control+click].
Analysis: While the initial levels are rather easy, they're still quite thinky. As you progress, more block types and maps are introduced—fences, immovable rocks, color specific blocks, and larger, more complicated pieces—a single puzzle can become rather time consuming. You can put it all together thinking you have this one in the bag only to wind up with a single odd piece, leaving you to have to take it apart and try again. Yet it's a pleasure to do so, to have the time to sink into the petite environments you're creating and let go of all other thoughts.
Little Gardens is so charming and unique, there's very little to critique. The difficulty progression is a bit uneven, though; occasionally after a few particularly intricate levels, you'll come across one that's just a snap to put together. But rather than feel like a flaw, it makes for a nice intermission before a greater challenge. I found only two things about Little Gardens that could be called disappointments, firstly, that it ends after 32 levels. Nevertheless, unless you're a whiz kid at these types of games, you likely spend upwards of twenty or thirty minutes on most puzzles and much longer on the later challenges, so Little Gardens is a good value in terms of playing time and enjoyment. I was a wee bit saddened, though, that I couldn't take off my shoes and run around in the finished gardens, what with their looking so cute and welcoming.
Little Gardens is enchanting and sweet and much more than it appears to be at first glance. Not everyone will be instantly enthralled by this type of gameplay, but if any of what I wrote above sounds appealing to you, then you're sure to love Little Gardens as much as I did. It has that bit of magic and heart that makes a good game a true delight to play.