I do not have a green thumb, and am not really a fan of farming simulations. But I was aware of the gardening/exploration game Fujii and, more importantly, the work of indie developer Funktronic Labs (having demoed their entertaining Wave Break game) when I requested a review code of the virtual reality game for my Oculus Quest. Still, none of that prepared me for playing their latest title.
It might sound odd, but what immediately came to mind was the Disneyland ride "It's a Small World." I was reminded of its boat ride, charming world, enjoyable music, bright colors and enthralling design. But more than anything, it evoked the same childhood wonder that I associate with Disney. In fact the game has a fairy tale feel even without a narrative structure. Fantasy looms large in the landscapes, flora and fauna that players encounter.
Here are Sleeping Beauty's bold style, Alice in Wonderland's abstract allure and Snow White's adorable creatures, as well as Fantasia's appealing blend of animation, music and art. Composer Norman Bambi (I swear I didn't know that was his name beforehand) has crafted a sublime score that changes with each biome or garden and includes a beautiful arrangement for boat rides to/from your garden hub.
Creatures in each biome and garden hop, bob and sway as if with the music, and even plants move as they grow larger. And all are gorgeously rendered and endearing in a simplified but highly stylized fashion. They include eels that stand like stalks, snails that double as planters, and rabbits that emit cute noises and floating hearts. Not to mention flying jellyfish and hammerhead style animals in air and on land. All colorful, buoyant and irresistibly cute.
Plant design, too, is inspired. Some of it is a function of its purpose but much is just creative imagination. There are plants of all shapes and sizes, including towering clovers, large dandelions, varieties of cacti and coral, lily pads, and a wide array of flowers large and small, and many of which react when touched (moving, glowing or even producing musical tones).
You might wonder why I've spent so much time up front talking about the atmosphere of the game, but for a title like Fujii that places an emphasis on exploration and gardening, the presentation is a huge part of the experience playing the game. That said, the gameplay itself is simple and intuitive but varied and interesting enough to keep gamers playing for hours. In these ways it reminds me of classics like Flower or Journey.
Players venture out from their garden hub to visit different biomes by boat. These open up over time as gamers progress. The hub itself resembles a giant tree in the middle of an ocean, and roots connect it with each biome. It's along these roots that your boat moves, accompanied by a serenade from your companion gnome (much more appealing than the kind you might have in mind).
When you arrive at your destination, the roots beneath your feet fan out to follow different tracks. A visual pulse emanates outward, leading you along each path, some of which are blocked. Throughout each biome, players either will use found orbs to open gates or unlock other pathways by interacting with their environment. Both methods can involve the biome's flora and fauna.
Some creatures and the buds, petals and stems of some plants will glow as a signal to the player. Touching, grabbing or spraying water can activate these or other plants in ways that help with navigation, and often involve relatively simple puzzles in the form of pattern recognition, for instance. These help vary gameplay without breaking the pleasant meditative experience that Fujii provides.
The end result can be newly illuminated paths or the growth of plants like clovers or lily pads that lead to previously inaccessible areas. It's worth noting at this point that navigation is accomplished via teleportation by tilting the Oculus Touch thumb sticks toward a target destination. This helps traverse the giant clovers, lily pads and other objects for a light platforming element.
Exploration on occasion can thrill players with wondrous reveals or delightful hidden areas that might contain rare items. I won't ruin those experiences by describing them here, but they provided for me, at least, a welcome reward and that sense of awe that the game so consistently evokes. In these moments, especially, the production values and creativity elevate the experience.
Interacting with glowing plants or creatures can also yield resources like orbs or seeds and, indirectly, eggs and even wind chimes. Orbs sometimes also appear out in the open and can open stone gates or help obtain seeds or planters at your garden hub. The seeds and eggs you find in biomes likewise can help your gardens grow. Items like chimes and seashells can help decorate them.
Biomes and gardens reflect diverse environments. Hours into the game I've visited lush canyons intersected by streams, a dry coastal area of rock formations, and an area of luminous plant life at night. Each is unique and well designed from practical and aesthetic standpoints. Unlocked gardens can resemble the biomes players visit, though I've managed to mix up my plants (did I mention I don't have a green thumb?).
The gardens themselves are thankfully easy to cultivate. They include large stationary planters and smaller ones of varying sizes that can be moved. More small planters can be obtained with orbs at a kind of dispensing machine (there is also one for unlocked seeds). Simply deposit seeds in the planters, and water them until fully grown plants. Water, in turn, can be grabbed from large floating orbs, then sprayed with the pull of a trigger.
Seed appearance suggests the kind of plant it will grow in to, though I'm pretty poor at guessing as it turns out. I've grown cacti in my lush garden and regular flowers in my arid one. Still, with regular watering they can grow impressively large and make each garden a sight to behold. Thankfully, some plants yield orbs themselves, helping grow each garden without repeatedly visiting the biomes.
Another user friendly feature that I appreciate is the opportunity to cut short boat rides to/from biomes. While they are immensely enjoyable -- mainly for the accompanying music, floating creatures and sprouting flowers around the boat -- they are long and can grow repetitive. On return trips, however, there is a bell at the stern that when rung cuts the trip short.
Besides seeds, collected eggs and wind chimes help decorate one's gardens. Simply drop the egg and a creature will appear at your feet. Note that some creatures will already populate your gardens. With wind chimes, use the thumb sticks to extend your arms (this works with small planters too) to place them where you want them to hover, but they need to be placed within earshot in order to hear the pleasant tones they regularly emit.
There are other items you likewise can obtain to decorate your gardens though I'm still not sure exactly what function they perform besides improving the aesthetic. All told, it won't take long for your gardens to grow into beautiful environments themselves. The entire experience of Fujii is sublime and rewards a more relaxed and measured approach to exploration and gardening.
Importantly, the controls all work well. They are simple, intuitive and responsive. Touching, targeting for teleportation or spraying water, and grabbing are all well implemented. If there's a caveat, it's that grabbing on occasion can be imprecise, such as when pulling down on the stem of a tall plant or trying to harvest seeds from inside blossoms.
In fact, if there's one thing that sometimes annoyed, it's how seeds can sometimes be dropped on the first try. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but on a few occasions I had those seeds drop through the ground. One was irretrievable though, thankfully, I believe it at least showed up as unlocked back at the garden hub. But except for that one occasion, it didn't frustrate.
It's hard to take issue with such a beautiful and well designed game. Some might bemoan a relative lack of gameplay variety or challenge, but then Fujii isn't about creating a demanding experience. Quite the opposite, Funktronic Labs has crafted an impressive game that focuses on a relaxing, meditative and altogether enjoyable experience that satisfies with its embrace of life and wonder.
I might still have a biome and/or garden to unlock, but Fujii already ranks among my favorite gaming experiences. I look forward to more exploration and cultivation, especially when what I've already played has inspired me with its fanciful presentation and endearing immersion. And at just $14.99 USD, the game is well worth the investment.
My impressions are based on a review code of Fujii for the Oculus Quest. The game releases today, June 27. See the links below for more details.
Fujii Steam Page
Fujii Oculus Quest Page
Fujii Oculus Rift Page
Funktronic Labs Discord
(Be sure to check out additional images here: Screenshots.)
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