Strange Horticulture review: Sowing the seeds of love

Delve into an unhurried life of tranquil tasks and plant-based pleasures in the botanist simulator, Strange Horticulture. Here’s our review…


Strange Horticulture occupies an unusual position within a burgeoning niche (approaches to it are so varied it would be misleading to use the term ‘genre’): games revolving around the minutiae of highly specialised professions. Bad Viking’s latest is as obsessed with the nitty-gritty of its serene craft – the seeds, leaves, and petals of the plants you identify, catalogue, and systematically arrange for your quaint little shop – as the latest instalment of Car Mechanic Simulator is with tyre sizes and gearbox ratios. At the same time, the fantastical circumstances that embroil you in the rather more pressing business of saving its idyllic corner of the world (or damning it, if you’re so inclined) recall the more exotic careers of interplanetary archaeology in Heaven’s Vault and dystopian psychiatry in Mind Scanners.

The titular establishment, located in the small town of Undermere, whose picturesque environs look intriguingly similar to the Lake District, serves both locals and visitors from neighbouring communities. Rich and poor alike have long sought your uncle’s expert advice on decorative, ceremonial, and other more peculiar uses of his merchandise. But even though the old coot recently kicked the bucket and bequeathed the shop to your clueless protagonist, the customers won’t stop showing up. Here, greeted by the gentle purring of your coal-black kitty, Hellebore, a frail man convinced of the imminence of his own death will ask for the rare Caballia flower to decorate his grave like the huntsmen of old, and a desperate mother will inquire about the milky goo that seeps from the Bishop’s Parasol mushroom in the hopes it might cure her ailing boy.

Genre Old-timey botanist simulator | Format PC | Developer Bad Viking | Publisher Iceberg Interactive | Price £12.99 Release Out now
Strange Horticulture

For all its placid mood, there’s a macabre streak in Strange Horticulture – its nature not depicted as cuddly and cute but red of tooth and claw

For your novice botanist, such urgent appeals necessitate perusing a dusty tome to discover your plants’ hidden properties, as well as foraging in nearby countryside to enrich your stock. Combining clues to gain a better understanding of the trade is the central activity in Strange Horticulture, whether that’s gleaning from cryptic visions the location of a particularly potent fungus or cross-referencing a patron’s vague description with a compendium entry to see if they match that unlabelled vine spreading across your middle shelf. It’s an unhurried life of simple pleasures and gentle revelations, vividly conveyed through images, sounds, and responsiveness that magically combine to produce an almost haptic quality. The folding and unfolding of an ancient map, poring over drawings with your magnifying glass, instinctively reaching to pet Hellebore every time he stretches lazily, woken by a noisy customer or the rumbling of thunder outside. These are not just means to progress but activities gratifying in themselves, and they envelop you in the game’s mellow mood, at least for a short while.

Part of Strange Horticulture’s immersive appeal lies in the way it captures small-town dynamics. Through chit-chat, gossip, and the shifting demands of your regular clientele, the outlines of stories emerge – some mundane, others with far-reaching implications. A member of the nature-worshipping sisterhood that roams the adjacent woods shows up to announce their matron is dead; an officer tasked with investigating her murder will be dropping by frequently. The hermit that represents a mysterious cult seeking to summon a creature they call the Woken Dendrew requires your assistance; so does a hunter bent on sabotaging their plans.

Strange Horticulture

New plants and new compendium entries arrive daily from various sources, but the latter do not necessarily match the former

During these pivotal moments, your role changes from someone who simply facilitates scripted outcomes to someone who actively decides them. You may ignore certain requests or even deliver plants and elixirs (once you’ve learned how to brew them) that produce different effects to the ones desired – though your patrons are bound to notice. Such interventions come with repercussions, and if there’s one major criticism of Strange Horticulture, it’s how scarce these nervous dilemmas are, compared to how often you feel corralled in a predetermined trajectory, leaving little room for agency. In the latter occasions, the game is unwavering in its demands; the universe grinds to a halt until you figure out where to dig for a specific bulb or identify a particular herb, an unwelcome impasse borrowed from the redundant point-and-click playbook. Fortunately, instances of genuine frustration are few and far between. Most puzzles will challenge you to think outside the box but rarely, if ever, become esoteric or absurd.

Ultimately, Strange Horticulture lingers in the memory not as a series of clever puzzles or a collection of interweaving subplots but as a glimpse of another kind of life and the stream of moment-to-moment sensations that evoke it: the tingle of anticipation as the bell rings and the first customer of the day walks in; the contented organising of your newly labelled pots before you close for the night; Hellebore’s reassuring yawn, untroubled by the looming apocalypse around him. In trying times of a global pandemic, environmental catastrophe, and widespread precarity, Strange Horticulture does more than provide an alternative to gaming’s usual power fantasies. The peaceful routines of your little shop and the friendly faces of your neighbours (when they’re not trying to bring about Armageddon, that is) feel almost like a refuge.


The magnifying glass is an endlessly fascinating trinket‭. ‬Aside from its obvious usefulness in comparing partial drawings from the compendium to the actual plants‭, ‬it’s an utter joy to use on anything‭, ‬from the elaborate carvings on your desk to the scribbled notes delivered daily by the postal‭ ‬worker‭.‬



A wonderfully tranquil experience that would benefit by allowing the player just a little more freedom‭.‬


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More like this