Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers, a time management game from 1morebee, owes a lot to the likes of Farm Frenzy and Ranch Rush, but still manages to impress with polished gameplay and new twists, including swapping out farm animals altogether and focusing strictly on flowers and fruit.
Finest Flowers unfortunately stumbles out of the gate with a long-winded story that only becomes more clichéd as it goes along. Fiona Finch returns home to the farm after years of travelling with plans to enter the Finest Flowers gardening competition. We find out that she’s won within the first five minutes of the game, then it’s a flashback to six months earlier as she goes through each stage of the competition. There’s a long-lost archaeologist father, a sweet old Granny, a love interest, a villain sabotaging other competitors’ gardens, the threat of "big business" interference – it’s a ridiculous amount of detail to try to cram into one story, and the result is an overly wordy, awkward mess.
Thankfully, the gameplay holds up its end of things. Like Ranch Rush, players find themselves in charge of a decent-sized swath of green space that they can set up and customize however they want by placing soil, seeds, machinery and fruit trees anywhere there’s room, and rearranging the layout at any time by simply picking an object up and dragging it somewhere else.
In each of the seven levels of story mode, Fiona faces another phase of the contest. In order to move on to the next round, players must meet four criteria set out at the beginning of the level: Fiona’s garden must contain a certain number of blooming plants and different plant breeds, the grounds must be free of weeds, and Fiona must earn a certain amount of money from selling the goods that she produces.
The bulk of Fiona’s time is spent planting and tending to her flowerbeds. These flowers can be pruned, picked and sold, but must also be watered, "fed" and kept free of pests. Grapes, apricots, blackberries and honey can be harvested too. Eventually you’ll earn upgrades like sprinklers, and machines that allow for the production perfume, fruit juices, jams and cakes.
The shed where goods are taken to sell doubles as a laboratory where plants can be cross-bred to discover new species. The process is nowhere near as complex as Last Day of Work’s Plant Tycoon, but it’s necessary for diversifying your garden.
A big departure from other games is that Finest Flowers‘ levels are not timed. You can take as long as you want to meet the level goals, so you’re free to putter around at whatever pace is most comfortable to you. Players who crave a timed challenge can opt to accept randomly appearing – and very lucrative – customer orders that must be filled before a timer counts down.
Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers does a lot of the little things right, and the attention to detail was much appreciated. The interface is easy to navigate, and the control scheme is one extremely flexible. You can cue up Fiona’s moves well in advance, cancel the most recent move with a right-click, and even cancel a specific move in the overall chain by clicking on its corresponding icon, or get Fiona to stop what she’s doing altogether with a single button-click. If you’ve cued up a chain of similar commands in a row (such as digging dirt or laying down topsoil), Fiona will be granted a speed boost to help her get through the tasks faster.
Levels can take an hour or more to complete, and if you have to quit mid-level, your progress is saved so that you can resume right from where you left off. You can restart a level or go back to previous gardens and replay them from the map if you want to try to earn more trophies, get a faster time, find all the flower species, and so on. There’s a Free Gardening mode too, which is accessible even before you’ve completed story mode. Certain trophies can only be unlocked in Free mode; in other words, there are plenty of reasons to keep playing even after you’ve finished the story.
It’s disappointing that some of the most interesting items (like the incredibly useful sprinkler upgrades) don’t appear until the last couple of levels, so you have limited opportunity to see them in action. The tutorial can be too intrusive as well. Once it insisted that I buy a beehive even though I couldn’t afford it, and it refused to let me exit the menu. I had no choice but to restart.
While Fiona Finch and the Finest Flowers clearly draws inspiration from other games, it introduces several thoughtful new twists and solid time management gameplay. Definitely worth a look!