Gardens of Vextro

released on Dec 09, 2022

A chain game anthology by eight members of the Vextro community. Developed sequentially, with each game responding to all previous entries.

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First, I'm going to quickly rate all 8 games one by one.

1) Buried Flower: All text, no audio or visual elements. Yet despite this, you're not given much choice either. Most screens either let you continue exploring or leave, with the 'leave' option taking you to the same screen each time. Not poorly written, but also a bit anticlimactic as it fizzles out at the very end. 2/5

2) Labyrinths: Visual Novel but written like a stream of consciousness. And when I say a stream, I mean a stream. So it's kind of hard for me to grab onto anything because it's all so liquid and slippery. It jumps around a lot from topic to topic in a way that's loosely connection to previous talking points but also a bit nonsensical even without that context. Mildly connected to the first one but a full picture isn't painted yet. 2/5

3) The Aleph Hustle: Okay... a weird Visual Novel/Text adventure hybrid. I say that because although there ARE colors/images displayed but they're like... bare minimum. And like, I'm not a graphics guy, but if you're gonna have a simple, low-effort art style to show off images, why not go two steps further and show off these worlds you're describing just a tiny bit more? The background SFX are really harsh too. Also describes a lot of cool sci-fi ideas and builds up a really cool world, but doesn't really do anything with them, and like with Labyrinths, flows through everything so quick it's hard to enjoy. 1/5

4) Make Like A Tree: Best so far, and not just because it's made in RPG Maker and I have a bias. It has actual cohesion to it and I'm able to grasp the situations it presents. In terms of connections to previous games, once again, very loose. However, four caveats. First, 3D movement sucks. It's grid based 3D movements and the paths are almost identical to the floors you can't walk on. Second, it uses predominantly original assets, yet opts to use some default assets, which feels lazy to me. Third, main storyline makes use of the annoying and frustrating 'forced misunderstanding' trope used in such classics as Chicken Little and the SpongeBob wringer episode. Finally, for better or for worse, this game has a much lighter and more peppy tone than previous, which helps it to stand out but also feel out of place. Also why is sans here. 3/5

5) Another Reverie: A Visual Novel built in RPG Maker, which I feel like could actually work if there were any kind of indication as to who's speaking. No dialogue tags, no name tags, no talk sprites, not even subtle non-identifiers like a color for each character or a side of the screen for each character. Not super bad since it's only two characters, but because the dialogue is so choppy and hesitant and neither character has a strong voice, it can get really hard to follow at times. And if you're wondering, I felt almost no correlation between this one and previous games. 2/5

6) Wet Cemetery: Definitely contender for the best by far. A text adventure with a map to make it more easy to comprehend. Another flow of consciousness, yet one that's much more easy to grasp and much more painful, in a way. So many specific details and a story that hit way too close to home. 5/5

7) Wellness Related Time: More visual novel/text adventure, with the caveat being it's basically just a story that you click through and you have no say or choice in. But honestly, the sound design is really good and the visuals are engaging, so it's actually really fun to read. 4/5

8) Pangea's Error: Ok sorry for the anticlimactic ending but I had to abandon this one in under 10 minutes because the movement system is so atrocious that it genuinely gave me an intense, dizzying headache. It's a top down grid based RPG Maker game but you can only move forward, so when you turn directions, the whole map flips to reorient you. There's no transition or buffer it's so intense I hate it. I swear to god if this was done to not animate walk cycles for other directions I'm gonna lose my shit. 1/5

Okay, so in total I have to say, I absolutely love the idea here. Essentially, this is basically one big game of Gartic Phone, where one person makes a game, and then the next person plays it and makes a 'response' game. But according to the collection's itch page, each game is supposed to respond to ALL previous entries, not just the one before it. And although I didn't always see that 100% of the time, I certainly noticed similarities and common threads. However, the biggest and most obvious issue is that there seemed to be no 'quality control' here. I seriously don't even know how the movement system in the last game was approved. And what I think the logical next step would be here would be if each of the different games here were combined into one big game or shared universe, perhaps one that flashes through different time periods or locations/eras of this mysterious and bizarre world. ESPECIALLY if it kept in the variations in art styles and gameplay styles.

Ultimately though, I can only faithfully recommend this to people who like weird, experimental, or hard-to-parse games.

experiment 12, ma umile. ottima esperienza. wet cemetery è un capolavoro.

This is a "chain" collection of games, each one is an incredibly small game made in a short amount of time... made in response to all the previous games.
The result is something incredibly weird and that's what gives it such a fascinating identity. Each person/game has such a distinct voice/presentation/style/premise/intent/ect. Yet together they all feel like a conversation. It's cool to see an author make interesting use of a motiff, it's even cooler to see a group of friends make use of one.
The context of these existing as a chain-collection of games is fascinating and probably is responsible for me playing all of these. [Many of these are games I likely wouldn't just randomly play in isolation] In the context of this collection, all of these were worth the (little) time they demanded. There's also a couple highlight entries that were incredibly powerful (or enjoyable) for me {games 4-7}.
The icing on the cake is the included commentary text file from all the developers in the Extras folder, I adore reading stuff like that after I've finished something.

These games are raw, surprising, personal, off-putting, strange, interesting, and brief. If you only play commercial games it's hard to explain this experience ( i mean to be fair i would have trouble writing about these anyway that's part of what makes this collection so interesting)

I think the strongest quality of these games is the writing, it's incredibly evocative. My writers toolbox for talking about these experiences is quite limited, but that's definitely not due to a lack of interesting stuff to think about.
The other thing that's hard to wrap my brain around is that the lack of "quality" is itself the quality. These are very obviously games made each in a few days, but they're such powerful and personal expressions and part of that is definitely the sharp edges in the experience.

Finally, I loved how each folder mentions the engine each game is made in. It was pretty interesting to think about how vestigial and strange some of the engine features and quirks are for some of these games.

I have always held a great appreciation for anthologically structured artworks, especially when these bring together a wide variety of perspectives and styles to a same theme: Gardens of Vextro, while extremely simple and handcrafted in nature, managed to send me back to the experience of the animated anthologies I love most, from Fantasia to Genius Party, and it is something that in the gaming sphere I had not yet had the opportunity to experience.
The great strength of this game I think is precisely this structure of it, which works extremely well in promoting even absurd and bold ideas from many different creative minds, that would probably remain discarded if taken individually.
Unfortunately, I can't say that every contribution brought together in this work impressed me, and perhaps I expected something more in strictly qualitative terms, but taking this collective work for what it is, which is a bouquet of flowers constructed from fragments of ideas, more or less successful experiments, personal experiences, but also traumas and the need for self-expression, I cannot help but be very grateful that something like this exists, of which I hope to see more and more in the future.

Wet Cemetery was really good.
Guess I didn't really finish it, because I dont understand what to do in Pangea's Error. It was very disorienting, but kinda neat.
Kinda liked it overall, but Wet Cemetery really stood out to me.

I loved this game! (And it's free!) It's an ordered collection of 8 games made by a group of friends, with the condition that each installment is influenced by the story of all previous games. In some ways it's sort of 'epic' in that sense - kind of like how all the stories of Live-a-live or something are related, or something...

It's cool to see the way each game makes use of similar motifs of the white flower, or spatial conceits like a labyrinth, but while expressing each creator's personalities.

Buried Flower - John Thyer - I liked how this built a sense of suspense and also violating whatever flower-grave you were delving into.

Labyrinths - lotus - A short visual novel about a house that slowly empties, their parents disappearing one by one, someone recalling memories of livelier times, also with a kind of sci-fi framing to it.

The Aleph Hustle - LeeRoy Lewin - This reminded me of click-to-move flash games, and with that minimal interaction set managed to convey strongly the sense of a looping and disturbing labyrinth. I won't spoil the twist...

Make Like A Tree - NARFNra - A charming/absurd dungeon crawler that has some neat formal tricks as well as a funny change in tone.

another reverie - saori - A thoughtful and mellow, yuri-inspired (I think) RPG Maker 2k3 aesthetic game that is set outside of a labyrinth, two protagonists who have just finished an adventure and are getting to know each other, revealing potent truths about themselves.

Wet Cemetery - nilson - A 'house-exploration' Twine game that explores someone's time or long history living with parents, relationship to gaming, and body image (and more)

Wellness Related Time - Zeloz Mk. II - Felt like a condensed distillation of Ryukishi07 magic-isms applied to this magical college campus setting. It's fun how it builds the skeleton of this deep magic system in the span of a short visual novel.

Pangea's Error - Sraëka-Lillian - A world map exploration RPG with a Brandish-like rotation gimmick! Learn of the history of a massive world while finding weapons strewn about. I haven't finished this one yet.