Romance sure is tough, isn’t it? Well, the version of presented in Girl’s Garden certainly is. The game’s protagonist Papri just wants to put together a beautiful bouquet of flowers from her garden for her boyfriend Minto, but unfortunately her garden happens to be populated by ravenous bears, giant skull-dropping bees and uneven terrain that in some places wouldn’t look out of place in Contra. However, with the risk of Minto ditching poor Papri in favour of another girl if he doesn’t get his flowers, this battlefield-like garden is one you’re simply going to have to brave!
Despite its simple premise, this game has a lot of history behind it, which in some ways makes it odd that it’s often forgotten. Something that will likely come as a surprise to many is that Girl’s Garden is in fact the debut work of the legendary Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog and former head of Sonic Team at Sega. Whilst Girl’s Garden certainly lacks the high-octane gameplay and ‘cool factor’ that Sonic introduced to gaming, it’s easy to see where Naka’s philosophies and attitudes towards game design come through in both titles.
It’s through it’s simplicity that Girl’s Garden excels; the game takes place in the titular garden and tasks you with picking ten flowers to make your bouquet. This seems easy enough, but only flowers that are in full bloom are worthy to represent your affections; picking up flowers too early will waste what could potentially become a fully bloomed flower and picking up wilted flowers will spoil the bouquet, cutting the number of flowers in your possession by half. To add to your troubles, wild bears are roaming the garden and will go to great lengths to ensure your relationship is ruined, unless you can distract them by dropping pots of honey that will render them harmless for a brief time.
Unfortunately, honey supplies are limited, but that’s where your single allies, giant bees, come into play, occasionally dropping fresh honey, ‘love’ (which is essentially an extra life) and various pieces of fruit that increase your score. However, in a horrible turn of betrayal and deceit, every so often the bees will drop a huge skull down into the garden, killing you on contact. It seems in the animal kingdom, you can’t trust anyone.
For an SG-1000 game, Girl’s Garden looks pretty good! The backgrounds are colourful and characters and objects are drawn with a nice level of detail. Papri controls smoothly, although narrow areas of the map such as on bridges, where the risk of falling into the water and drowning becomes a cause for concern, can be somewhat harder to navigate. However, the technical limitations of Sega’s first console do show through in the game’s jarring, blocky scrolling as you make your way to the edge of the screen; the game’s stage loops back on itself, with terrain randomly generated from level to level, and whilst this works well to add some variation as you progress through the game, at times it takes its toll performance-wise.
After every other level you’ll be greeted with a bonus stage (or a ‘Challenging Stage’, in the game’s own words) which sees Papri abandon the flower collecting, instead running at a line of bears at full speed and trying to jump over as many as possible. If her boyfriend is looking for a partner who can perform superhuman athletic feats, maybe he’d find a better match in Mario. I’m not sure this guy’s worth the trouble, with so much danger on her doorstep, Papri’s better off staying at home.
It’s strange to think that the game considered one of the earliest examples of a dating sim comes in the form of a Yuji Naka-developed action game, but if you’re looking for some classic arcade-style action on the SG-1000, then Girl’s Garden is a match made in heaven.