Tools Up! (PS4 Review) + Garden Party DLC: Green Fingers, Red Face

Another game to test your friendships and your ability to go solo, Tools Up! gets more DLC in Garden Party: Episode 2 - more levels, more mayhem!

Tools Up! may have just sent me over the edge – the straw that broke the camel’s back. Straw made of lead. A co-op party piece, this is very much in the style of the Overcooked model where players work towards a common goal of decorating a property, and in the new Garden Party Episode 2: Tunnel Vision DLC, a garden.

Up to four players can join in, or you can attempt to go solo, but from my experience, you have a better chance of getting a high five off the Pope. You thought that was going somewhere else. Pfft – vulgarity. That’s right, going it alone is not advised 1) it’s a multiplayer game, regardless of the option, 2) it’s stressful.

Tools Up!, from Knights of Unity and All in! Games, genuinely stressed me out on several occasions that I want a break from the genre. Considering only recently, Lumberhill was quite possibly one of my favourite games in the category, and I’ve been playing it on repeat solo and with others. For the sake of a review, I intended to storm through the levels to get a balanced view of the base game, but also the Garden Party Episode 2 DLC, which is out now. It didn’t go to plan.

Tools Up! Garden Party DLC Review - Delivery
Incoming delivery. Source: PR

Let’s set the scene – it’s a familiar one. Your dirty dozen show up to the job to rip off wallpaper, lay carpet, paint walls and do up gardens. With each step of the way, the intensity heats up, as do the jobs. You’ll be painting walls in the early days, but soon you’re fixing up the walls and using one bucket between the party to store waste and concoct mixtures for the wallpaper. 

The biggest issue with Tools Up! isn’t the complexity of the tasks but the timing. A countdown is prominent throughout, and there’s not enough time. Besides carry out your job, there will be regular deliveries where you have to stop what you’re doing and answer the door (sometimes way off-screen). You’ll be running back and forth with waste as if you leave it unattended, and in some cases, you’ll slip on it. Combine that with colliding with your co-workers, and it’s mental.

At the start of each level, you aren’t given any objectives directly, so instead, you have to locate a blueprint that advises you on what is required. You might have the task of laying floors and walls in the living room and paint in the kitchen, but the floors aren’t labelled, and as they’re missing furniture, you end up decorating the wrong room, stripping it down, then carrying the waste out before the time’s up. 

When you view the blueprint, time does not stop either. Our process was simple: locate the blueprint, attempt to analyse the layout, then resort to watching the percentage gauge in the top right: if it changed, we’d continue, otherwise head to another room. The first attempt would be the practice run, then once we knew the objectives, set each other tasks to try and get things done. 

Tools Up! Garden Party DLC Review - Time is of the essence
Time is of the essence. Source: PR

Unfortunately, this took a toll on the kids. The eldest was getting frustrated as she’d slip and kick over a paint pot resulting in spillage to clean up, then running out of time. The youngest loved it, but when she played with me, I hated it as she’d be in the way all the time. Ah… family time.

Going solo wasn’t the answer, and I found that my best efforts would only get two stars out of three in a round – in the Garden Party DLC that shifts to leaves. That’s a shame, as the more you collect, the more stages you open, including character choices.

The DLC was better. Growing lawns, dashing through hedge mazes, and even water features all occur here. There was something more satisfying about laying grass and watering it. Perhaps that comes from all those sim games like Stardew Valley. Regardless, the DLC went down well, the location shifting from a dilapidated multi-storey home to a funky treehouse, plus some real cuddly characters to play.

Presentation-wise, Tools Up! is similar to its counterparts with vibrant palettes, cute characterisations and a catchy theme that sounds like an upbeat piece from a Pixar flick. While a little repetitive, it was decent enough that it muted some of my rage, but judging by the reactions of the rest of the household, it was clear I wasn’t enjoying it so much.

Tools Up! Garden Party DLC Review - A breeze
A breeze? Source: PR

It’s a shame as all the parts seem to be in the right place. The tasks are user friendly and significantly better than similar titles (minus the paint spillages and accidentally removing material in error). If you played the base game and enjoyed it, I’d wager that the DLC will be for you as I found that it is fundamentally more enjoyable and less stressful than the housework. The characters were cuter too!

Difficulty tweaking – especially the time, would drastically improve Tools Up! and appeal to a younger and also frustrated audience – perhaps at the sacrifice of not earning maximum stars/leaves as a penalty. Then again, that would mean missing out on the extras. Additionally, a dash early on would make a big difference. Falling over some trash or bumping into your teammates literally can push you back.

Tools Up! and the new Garden Party: Episode 2 DLC isn’t bad, but the mechanics made it frustrating, forcing me to take a break from the genre for a bit. If these party co-ops are your thing, I’d recommend you check out Lumberhill. Not only is the co-op element more forgiving, but it’s totally doable on your own.