Last Updated on July 28, 2023
Difficult platformers are a dime a dozen these days, and the oversaturated market makes it hard for titles to stand out unless they are exceptional. With this dilemma, I was surprised to find that Garlic not only rose to the challenge but kept me engaged for hours on end. Thanks to its snappy controls, brutal difficulty, bizarre protagonist, and quirky humor, Garlic stands out alongside tough competition.
In Garlic, you play as well, Garlic, a hero with a clove for a head. Your task is to scale the mighty Sacred Tower full of devious platforming puzzles to have a single wish granted. On his way up the tower, Garlic stumbles across the Goddess; from then on, he only has love on his mind. It’s a simple premise, and it’s clear early on that my focus should be on the gameplay instead of the story.
Released on Nintendo Switch earlier in July 2023, Garlic throws you in at the deep end, quickly skimming over the controls before throwing pitfalls your way. Platforming puzzles rapidly ramp up in difficulty, and within the first few screens, I had already died a handful of times. I’ll blame the Nintendo Switch Joycons for a couple of those (more on that later), but one thing I immediately noticed was how tight and snappy the controls feel. Garlic can dash, wall run, and pull off a fancy bounce combo that takes a while to get used to.
Games like this live or die by their controls. It’s the one fundamental that Precision Platformers need to get right, and they feel fantastic here.
Garlic avoids difficulty for difficulty’s sake
I enjoy Precision Platformers, but a pet peeve of mine is how many titles skimp on checkpoints, all under the guise of keeping the experience ‘hardcore.’ Garlic‘s checkpoints are spread out just right, generously even. Whenever I nailed a particularly tough section, I knew I could breathe a sigh of relief at the end. Even when there’s no checkpoint, the boundary of each screen does the same, so once you’ve beaten a problematic section, it’s usually for good.
Some checkpoint placement is questionable, particularly in areas where you have no time to compose yourself. However, these issues are outliers and rarely affect my enjoyment.
There are not just jump puzzles to worry about either. Each stage has its own theme, complete with unique hazards and enemies. Garlic can survive a single hit from many of these, but avoiding enemies was the way to go most of the time.
Take a break from death-defying jump puzzles
One thing I grew to appreciate the most during my time with Garlic was the side content. Platforming is front and center of the experience, but Garlic doesn’t shy away from throwing hilarious side content your way, either. There’s far more effort in these events than I expected, and I appreciated how they mixed up the gameplay. For example, one minigame is a simple verticle space shooter, but you play from the perspective of someone waiting in line to play an arcade machine. Every time you die, Garlic pulls a different face to show how frustrated he is getting, and it’s little details like this that made me want to see everything the title had to offer.
Some jokes may miss the mark if you don’t enjoy crude humor. But if you’re like me and the idea of avoiding poops on the sidewalk while kicking cans makes you chuckle, you’ll have a good time.
A stunning scramble up Sacred Tower
Garlic is a game where the screenshots don’t do the visuals justice. The art style is unique, and I don’t want to just label it “pixel art.” The graphics look like something from a Game Boy but far smoother and with moody lighting. It looks great, and the color choices make each area feel entirely different.
Another unique point is the soundtrack. The music is a little hit-and-miss for me, but there are some absolute bangers in there, and they complement the levels perfectly. Some tracks sound like they were made for a SNES, and vocals creep into others.
During my time with Garlic, I had very little to complain about, but some obstacles felt a bit too clever for their own good. On many occasions, I could see that the intended route was to attempt some death-defying madness to clear a room, but I could do it just as well with a basic approach. Perhaps this was the intention and as a way to offer multiple routes through levels. For me, unless there was a coin up for grabs, I wasn’t compelled to engage in aerial lunacy unless it was required.
As I’m specifically reviewing the Switch port, I’m pleased to report that the title runs flawlessly, and I only had one real issue. This is a game where I feel the Nintendo Switch Pro controller is essential. I tested the game both docked and in handheld mode. In the latter, the Joycons were uncomfortable, and I found it very hard to input precise diagonal inputs. The Pro controller solved all these issues, but my experience would have suffered if I didn’t have that option.
You’ll be pressed to complete Garlic
Garlic is a tough-as-nails platformer with a brutal difficulty curve. Those things combined mean it won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s not supposed to. Garlic walks the tightrope between challenging and frustrating remarkably well, and the humor and gorgeous artwork elevate the title far beyond “just another difficult platformer.” If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll find a lot to love here.
Available for £14.99 on Xbox One/Series, PS4/5, and Nintendo Switch, head to Ratalaika Games for purchase links.
Anthony is a freelance writer and has worked in the industry for three years. He’s furiously competitive and is always looking for the next big multiplayer hit. Anthony is a passionate PS1 collector and firmly believes in playing games in his collection rather than letting them collect dust on a shelf. He is also passionate about speedrunning and always looks forward to the next GDQ and ESA events.