Who would think that simulating farming would create such an enjoyable experience? Stardew Valley is a mix-up of the Harvest Moon games of old, Minecraft and Animal Crossing; the best parts of all three form into an excellent experience that can take forty hours away from anyone.
The mechanics of the games are functional, but are not anything special. The farming experience is simplistic, with the crops growing between 4-28 days in three seasons. Most days are spent watering plants and pulling up crops. There is fishing, which switches being far too hard and far too easy (but still not awful). There is cave exploration, killing monsters that are relatively generic; slimes and bats are a very common enemy throughout much of the RPG elements. If the mechanics were without the excellent sound and graphic design, I think that it would be a bit dull. There is some interesting variety of crops, but as they do not change price throughout the year, it’s relatively easy to build the most efficient farm by the second year.
There is a huge variety of music that dynamically changes on the season. The cave exploration music starts off relatively light at the top, and at the bottom it gets dramatic and highlights the difficulty of the level. The plops from pulling up crops is uniquely satisfying, as is the sound of successfully pulling fish from the water. These sounds bring the world to life, where the relatively uninteresting gameplay fails to. I turned off the music for a period and played my own in the background, and I was surprised how quickly I got bored of the game. As soon as I turned back on the music, I played for a whole season (about 5 hours of gameplay) in one evening much to damage my tiredness the next day.
“If the mechanics were without the excellent sound and graphic design, I think that it would be a bit dull”
Not only is the music highly enjoyable, but the graphics improve the experience too. The 90s style pixel graphics is similar to Harvest Moon or the early Pokémon games. The graphics fill me with nostalgia that few games can achieve in modern graphics. The player doesn’t have to remember those games to enjoy them though. They are good in their own right, with the distinctive shapes of crops growing and changing and the colourful town. It is possible to create an interesting design of a farm without a huge amount of effort. Like the music, the cave’s design changes every ten levels, with the first standard brown and grey caves quickly turning into an icy wonderland of colour. Even if you are not a fan of pixel art, there is certainly a wonderful design built into this world. As the graphics specifications are low the vast majority will enjoy it as well.
“These sounds bring the world to life, where the relatively uninteresting gameplay fails to”
Stardew Valley is a much improved version of games of old, keeping the charm but removing some of the obtuse features that dominated the pixel art games of the 90s. It’s well worth buying for £10.99 to explore the world of Stardew Valley – you’ll certainly lose a few weeks to it!