Posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 at 6:08 PM by Kimo Kuppe
When I was a wee lad in the late 80’s early 90’s I wanted to be a farmer. Or a pirate. My future prospects were limited to the Duplo/Lego sets my mom bought me. Then I discovered other careers and Lego sets and opted to do none of them and instead work a shameful job for low pay. Despite that tragedy my love of the ole’ farm persisted and I was able to live my dream through the wizardry of “video games.” Please note that Farmville doesn’t count, it’s more of an egg-timer attached to a credit card reader.
Long, long ago before Maxis was consumed and digested by EA they just threw the prefix “Sim-“ onto any noun and tried to make it work. SimFarm was one of their earlier forays after the success of SimCity and was surprisingly realistic compared to all the other farm games to date, sans those harvest tractor simulator games on Steam that the Germans love but I’m not going to talk about those. Not surprisingly my 4-7 year old brain couldn’t run a farm all that well and I usually sold all my property and real estate so I could buy a crop duster and tear ass all over the digital Midwest until I ran out of gas and crashed into the town. It’s really too bad there hasn’t been a similar game made lately.
Harvest Moon 64 and Harvest Moon: Back to Nature came next. I mention them together because while they were on competing consoles they featured the same cast and virtually the same gameplay. Taking the role of unnamed farmer in a blue backwards hat you inherited a broken down farm that you were charged to rebuild within a few years. You could grow crops, raise animals, gather a ton of resources to build a better house all to help win over the town and maybe get even get laid. Yes, in addition to the grinding and time sinking that came with farming you could also talk to the townsfolk and actually get to know them and their little stories. Five of which were girls your age you are supposed to marry (marry ONE that is, this wasn’t a Mormon simulator). Sure they looked and acted like any anime character but it was new and interesting for a game to let you do this! Besides, Bioware took pretty much the same idea of video game dating for most of their games. Somehow the repetitive daily chores and maintenance for your farm were addicting and the hours would fly by. For some reason the newer Harvest Moon games just aren’t the same to me. Well, except for the spinoff…
Rune Factory, published by the same company, took everything about the Harvest Moon games, (farming, interesting townsfolk, chores) and added in a combat mechanic and dungeon crawling. This is nothing but a great thing! It’s like Ice Cream and Oreos, fine on their own but together they form something wonderful! Not only can I farm but I can pick up a double bladed BATTLE AXE and cleave some goblins in twain and take their loot and build even BIGGER axes! I will however warn you all, while you SHOULD play the first 2 Rune Factory games on the Nintendo DS, the third one is the best. It’s so good that after playing it you won’t be able to go back. Its fast enough, controls great for both farming and fighting, and the townsfolk are so lovably insane that you won’t want to leave them. They nailed the game so hard it’ll be hard to top! With another one on the way for the Nintendo 3DS we’ll just have to wait. The only thing that may dissuade you is the behavior and character design is so remarkably anime-like it may repel some people. Like people who are more normal and already play Animal Crossing.
The last game I want to talk about isn’t exactly a farming game so to speak, but you can grow things. It’s much more of a garden game. Viva Piñata and its expansion Viva Piñata Trouble in Paradise are beautiful and quirky timesink games made by Rareware for the Xbox 360. Bringing Rare’s sometimes English cheekiness with them they set out to make a relaxing garden game where you build and maintain your own garden in the style of Piñatas. Everything looks aesthetically Piñata-like with little bits of paper making up the grass and trees and animals. The meat of the game is raising and breeding the Piñata animals themselves, all with food based puns as their names. The Piñatas interact, step on one another, EAT one another, and fight, leaving only chocolate behind. What might be a little weird is the breeding portion. In order to trigger the “breeding dance” you must navigate a maze AS the animal piñata with the walls made of bombs. Not only that, but there is no concept of incest with the piñatas as after a baby matures it can still mate with either parent to make another. Once you breed enough of them you can start breeding mutated ones with extra horns or eyes or something silly. Despite the weirdness the game is highly addictive, and sometimes a bit tense for what’s supposed to just be a relaxing garden game, or maybe that’s just how I play it, like a big green-thumbed fascist.
I stuck mainly to farming/gardening games I actually played but I know there are others out there. The aforementioned Tractor games on Steam, Animal Crossing from Nintendo, and Shepard’s Crossing which is known for being pretty bizarre. There are also several dozen different flavors of Harvest Moon games since the 64, like one where you actually raise a kid to adulthood and give him your farm and then play as him sort of since the same people are in town and it gets a little weird to be honest and also in that same game a homeless caveman routinely robs you and there’s a building on your farm that does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Then there’s one where you can ride ostriches and so forth and I think the upcoming one has llamas. It’s gotten a bit weird but not quite in a good way, Rune Factory excluded. If/When Rune Factory 4 is released, you can look forward to a review of it. Until then, get out there and try the games I DID mention, particularly Viva Piñata, you can scoop that one up for cheap on either Xbox 360 or Steam.
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