Xbox First Impressions: Strange Horticulture

Strange Horticulture has finally come to Xbox, bringing its occult mysteries with it. Here's what we thought after a few hours in our plant shop...

Xbox First Impressions: Strange Horticulture
Heidi Nicholas

Heidi Nicholas


It’s no secret in the TrueAchievements news team that I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to anything remotely scary or even unsettling in games. Strange Horticulture, which revolves around occult mysteries, murders, witchy characters, cults, and dark forces, shouldn’t, therefore, be so enjoyable to me — but after several hours of running my plant shop in the town of Undermere, it’s clear Strange Horticulture remains just as fantastic as I’d hoped. (Not only is it highly enjoyable though, it’s somehow cosy as well? How is that possible?) Here’s what we thought of Strange Horticulture after playing through several in-game days…

Strange Horticulture somehow manages to always give you things to do without rushing you. It still feels like a relaxed yet enthralling experience, despite your desk being littered with letters and encyclopaedia pages and cryptic clues, and that’s before all the customers come marching in demanding obscure and bizarre plants. But I’m getting ahead of myself — the first thing you notice in Strange Horticulture is the atmosphere. The rain pours down outside, while a slow, melancholy music plays in the background. You’re situated behind the plant shop’s desk — you can lay things across it and rifle through its drawers — and from there you can see your shelves of plants, the overcast day outside, and the space before the desk where your customers will enter (and where your cat Hellebore snoozes).

Customers will come asking for plants with requests ranging from the more usual (one to help with sleep) to the more bizarre (one to scare the medium illegally doing seances above you). You’ll find out more about them, the town, and the world around it as they chat with you. Using your encyclopaedia (which doesn’t yet have all its pages) you need to try and correctly identify, from your current stock of plants, which one is the one your customer is after. Getting it right will sometimes reward you with new encyclopaedia pages. Getting it wrong will fill the ominously-named “Rising Dread” meter. You’ll also get letters delivered during the day, giving you clues to where you might find new rare plants. If you don’t have what a customer’s after, you can try and follow any clues you have to new places on the map, which is split into grids, and hope you’ll find what you’re looking for there (and that you have any plant you might need to successfully make the journey). From what your customers and letters tell you, you gradually start to find out about the undercurrent of wider mysteries rippling in the outside world. Strangely cryptic clues also come your way by other means, such as when you retire for the night. It all adds together into a brilliant gameplay loop as you gradually try to solve each mystery and clue you come across. It's technically slow-paced, but it pulls you in until you're well and truly hooked, and entirely invested in the bizarre business of running a plant shop in Undermere.

There’s a lot of text and detail in Strange Horticulture. This is mostly a great thing, as it really fleshes out the game and lends it a level of complexity that you might not have expected from its more simplistic layout. However, it can be a little difficult to parse that text when you’re playing while sitting back from a bigger screen than you’d have with a PC. There are things to help with this — you can choose a more simplified text (although you’ll miss out on the different handwriting for clues and letters) and you can use a magnifying glass to zoom in on things while you work. This was a big help for me, as I found I needed both. The teeny text doesn’t detract too much from the game’s general excellence, but those extra settings are something to bear in mind if you’re having difficulty with it.

Strange Horticulture definitely feels like it isn’t meant to be rushed — it’s a subtle, slow-moving mystery which works best when you savour it — and the achievements seem to reflect this. You’ll get several rewarding you for your early efforts as a horticulturist (which happily includes one for petting Hellebore 13 times) while others seem to be tied to major story beats and end-game content. Plus, if you’re looking to complete it on your first go, don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Horticulturist achievement, which asks you to complete a full playthrough without using the hint button. Overall, it's an enthralling game which I'll be thinking about even when pesky real-life chores force me to put the controller down.

Heidi spent around three hours in the world of Strange Horticulture, unlocking four achievements as she went. A review copy was provided by the publisher and played on an Xbox Series X. If you'd like the chance of winning a Strange Horticulture-themed Xbox Series X, you should check out the promotional sweepstakes event! Please note, all thoughts in this article are the author's own and are unconnected from the promotional event.
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi tends to lean towards indie games, RPGs, and open-world games on Xbox, and when not playing Disney Dreamlight Valley, happily installs every new wholesome game that appears on Xbox Game Pass, before diving back into favorites like The Witcher 3. She's looking forward to Age of Mythology Retold, Everwild, Fable, and Avowed on the Xbox horizon. Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature before joining the TrueAchievements team.
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