Farming Simulator

[Review] Spending a spell in Stardew Valley (PC)


Remember Farmville? I certainly do. Facebook started with these social farming simulators where crops needed to be tilled by a certain time or date, or you had to rely on your friends to give you a hand. I hated it! My crops always died or got weeds – I was much too busy for Farmville; I quit after two weeks.

When the hubs suggested we try Stardew Valley, I balked, “Isn’t that like Farmville? I hate Farmville.” But, I tried it, and it grew on me to the extent I clocked in over 40 hours into it.

There isn’t much to the game really: you got tired of the office grind, chained to a desk and working for “the man”. Your Grandpa left you his homestead in his will, and there arrives your ticket to freedom. You quit your job, and move to the old farm to till the land and be one with nature. It’s a lot of hard work, but fulfilling, and soon you are planting crops, raising egg-laying hens and dairy cows. There are mines on the outskirts of town where you can mine for ore (and convert in to garden tools). You are walking distance from Pelican Town, a small seaside hamlet, where you meet and make friends with the folk, and contribute to some of their social activities. There is an old run-down community centre that is cursed; to break its spell, it needs your help in collecting items from your adventures. Along with farming and mining, fishing and trapping are very much another access point to food and leisure. Time and the four seasons also play into the game; one must always be mindful of what time it is, and only certain crops can be grown during certain seasons. The whole thing is cyclical and I don’t think this game ends until you end it.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed my time in Stardew Valley. I often feel frustrated having to micromanage characters, but it wasn’t too bad here. I played the game in co-op with my husband and we took turns looking after certain tasks, but also relied on each other for what we preferred to do. He seemed to prefer the mining (I didn’t care for it), and I liked to fish, which took some time getting the swing of. When it was all said, mostly after my chores were done on the farm, I fished. The days can become routine. If you like things to change in your game every single day, Stardew Valley isn’t that kind of game.

There was definitely a sub-plot where your goal is to find a partner and get married. The hubs and I lived on the same farm in separate houses like we were siblings. in my time in Stardew Valley, I never managed to get a partner, and that didn’t bother me and didn’t seem to matter in gameplay. The social aspect of the game was also somewhat important. You are to befriend people by talking to them or giving them items they like. I tried to give gifts and befriend people, but I didn’t really find a benefit from the interactions (I might have missed something…).

Overall, I found Stardew Valley is what you make it. Like in reality, you carve out a life and branch out. In the end, it’s up to you how you want things to play out. As for me, the game was a delicious slice.

4/5

Stardew Valley
Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone
2016

[Review] Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)

Last year, my husband returned from the Spring Waterloo Game Swap with a gift for me. A friend (@CanadianRetro?) gave him a Nintendo DS game cartridge without a manual or case…He said to me, “Here…a French Harvest Moon game for you…” Um, thanks…?  I stored the game away until this weekend. I was cleaning up my living room and discovered the cartridge in a catch-all basket under my side table yesterday along with three other DS games. Oops! I should do something with this, I thought.

Full disclosure on two counts: I have never played a Harvest Moon game before now, and it’s been a LONG time since I have delved into anything French (20 years). Now, to address the former concern: in my mind, I equated Harvest Moon to Farmville; a time-management-type farming simulator game where you have to adjust your personal life to log in, farm and harvest crops by making sure you water them on time or else risk your virtual livelihood. I have never liked having my life dictated to by a video game…that is unless I am getting paid to do so. So you can guess how long I lasted with a game like Farmville (one week, tops)…Harvest Moon, I hear, is fun, but I assume similar. So, it has taken me a long time to be excited enough to go in and try any Harvest Moon. Addressing the latter concern around French, I haven’t read or spoken French in ages, and being surrounded by Anglophones doesn’t help, but I figure if there are subtitles in English, at least I should be fine. In any case, when I found the game yesterday, the hubs said I should take my DS out of cobwebs and see if there is an English option within.

Well, people, it turns out, this game is in English. The developers calling the game Puzzle de Harvest Moon was simply to make it sound exotic, I guess? Because, this game isn’t great and I suspect it needed a little sophistication to help get people to play it beyond adding Harvest Moon to the title.

Puzzle de Harvest Moon is a strategy game, the objective of which is to compete against opponents to harvest as many crops as possible to gain the most points. The first thing I did when I fired up the game was try out the in-game tutorial so I knew what I was up against. It seemed relatively easy…You are given a plot of land you share with three other “players” (the Nintendo DS’s A.I. if playing Single Player). You play over the course of “four seasons” (or 4 to 8 minutes, depending on preference). Each player is given seeds, watering cans and fertilizer to use to tend to their crops; these tools are provided at random. Each crop is colour-coded to denote which player owns which crop. As you farm using the tools provided, your crops will tell you what they need (water, fertilizer) with tiny graphic indicators. Animals are also provided to use to distract and prevent other players from tending their crops. For example, chickens can be used to eat up freshly sowed seeds, but, these animals can also be used against you in the same way. Your crops grow and eventually become ready to be harvested. One can harvest crops one of two ways: Baskets are provided to harvest your crops, but these are given at random, it seems. The other option is to use the stylus to reap crops by scribbling on the crop of choice, which then dissolves the crop from the plot. For every crop you harvest, you are awarded points. What do you do if you have run out of your own crops? Well, now there is a solution for that! Go on and steal harvest the crops of your neighbours, not for them, but for you! I don’t remember that gameplay tactic in the Farmville manual…

When it came to the actual gameplay outside the tutorial, this is where things were confusing and inconsistent. I chose a character (one of 12), that I think are original to the Harvest Moon franchise, but whose strengths or background seemed to have no benefit to the outcome of the game. The first time I played, I planted my crops, watered, and fertilized them as I was supposed to. My crops were ready to be harvested, but I got no baskets to use. I tried the other trick of using my stylus to scribble the crop away, and that didn’t work for some reason. The game then ramped up, and all the other players were able to plant and harvest to their heart’s content. I was only given two seeds to plant the whole round, so I lost miserably. Giving the game the benefit of the doubt, I studied the tutorial one more time…was I missing something?

I played as Elli…and as you can see from the points, I am killing it.
I am also not trying very hard…

I tried playing again several times to get the rhythm right. After over 20 rounds, here is what I discovered: I didn’t actually have to do much crop tending at all! I concluded all that labour watering, fertilizing and tending to my crops was for losers! Seriously, I could win the game by a large point margin simply by sitting back and letting the opponents do all the heavy lifting labouring over the plot. Then, like shooting fish in a barrel, I could swoop down with my stylus and scribble away everyone’s fully grown crops to win the game! That’s right, I became a parasitic gamer! The competition in Puzzle de Harvest Moon became less about tending crops, and more about how quickly you could scribble on crops to harvest them. There wasn’t much point to this that I could see – I could scribble the DS’s computer under the table!

I was on fire today…I also just scribbled the entire time

So, does that make this game fun? Um, not to me. People, I think there are Nintendo games that are less confusing, more consistent, and much more fun than Puzzle de Harvest Moon. Oui, oui mes amis.

2/5

Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)
Natsume
2007