The Moral of the Story Is: Play Aesop’s Garden

Review of Aesop’s Garden on XBLIG: Buy
A challenging top-down block-pushing puzzle game in classic 8-bit style.

As an old-school NES gamer, I have fond memories of playing through The Adventures of Lolo, and that resemblance drew me to Aesop’s Garden.  It manages to recreate not only the gameplay but the classic 8-bit audio and graphics.

Aesop’s Garden has over 50 levels, but I only managed to finish 31.  This isn’t a knock against the game; I’ll likely come back later.  The puzzles become progressively more difficult; a few of the later puzzles I spent upwards of 30 minutes on, and in some cases I had to sleep on it. Faced with writing this review, I had to recognize that the game had gotten the better of me.  (If someone wants to write a walkthrough to get me through the tough bits, I’d really appreciate it.)

The levels I did finish were impressive.  Aesop’s Garden gives minimal instructions early on—turn on the sprinkler, pull all the weeds that grow in the garden, and get to the exit.   New game mechanics are introduced seamlessly and accompanied by a brief hint, but still require a bit of experimentation to master.  There’s an extra level of depth as well, since many types of tiles (such as the molehill) behave differently after the sprinkler is activated.  After every 10 levels, Aesop must face off against a boss that must be defeated with quick and creative use of these game mechanics.

The game’s interface makes experimentation a smooth and painless process.  Pressing the Back button resets the level quickly, which is often necessary to try different approaches to solving puzzles.  The game saves progress automatically and features a level select which allows any completed stage to be revisited, so there’s no fear in turning off the XBox for a much-needed break.

In addition, there are many features to extend replayability.  There are 11 “Awardments” (the game’s version of achievements)  to unlock.  The level editor feature allows for the creation of new challenges from all of the game’s puzzle elements.  While I wasn’t able to find them, the Awardments suggest there are some hidden secrets, too.

Although I appreciate what Excalibur Studios is going for, the retro treatment might be a turn-off at first. Cutesy graphics made it very easy to judge this game by its cover, and without fond memories of Lolo I would have easily overlooked it.  The tinny synth soundtrack was distracting, but thankfully there is an option to turn it off.  For authenticity, the game runs at 4:3 aspect ratio no matter the XBox’s display mode (take that as you will).

Aesop’s Garden gets a solid Buy from me.  The 240 point price tag is well worth the complex and challenging puzzles.  The authentic 8-bit style is sure to stir up some nostalgia for those old enough to remember it, although not everyone may appreciate it.  There’s several hours of satisfying gameplay here, but you may end up stumped and stuck at the end of your time in Aesop’s Garden.

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