I’ve made it pretty clear in past articles that the first time I tried Mendel it was a special experience. The game was something of a sanctuary, a calm, inviting game interested only in enabling your exploration of a peaceful procedurally generated island and experimentation with the plants upon it.
Well, Mendel is now complete and available for purchase, and I can only reiterated what a wonderfully different experience it is: in a sea of games looking to bring excitement, bold visuals, and challenges driving you to “git gud“, Mendel is an island of peaceful digital gardening, letting you discover the concepts of genetics at your own pace, and in your own way.
Mendel is about creating beauty using science
Mendel really is a simple game: You are a probe/drone on an alien planet, that has landed on an isolated island. You have no goal outside of exploration and experimentation, and that may leave some players lost. Mendel isn’t a game with a checklist to complete, or a tech tree to explore, or even bases to build. Instead, you should approach Mendel as a meditative experience: You’re here simply to roam this island, collect flowers, and breed new species through the science of genetics.
Okay, that last element of the game may seem a bit of an outlier, but only when you’re trying to explain it. As you play Mendel, you’ll catalog the native flora, and then use the flowers of this fauna to breed new species of plants, watching the grow, and seeing how the different characteristics of the different plants interact. You see, all the plants on this alien island are procedurally grown from digital genes that behave just like the genetics of our own world. There’s a complex underlying framework of code in Mendel that does a fantastic job of giving you a chance to experiment with and learn from the rules of genetics in a digital sandbox.
Part of the reason this is such an effect experience is because Mendel is so clear about showing you the data, without letting you get lost in it. When you find a new species of plant on the island, you’ll be able to name it, and pluck a flower from it’s branches. When you combine flowers from different species, you’ll watch the plant grow in front of your eyes and then see a display giving you the chance to name this new species, as well as showing you it’s genetic similarity and it’s parents. You end up with a genetic tree of a host of different plants, and very quickly start getting a grasp of which traits and features are dominant, and which are recessive as you become this digital gardener and geneticist.
All of this exploration and education is painted in a bright, colorful and geometric art style that suits the experience perfectly. This alien island is inviting and uplifting; there’s no hostile procedurally generated fauna or insectoid menace to attack or avoid. The plants you find and grow are wild and strange, but beautiful at the same time and Mendel successfully feels otherworldly with out trying to hard.
The game’s music also deserves special mention: It’s a phenomenal, ethereal score that’s adventurous and relaxing all at the same time, full of hope and discovery that immediately put me in a zen-like state.
Want to learn more about Mendel’s development and design philosophy? Check out our Interview with developer Owen Bell here:
Mendel is a relaxing and creative scientific sandbox. It’s a game meant to feed your own creativity and curiosity: you’r not given any goals, just the tools to explore a complicated scientific concept through experimentation. And truthfully, that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea: Sometimes, you want a clear and well defined goal, sometime you want to collect 5 bear ears, sometimes you want to eliminate the clearly marked enemies.
But you aught to give Mendel a try. Perhaps one day, after a long day at work, a particularly stressful situation, or during a unshakable need to experiment, Mendel will call to you, welcoming you back to tend to your garden once more, to create something new, and to find the calm in growing something, even if it’s only digital.