First there was stitch 'em ups, then life 'em ups, now Nintendo have presented us with a new instalment of a long-running franchise - the Harvest Moon farm 'em up.
Having been a fan of Harvest Moon, both on its Snes and Gameboy Color incarnations, I was extremely keen to get my hands on a copy of Harvest Moon DS. Imagining utilising the touch-screen to use tools, pick crops and care for my animals gave me a warm glow inside. I was expecting something along the lines of Animal Crossing. What is presented is a game that seems more basic by far in some areas, yet almost too complex in others.
Keen to relive past glories of farming yore, I slapped the cartridge into my trusty Lite and switched on. Cue one of the longest and more arduous starting sequences of any DS game I have yet experienced. It's never-ending, and frankly ridiculous.
Anyway, you'd think that having sat through all that, the game would back off and let you play. Nope, as you now have to be introduced to a number of concepts, including harvest sprite assist system and others (more on this later).
Anyway, once the game releases you from the starting sequence, it's time to get to work. All the usual Harvest Moon staples are present, from tilling land to plant crops, which must then be watered and eventually harvested, to raising livestock for profit. Players can also go mining to raise extra cash and to find ores to use to upgrade tools. You begin with a dog, a cat and two bags of seeds. From there on, it's up to you to generate enough cash to make your farm thrive.
It seems important to point out here that Harvest Moon looks just like any other Harvest Moon game ever created. There has been no attempt made to introduce 3D graphics or characters any more complicated than pixelated sprites. It is only possible to play from a male perspective, both in terms of the players avatar and the dating potentials present in the village. This seems rather limited, especially following the success of Animal Crossing, which proved that good graphics and varied characters are possible in a handheld game. Indeed, the game also feels rather limited in its characterisation. There has been little attempt to make the other in-game characters anything more than decoration. The usual business with dating and marriage is present, but attempting to start conversations with other characters is a pointless exercise.
The farming tasks themselves, however, are highly entertaining. While planting and growing crops is always a bit boring, raising animals is a joy. Even designing your farm is fun, as you have to gather resources and money before choosing where the carpenter will build the various barns and animal sheds you need. The ability to customize your environment like this is a nice addition to the series, and gives the player a real sense of developing their own farm.
The lack of any meaningful touchscreen interaction is disappointing. The majority of the game is controlled by the analogue buttons, with the touch-screen only used for navigating menus and for stroking your animals (once the right tool has been purchased). Compared to Animal Crossing, this is very disappointing.
Also, the number of glitches present in the game are astounding , ranging from disappearing towns people to a glitch I uncovered accidentally, which filled my pockets with 100,000,000,000 units of currency. While amusing, it does detract somewhat.
All in all, however, this is an entertaining game, which has eaten up a considerable amount of my spare time. While limited in some respects, it is sufficiently deep to be enjoyable. A great addition to the Harvest Moon franchise, but a slightly disappointing addition to the DS library.