XenoBloom Review: A Pixel-Perfect Meditative Garden
With the constant flow of games involving shooting, blood, gore, and me screaming a stream of profanities when I die to a flying turtle or weird, waddling mushroom things, it’s nice to having a relaxing game to turn to. XenoBloom, from Ibology, is a game where you play as an immature demi-god who must manipulate the landscape and take care of a brand new ecosystem. The goal is to harvest new plants, create new life, and sculpt the world the way that you wish; with the built in no-fail condition, everyone’s world is going to be a little bit different, and each player can choose how they want to play.
XenoBloom’s soundtrack, created by Devin Vibert, had me lost in the game from the moment it launched. It’s so serene, and it reminds me of the nature soundtracks that play in yoga studios, or that some people use to fall asleep. After pulling myself out of my musically-induced reverie, there were three game modes to choose from on the main menu: normal, experimental, and observational.
Normal mode is, well, normal. There’s a certain set of pop-up directions that hint to the player what the best way to organize and plant would be, but it’s all really up to the player’s discretion, in the end. I’m not really one for reading directions thoroughly in games, so some of the more particular nuances of Normal mode were lost on me (i.e., I was too busy being stubborn to figure out what the heck I was actually supposed to be doing instead of just clicking incessantly on all the plants).
I spent a majority of my game time alternating between Experimental (Scientist) and Observational modes, but my favorite had to be the Experimental mode. As I said before, my play style tends to be “what does this button do,” clicking things to see what happens. Experimental mode allowed me to try all of the different things with the plants, without worrying about planting them the intended way, as I would during Normal mode. Before you can even plant anything, you have to manipulate the landscape into different shapes and landforms; some plants have certain requirements for where they will or will not survive, and it’s up to the player to make the landscapes match the plants’ particular needs.
As an immature demi-god, I, immaturely, tried to draw all sorts of shapes, and you can, indeed, draw whatever immature shapes your heart desires. Plants can survive on all sorts of shapes, and it was interesting to see how some plants developed in one area, but how when I changed one small square, those plants would die and another flourished. Gardening Mama had nothing on my skills.
Observational mode works almost like an interactive screen-saver; I enjoyed watching the plants do their own thing, and it was mesmerizing at first. However, after a while, I grew tired of just staring at the screen – it’s more fun for me to do the manipulation rather than letting the computer have the control, but I can see myself using this mode in the future as background noise when I’m grading papers.
Games for me can be hard to play sometimes; due to a medical condition, gripping a controller for multiple hours can feel like a death sentence, and unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to play as many games as I would like as a result. However, I will be coming back to XenoBloom. It is the first game in a long while that I’ve been able to sit and play without discomfort. I was really enjoying the soundtrack and having the opportunity to just sit and listen to the music while coaxing my plants to grow. It was very relaxing for me after a long day of work, and I can honestly say that I’ll be using this game as stress relief in the future.
I cannot say for certain that Ibology set out to create a game that is as relaxing as XenoBloom turned out to be; one would think that a game based in mathematical concepts and creating a new ecosystem would involve more tension, from cutting the time close for plants to grow, or worrying about whether or not a plant can succeed in that strange shape I decided to build (and trust me, I attempted a lot of weird shapes). However, there is no tension. Now, for some, that lack of tension may be a turn-off when we’re constantly surrounded by games like Call of Duty where we’re waiting to get sniped around every corner, but there is an absolute beauty to this game.
XenoBloom is a perfect blend of a gorgeous soundtrack and intriguing gameplay to keep me coming back. For only $4.99 USD, it’s impossible to not recommend the experience to other gamers. It’s available on Steam for PC users, and the soundtrack is also available for purchase through BandCamp.
The developer has a number of updates in the works for the game: new plants, game modes, a gameplay guide (which will alleviate the downside of minimal directions for some people), and “new stuff that doesn’t fit into any category.” To hear about those updates as soon as they happen, more information can be found on XenoBloom through the game’s website and IndieDB page. Be sure to follow Ibology on Twitter for more updates and information.
- Unique Gameplay
- Amazing Soundtrack
- Windowed-mode, only
- For some, not having clear directions may be a deterrent