In the current trend of cozy indie games, it’s hard to stand out amongst the crowd, will a game three years in early access manage to prevail over its competitors?
Alchemy Garden was developed and published by MadSushi Games. after three years of early access, the game was released on the 12th of December 2022 on Steam, later released on PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch on the 7th of September 2023- Almost a year later.
A Mixed Pot
Personally, I’m loving the trend of farming cozy games, there is a game in the genre for everyone. Will Alchemy Garden be the one for you?
Alchemy Garden begins with quite a simple but appreciated character creator, with few customization options. Then the hardest part of the game begins…choosing a name for your potion shop.
After hours of deliberating what name you’re going to choose, the game begins. Once you step foot in the world you are given small tutorials through hovering question marks, after going through them all, you’ll soon find your goal is to run through the 3 areas of the map to discover different flowers to create potions with. This, along with daily assignments will be your daily routine up until the point you create a farm, and even then you will still be searching for flowers.
As you can imagine, doing this every day for hours on end can become incredibly tedious after a short while, especially when you are farming for wood or other types of crafting material which eat away at your stamina bar extremely quickly- meaning you will either have to sleep to start a new day, or eat fruit which barely recovers any stamina.
Fancy a brew?
Once you have gathered a variety of flowers, you can return to your shop and begin to brew some potions. There is a simple mini-game for brewing potions which is the same for every potion. The mini-game involves tapping x a couple of times to fill a bar to a certain threshold, you are unable to fail the mini-game.
After a while, this too became increasingly tedious, I spotted an automatic potion brewer at a vendor in the local town for a few thousand coins. Naturally, I made that my goal and after saving up, I purchased it, only to find that while it could brew potions in bulk, it brewed incredibly slowly so was not viable for timed customer requests.
After brewing some potions, placing them on your counter, and opening shop, one by one customers will pour in and take a look at your variety of potions, before realizing, they don’t want any of that and instead would prefer a potion you cannot create at the time due to the correct flower type not spawning.
This is my main issue with Alchemy Garden. Sometimes you will get letters in the mail about the popular potion(s) at the time which is basically all customers will ask for. Since customers enter a few at a time you will have to manually decline every one of them when you don’t have their requested potion. Especially early game, there will be some times when you can go days without being able to make much money through potion selling.
Occasionally, when you do have a potion a customer requests, you will be prompted to haggle with them in a small mini-game where hitting a spot in the green bar will increase the cost, and failing at that will result in a decrease of price.
Most of the time I would lose money to this due to the bar randomly speeding and slowing down at any time, so this becomes more about luck than skill.
Making a shop, a home.
After saving up some money, purchasing a workbench, and getting enough crafting materials, you can begin work on making your shop and garden look like your own. There is a decent amount of customization options here, with many different styles of wallpaper, furniture, fences, and decorations to make your home look how you want it to.
Unfortunately, this too suffers from the issue of slow progression, with wood costs for fences being extremely high for the amount you get from a single tree and the energy cost needed to chop it.
You could instead buy decorations, but this loops back to the issue of even being able to sell potions and earn that money in the first place.
In the gameplay department, Alchemy Garden tries a lot of things, unfortunately, none of them being fleshed out and at best, some are just “fine.”
There is no story in Alchemy Garden, instead, you get some lore dumps from non-voice-acted characters around town, these aren’t particularly engaging and some characters can just rove on and on which eventually made me just skip dialogue and never bother with it again.
Graphics & Audio
The first thing I noticed when playing was how distractingly low-quality character animations were. The faces of NPCs and the main character look okay and fit the general cute style of the game. The three areas of the world feel empty and are simple in design and layout, even on a PS5 I was seeing extreme amounts of pop-in at all times. Thankfully the game ran at a stable 60fps with no drops.
I also noticed some issues due to the porting of the game to consoles, like the sentence “drag here” when selling a potion to a customer, when the drag option was PC-exclusive. Nothing gamebreaking but it is of note.
The audio quality is overall fine, though I did run into some issues like tinny sound effects or some interactions losing sound at points.
For an average player, Alchemy Garden will keep you engaged for around 10-20 hours before feeling like you have done everything. For a completionist, you will be spending quite a long time on the game due to some grindy trophies.
While Alchemy Garden has some effort, the game fails at fleshing out any of its systems resulting in it feeling incredibly barebones. While there is some fun in creating a garden and shop that feels like your own, the progression is too slow and crafting is far too tedious.
For those reasons, I am awarding Alchemy Garden, the Thumb Culture Bronze Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.