Yesterday I got acquainted with our leaf-blower. It’s electric, thank Cthulhu, but not what you’d call “whisper quiet”. We got it as a gift several years ago, and I tried it once back then and it just blew the leaves into a huge swirling cloud that settled down exactly where it began. So I disappointedly put it in the shed and forgot about it.
This time, though, I treated it as if it were some new and powerful item from a game. The controls seem simple — just press the A button to turn it on/off and rotate the C stick to point it, kind of like Luigi’s Mansion — but it takes time to master. Here’s my brief player’s guide:
Anywhere near a wall you get the howling leaf tornado that I experienced before; I’m not sure if this is a bug or intentional, but avoid that. The brick patio was the best surface, though I had to evade obstacles like the picnic table to get those elusive remaining leaves for bonus points. The limited length of the extension cord added an element of strategy, as I often had to retrace my path to unwind the cord from around trees and posts.
Once the patio was cleared I was faced with the trickier lawn level, where all the leaves had now collected. I started at one end and moved back and forth in a raster scan for a while. The leaves get stuck in the grass blades so the best technique seemed to be to aim low to levitate them, then high to blast the levitated leaves forwards. Combined with the horizontal raster scan, this required continuous nozzle movement. Grabbing the middle of the protruding pipe helped make this easier.
The gameplay was kept fresh by the innovative use of different types of leaves. The small ash leaves move more easily, of course, while the larger mulberry leaves take more lift to go airborne but prove more aerodynamic once in flight. I appreciated the ability to move at will from one end of the lawn to the other — this type of open-ended GTA-3 style play kept my interest.
Finally the endgame — or so I thought! — came with the final mission: forming all the leaves into a pile. Once the leaf area becomes compact enough, you have to deal with the more subtle effects of the blower, such as that it sends the leaves not straight forwards but across about a 90Â° angle, which can easily move other leaves away from the pile if you’re not careful. Switching back to the “rake” item helped here.
It was at this point that the game went into an unexpected final twist. “Princess N” — the requisite cute-sidekick NPC character — had been around throughout the game. It’s possible to switch the leaf-blower to her (use the Z button). While her small size and frankly limited AI make her not very useful with the blower, it must be said that the animations and detailed facial expressions make the experience quite amusing.
When not controlling the blower, Princess N occupied her time playing in the leaves with little doll figures. The twist, then, was that as soon as I’d gathered all the leaves into a perfect pile, there came a heart-rending cutscene in which Princess N tearfully announced that she’d lost her beloved Garden Fairy doll. I of course selected “Yes” when asked to find the doll, and we went into a painstaking fetch-quest for the missing 2" item.
Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck, even after D very sweetly took advantage of the two-player co-op mode to lend a hand. So I didn’t get the best score for the episode, although I thought I did quite well for a first time. I saved the game right before the final task, carrying the leaves to the curb; I need to finish that up before the real-time clock hits Thursday morning, when the “trash collectors” arrive, or I’ll be hit with a stiff penalty.
Here’s my off-the-cuff rating:
Gameplay: 9.0 [surprisingly hard to master, but satisfying once you do]
Graphics: 8.0 [beautiful motion-capture and particle effects]
Sound: 5.0 [loud whirring is realistic but gets boring. Good voice acting, though.]
Replay value: 8.5 [you can play this nearly every day, with new randomly-generated leaf configurations]
Overall rating (not an average): 7.9