Kindness does pay – just ask Flora. She’s exploring her new orchard when she meets an old man and helps him load fruit onto his cart. In return, the mysterious man gives her a magnificent gift: a pair of magical gloves that let her grow fruit trees with the touch of a finger. It’s your job to get the orchard buzzing again in Flora’s Fruit Farm, a new time management game published by Eidos and developed by Honeyslug.
The game works as follows: you start by selecting which type of tree to grow, such as apple. Once planted, a tree trunk appears in the ground. You can make the tree branches grow by simply hovering your mouse over the stubs to make the branches expand – a neat trick. Grow the branches long enough and fruit will appear. You can discover a certain number of these fruits per tree.
When the fruits are ripe, Flora snips them and collects them in her basket, then takes them to the cart where they can be distributed to waiting customers. You start out growing basic apple trees, but later on you’ll be able to expand by growing oranges, peaches, and other specialty fruits that cater to certain customers. Of course, the more exotic the fruit, the higher the maintenance. Some fruit grows more slowly, for example, or rots if not picked quickly enough – which attracts flies.
Magic isn’t just used to grow the trees themselves. You also can also use it to "shine" and "supersize" your fruit, or ward off flies by sprinkling the right color of fairy dust, which can be replenished between levels if you have enough money. The price of the different fairy dusts fluctuates daily, so there’s a little bit of resource management involved with stocking up on supplies when they’re offered at bargain prices.
Like a typical time management game, Flora must earn a minimum amount of money per level in order to pass it. What’s makes Flora’s Fruit Farm a little different is the non-linearity of the levels. There are a handful of levels in each orchard, and they can completed in any order – or not completed at all. As long as Flora grows a certain number of trees and earns a certain amount of cash, she can purchase the next orchard and move on. You can replay the same level, too, as many times as it takes to find all the fruit. After that happens, though, the number of customers to serve decreases dramatically to encourage you to move on instead of milking the same plot over and over again.
You can buy upgrades for your orchards at the shop, including faster shoes for Flora, and decorations like pink flamingos and garden gnomes. There are only a handful of upgrades, but you have to purchase them over again each time you move on to a new orchard.
The game offers bonuses like acorns and seeds that attract different creatures to help you. When a butterfly flutters across the screen – attracted by certain plants – you can click on it to earn a special one-off power-up. Yellow butterflies, for example, automatically shine all fruit. The issue here can be that you might not have any fruit that’s in need of the butterfly’s bonus when it appears, so it can be wasted.
Flora’s Fruit Farm becomes challenging in later levels, when profit margins become slimmer and you really have to use power-ups wisely and take advantage of bargains. I enjoy a challenge as much as the next gamer, but in this case the balance seems like it could do with a bit of tweaking. It’s impossible to meet daily level goals without using magic to enhance the value of the fruit, but this involves spending a lot of money on fairy dust, which starts to make a serious dent in net profits as the daily cash goal you have to meet gets higher.
Another smaller gripe is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to cancel a cued up action that’s in progress, so once Flora is set to do something, you can’t stop her. Also, while the game keeps track of how many fruit you have to discover in order to "complete" a tree, there’s no indication of how many customers you have left to serve while the level is in progress, which means you might waste magic dust on fruit that you can’t actually sell.
If you don’t mind a few foibles, Flora’s Fruit Farm is an interesting take on time management that manages to avoid having a "been there, done that" feel. With more than a dozen in-game achievements to earn, 15 different butterflies to collect, and a Challenge mode to unlock, there are plenty of extras, too.