There's something poetic about nature taking over urban spaces. Places like Berlin's overgrown abandoned amusement park (opens in new tab) and the fishing village on Shengshan Island (opens in new tab) in China that's half concrete and half vegetation holds an eerie beauty that no man-made structure can offer. It's like a glimpse into another time, a snapshot of the kind of post-apocalyptic landscapes found in games like The Last of Us and Nier: Automata.
Cloud Gardens developed by Noio is very much team-plant in the post-apocalypse. It's a calm gardening sim that celebrates how plants can reclaim abandoned urban ruins. The empty steel and stone shells of forgotten buildings become the perfect playground for greenery to thrive and it's your job to breathe new life into these tiny dioramas in decay.
Each vignette tasks you with covering the entire scene with lush vegetation by planting seeds and coaxing them to grow. Each seed thrives in different ways depending on its surroundings and, just like with other gardening games, deciding where your plants will thrive best is key, even if you are in the ruins of an abandoned parking lot.
For example, the ivy-like plant grows best when it's given a wall or structure to climb, making it perfect for covering the sides of buildings. But the pink floral plant, which look a bit like alien-esque fuchsias, grow best when they are hanging from lamp posts or road signs.
Once you have planted your seeds, it's time to help your greenery thrive and you can do this by placing salvaged objects within the scene. These objects are pretty much stuff you would find in a scrap heap and can be anywhere from empty beer bottles to hulking empty caravans. They seem like trash at first, but when placed within the diorama, they give energy to the plants and help them grow.
It might seem a little counter-intuitive to be placing trash in your wonderful garden, but it works really well with the setting. This delicate balance of plant life and urban objects cleverly transforms something like a rusty old trolley into an important accessory in your perfect post-apocalyptic vignette.
In this way, Cloud Gardens is like a meditative puzzle game. Each vignette has a plant meter that fills up when you successfully coax your plants around the space. As the vegetation thrives they will produce more seeds which means more plants, and when the meter reaches its target you're free to move onto the next scene in a long string of vignettes.
What I love about Cloud Gardens is that it turns the most unlikely spaces into a plant paradise. Refrigerator graveyards, long-forgotten apartment blocks, and dusty wastelands become the perfect gardening spots. There's something so satisfying about watching plant life slowly reclaim places where they had previously been removed so humans could fit. I'm particularly in love with the Greenhouse levels where the plant life takes over the huge glass structures that were previously meant to contain them.
Cloud Gardens has a six-chapter campaign, and its Early Access build lets you play three of those chapters and includes a small tease of the fourth one. There's also a sandbox mode where you can create your own abandoned places and decide on your own perfect balance between nature and civilisation.
Cloud Gardens is currently out in Early Access and is planning on staying there for three months, according to the Steam page. There's currently no release date and, although I hope it will be out soon, the number one rule in gardening games is that growth takes time.