The first and most frequent question the Garden Path makes me ask is ‘what now’. Left without direction, I’m usually quick to get lost. But lack of direction is this game’s whole point. All that’s explicitly explained after creating your own gardener is where to find your inventory and how you equip tools. Then you find yourself in the garden. The garden isn’t a small tidy pitch of land secured with a picket fence – in the Garden Path, the garden is more like a forest. It’s a large piece of land, a forest full of trees, bushes and rivers. That takes a bit of getting used to because, not to get too spiritual, if everything is the garden, what does gardening really mean?
The Garden Path wants you to roam. It doesn’t tell you what to do. I find a broken tool – looking at it in my inventory reveals there must be a person who can fix it, so I decide just to get going. I already carry an axe with me, so I fell a few trees, as you do. Some trees shed twigs, or even seeds, which I automatically pocket. This is the first of several similarities with Animal Crossing, which served as an inspiration for The Garden Path, along with Ghibli films and the Moomin books. I just take note of my spoils, with no real idea of what they might be useful for.
For a while, I simply enjoy the sound of leaves crunching under my character’s feet, the bird song and the instances of soft music tinkling like windchimes. Eventually, I meet Larto. Larto is a giant ox wearing a beanie and a…blanket? A kaftan? I love Larto and would die for him if he asked me to, simply based on his design, but what he actually wants me to do is fish. The fishing mechanic in The Garden Path is different from anything I’ve seen before – here, fish are attracted to your rod by you whistling a tune. You move a note icon along a set of rectangles until a fish appears, then you have to further wiggle the icon along a circle and reel your fishing rod in at the right time – it’s likely the most difficult fishing mechanic I’ve seen, and I know my videogame fishing. Eventually I meet Augustus, the park ranger. Of course he’s a bear. He doesn’t warn me of forest fires however, he gifts me a set of shears with which to snip a myriad of plants. The garden is full of them – encountering them often enough will teach you their names and properties, so that soon I will be able to point at a flower in real life, laugh and say to no one in particular how I’ve seen that in a videogame. Who doesn’t love that?