Normally I like to begin my reviews with an amusing anecdote, historical information, or some other blurb that relates to the game I'm reviewing. In this case, however, I got nothing. There's really no introductory section that I can come up with that I can easily relate to Garlic. It's funny, weird, and addictive. And quite frankly, Garlic is one of the most peculiar, frustrating, and rewarding games I've ever played.
So since I can't find a good way to get things going, let's just jump right into it. Man that feels weird to say...
Please stick with me here, because things are about to get unusual. In Garlic, you play as the titular character, Garlic. Now, although his name is Garlic, he has an onion for a head. And apparently he is a hero, as he dons a Dragon Ball Z, Piccolo-style outfit – cape included. And his goal is to climb the Sacred Tower in order to meet the Cyber Goddess. He does this because the Cyber Goddess will grant a wish to anyone who makes it to the top. And he's got a crush on her. And there's a vampire ninja that wants to stop him. Still with me? Good.
As Garlic makes his way up the tower, he comes across a wacky cast of characters, interesting and downright odd enemies, and some really creepy bosses. There isn't a lot of story here, as it's more about the journey. You have some interesting conversations with some of the side characters, but that's the long and short of the game. I don't want to give away too much about what happens during the game, but some of the things you do to try to win the Goddess' heart are just hilarious. There's a lot of video game, anime and manga references, and I've laughed more times than I'd care to admit.
Well I'm glad we're here. It's a LOT easier to describe the gameplay in Garlic than it is the story. Garlic is a tough-as-nails 2D precision-platformer. It reminds me of games like Celeste and N+, but much more lighthearted. Each floor of the tower has ten sections, and you'll make your way through each while fighting enemies, avoiding hazards, and taking on bosses, both mini and final. The bulk of your time, however, will be spent doing the aforementioned platforming. Garlic is able to jump, dash, and cling to walls - all of which you're going to utilize in order to make it through each level.
There's no abilities to obtain, no end-of-level power-ups; just Garlic and his move set. You can jump once, dash once in any direction, do a power-jump off of walls, and slam down to get a super jump. Through each level, you'll dash into (or jump on top of) enemies, zip past falling columns, and avoid deadly spikes, lava, and pits. There are checkpoints throughout each stage, so if you die, you'll always respawn not far from where you perished. This is very welcome, as you'll die. A lot. Like so many times that you'll lose track. But it's OK, because no death ever felt unfair. There were times where, after dying a dozen times or so, I had to set the controller down, take a deep breath, and talk myself into playing the next run just a bit differently. And interestingly enough, it actually worked! Just like any precision platformer, Garlic is super-difficult. You will get angry and discouraged, but once you beat a level, you'll get a strong feeling of relief and accomplishment.
To break up a bit of the chaos, Garlic also has some mini-games. As you try to win the heart of the Goddess, you'll do such odd tasks as kicking a can down the road, playing a street fighter-esque game against a stranger, and running away from the vampire ninja in an isometric endless runner. There's even a mini-game where you're hiding in a locker room, and must incorporate Goku's Instant Transmission to teleport to other lockers before a towel-clad lady discovers you. Yes, it is just as strange as it sounds.
These mini-games are very fun to play, but some of them did have issues. Successfully completing these mini-games earns you hearts, which brings you closer together to the Goddess and potentially impacting the ending of the game. My problem with these mini-games is that some of them don't give you much of a heads-up. They just throw you into the game with little instruction, and you hope you “get it” before time is up. I've really messed up a few of these games because I just couldn't figure out how to, say, grab my trash and throw it in the garbage can.
I also want to call out something weird with the version I played (XBox). I love achievements, and for Garlic, you will get every single achievement by the time you get to the third floor. It's a strange design choice, and honestly I am OK with it, but for a game that has about twelve levels, obtaining every achievement in an hour or so is somewhat...different.
The graphics in Garlic are pretty basic. In fact, they would look at home on any 8-bit system. The colors are pretty muted as well, but the game still looks nice. Animations are smooth, and there's plenty of quirky facial expressions when Garlic is hit. Again, graphics aren't great but there is a lot of charm in the game. The music is phenomenal. It's got a thumpy, techno beat that fits the theme of the game very well. When the gameplay slows down a bit during the mini-games, the music also slows down to fit the mood.
Final Grade: A-
There's not many games out there quite like Garlic. It's a brutal game, and there's plenty of times that you'll make it to the end of a level and have no idea how you got there. Hell, I had to remind myself to even blink! The difficulty ramps up pretty nicely, but by the tenth level the game becomes damn near impossible. If that kind of challenge turns you off, this game might not be for you. But if you have a strong sense of “stickwithitness,” you'll get a ton of enjoyment out of this strange little fellow.