Farming Simulator

[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