Cloud Gardens is escapism at its finest where players can create beautiful disasters.
Throughout the years, we’ve seen an increase in games that cater to those who want a more relaxing experience as opposed to titles that rely on quick reflexes and fast thinking. There’s a massive market for these types of games due to our busy and stressful lifestyles that can, in turn, promote better mental health. Sometimes, when the world gets too much, tuning in to a game that urges you to slow down and completely absorb what you’re doing at that moment is a lifeline to many and something especially important in these uncertain times. And that brings us to Cloud Gardens.
Cloud Gardens by Noio Games offers just that by handing the player a simple yet beautiful and relaxing diorama landscape where you play as mother nature in turning the post-industrial wasteland scenes into a dense cluster of urban decay that look straight out of The Last of Us.
Gardening games, in general, are usually about planting flowers, tidying them up, and reaping the rewards when your flora blossoms, but Cloud Gardens turns that concept on its head. Rather than making sure your carefully constructed green-fingered masterpiece is looking in top-notch, Cloud Gardens wants you to make it look as decrepit as possible.
Upon firing up Cloud Gardens, you have a choice on whether you would like to jump straight into the relaxing, goal-free sandbox mode, which allows players to get stuck into crafting their very own dioramas. Instead, my advice is to head into the campaign area first to fully appreciate your time when you eventually go it alone in the sandbox. The campaign mode consists of already prepared dioramas that are spread over six chapters, and your goal here is to make each scene look as though it’s been there years.
If you have played titles like The Last of Us or love watching The Walking Dead, you’ll have a good idea of what your objective is here. You’re initially given small and very simple dioramas where you place balls of moss that burst over structures as you watch them instantly flourish and take over the infrastructure. You’re also given a variety of signs that you place around the flora, making it grown even more when placed in the correct area.
As you’re doing that, you’ll notice a meter in the left-hand side begin to fill up, meaning you’re getting the hang of it and you move onto the next level. By doing this, more items are then unlocked for you to use at your disposal like cars, rubbish, shacks, and wire fences, so when you do go into the game’s sandbox mode, you’ll have a stack of items to play around with which is another good reason to begin with the campaign first.
What I loved most about Cloud Gardens is that no matter how you’re feeling or what’s going on around you, you have no choice but to forget about it and allow yourself to be completely sucked in by the beautiful and meditative gameplay experience. I spent hours sifting through the different diorama’s in the campaign, creating stunning post-apocalyptic scenes that use such an uncomplicated system of involving the player in its mechanics and end goal. As you go from one landscape to another that ranges in difficulty, more foliage is available to you like flowers that blossom, ivy, palm leaves, and cacti, allowing you to fully enrich or, depending on how you view it, decay your given environment.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the music. When presented with a game that is the epitome of relaxation, the soundscapes composition needs to fit into that mold as well as compliment the gameplay. The gorgeous, magical tones splashed throughout Cloud Gardens was literally music to my ears and enhanced my entire experience; you could even hear the plants grow when first placed.
The controls implemented are fluid and straightforward to use. At the click of a button, I could place objects around my unique and personal diorama in seconds. With another click, I could throw down some ivy or moss to begin the process of swallowing up all the items I had placed, creating a beautiful mess. Thomas van den Berg, the creator of Cloud Gardens, has made sure that the UI is as clean and as functional as possible, allowing the player to have full control over what they’re doing instead of having to look past a fiddly and messy interface.
My only concern is that when you’re in the sandbox mode, and you have lots of objects you want to place, they all pile up together in a small ball at the bottom of the screen, making it quite challenging to find a particular item you want to place. I prefer a more uncluttered design process here that I think would marry in with the rest of the game’s ambient and carefree nature. I also would love a much larger plot of land to eventually create bigger projects as the three sizes you are given – small, medium, and large – are still a little too undersized to let your creative juices flow entirely.
One of my main apprehensions about Cloud Gardens was that if it would have the replayability factor or was this just one of those games you play once, really like, and forget about it the next day, never to be seen again. Thankfully, after creating some of my dioramas in the sandbox mode, my worries were at ease. There’s a lot you can craft here, either from your imagination or from taking inspiration as I did with The Last of Us.
As you can see from my screenshot, I decided to indulge in my love for The Last of Us‘ post-apocalyptic environments. I created a small hideout (you know, to escape all the zombies) and adding things like an abandoned car, a water tower, and wired fences. There was much more I could have done here with this particular diorama, but I wanted to showcase a simple design to highlight what players can expect. I also crafted an eerie and abandoned children’s playground that I thought was a perfect match for this kind of game, and it made it even spookier by placing the foliage across the roundabout and certain key areas.
A fantastic surprise was to see that Cloud Gardens had a built-in photo mode and also its very own recording feature, which is vital to this game’s rich and striking habitats. In the recording feature and after you have made your diorama, you can watch and save your entire process from start to finish in just a few short seconds. This allows you to see your masterpiece in all its glory as it transitions from your placed objects to a fully-fledged urban decay.
Cloud Gardens is an utterly charming and well thought out simulation game that does exactly what it says on the tin. If you need a chilled out and truly captivating game that encourages its players to be mindful and to de-stress while also being creative, I honestly couldn’t recommend Cloud Gardens enough.
I look forward to seeing what else Noio Games adds to this intriguing title while it’s still in the early access stage.