I am a huge fan of Harvest Moon. Harvest Moon: Back To Nature is one of my favorite games, and I sank a worryingly large amount of time into it. Harvest Moon 64 was the cause of many a late night in eighth grade. Of course, the spiritual successor Stardew Valley is one of my modern passions. I don't know if it's because I grew up in the city or if I have an innate affinity for nature, but I just can't get enough of farming. When Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers (published and developed by Rising Star Games) was brought to my attention, I thought it might be nice to see what kind of mobile experience the franchise could deliver.
The answer, it seems, was an extremely simplified one. Too simplified, in fact.
Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers is a game intended for young children. I am, quite evidently, not a child. I don't have any children of my own, and the five or so years I spent volunteering (and later working at) an after-school program and summer camp has mainly removed any fear of death I once had. Even so, I like games of all stripes - even simple ones - and I know enough about young'uns that I can figure out whether or not they would like something. A good game is a good game and a bad game is a bad game.
One thing that immediately stands out is the complete and total lack of dialogue or text. As this game is targeted at younger kids, that might make sense at first glance - pictures are easier to understand than words, I suppose. Even so, when the totality of the game's verbiage is expended on the title screen, things seem a bit empty. It feels like a missed opportunity for kids to have learned what all of the things they see in the game are called whether it's corn or cows.
The tutorial is a simple (and unskippable) affair. You are instructed to complete a series of motions that are necessary for playing the game. This is where the first bugbear cropped up. The game's detection for where I was moving things felt poorly calibrated, and I found myself having to repeat actions multiple times. Watering crops didn't work as I would have expected it to; I often had to drag the can to somewhere above the intended plot rather than moving the can directly on top of it. This didn't seem intuitive to me.
The gameplay loop is very straightforward. At the center of your farm (which fits on one screen) is a house. The house is a store. Adorable townsfolk will pop up asking for a certain good. If you have that good (or, in the case of multiple-item orders, goods) in stock, you drag them into a basket in the middle of the screen. You cover the basket with a cloth, drag the basket to the townsperson in question, and they happily leave. They are soon supplanted by another person asking for something else. Eventually, you will run out of goods and have to get more.
Acquiring goods in Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers is accomplished through a series of minigames. To collect chicken eggs, you tap on a coop, tap on the chicken to make them fly up, and tap on the eggs before they land. Failure is impossible unless you quit. Cows are milked exactly like you would expect - fill a bucket, dump the bucket into a milk churn, and repeat until the milk churn is full. Shearing sheep was unnecessarily difficult - you would swipe the shears over the little devils and then had to stop to bag the wool. The more sensible thing would have been to completely shear the sheep and bag the wool, but the game interrupts you after five or six pieces are on the ground for some reason. There is also a minigame where you can clean and brush your horse, although what the horse does is completely beyond me. It doesn't give me any goods to supply to the ever-demanding townsfolk, so I summarily left him in his stable after a while.
The highlights of any Harvest Moon game are the characters and working on your farm. There is absolutely zero characterization here, so half of what's good about the franchise is immediately thrown out the window. The actual farming feels more like a garden with a handful of plots. You select a seed, plant it, and then water it or spray what I assume to be weed killer on it as pop-ups appear on the screen. In a few minutes, the crop is fully grown and you harvest it with a trowel. The plot is then free for you to plant something else.
This is the entirety of the game. You tend to your animals or grow crops to acquire goods. You then head into your shop and give the goods to the people who are asking for them. When you run out, you go and get some more stuff. That's it.
In terms of graphics, the game is plenty cute. Harvest Moon games have always gone with a cutesy chibi style for its characters and this one follows suit. I've no complaints nor any praise for the game's sound, either - everything is firmly in the middle of the road here in my eyes.
After playing for an hour, I literally saw everything there was to see in the game. As much as I'd like to think I can think like a kid, I enlisted the help of the daughters of one of my best friends. They both play games to one degree or another, and I wanted to see how the game played in their hands.
The first thing I had noticed was that they too had issues with having to repeat their actions due to poor hit detection. I've got large hands and an oversized phone, so any doubt that my lack of dexterity in this respect was the culprit immediately vanished. There's no evident way to repeat the tutorial, so I gave them a quick rundown on how to play. The eldest daughter (age 9 or so) picked up on it quickly enough and played it for about 20 minutes while I endured watching the Disney Channel long after its glory days had passed. After that time, the younger daughter (age 6 or so) gave it a go with some help and guidance from her older sister. They both enjoyed the game, more or less.
It's important to note that this is intended for kids at pre-school age according to the game's website. I think this is the reason for all of the simplicity, but I half wonder if they haven't overdone it.
What I ultimately question about Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers is the ability for it to hold the attention of a child in the long term. I remember supermarket playsets from when I was a kid where you would learn how money works and basic mathematical skills. The world of this game is some strange dystopian socialist society where the farmer labors to meet the demands of the citizenry for seemingly no benefit. I think the game would have benefitted from even a simple money system where you could at least see how many coins you have earned. Maybe I am underestimating how simple of a game a young child would appreciate, or perhaps I'm displeased at what I think is a lot of wasted potential.
Furthermore, the lack of any kind of economic system cuts out a lot of the other progression and variety that Harvest Moon games typically bring to the table. You don't have to buy any crops or animals. You can't improve your farm in any way. There's essentially no way to progress - there is only the core gameplay loop. You will gather goods, you will hand them over to the villagers - for free! - and you will gather again when you run out. That's it.
Ultimately, Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers feels like a lot of wasted potential. I lived in a time when games meant for young children - especially educational games - were tainted as a thing that isn't fun. Kids are not so simple that they cannot understand at least a basic version of the concepts of managing a farm as shown in Harvest Moon titles. Rather than the My First Farming Simulator that this could have been, we get a collection of minigames that will probably run out of steam very quickly. I'd recommend that adults avoid this game (even if you're a huge fan of the series), and I doubt that kids will play it for very long.
Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers was previewed on Android with a code provided by the developers.
What do think of Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers? Do you think the Harvest Moon franchise can be successfully adapted to mobile? What's your favorite mobile adaptation of a video game? Let us know in the comments below!
Harvest Moon: Lil' Farmers is intended for pre-school age children and is consequently a very simple game, but I think the capabilities of young kids were underestimated and I question the game's ability to hold their attention in the long term.
- Cute Art Style Fitting for the Franchise
- Easy to Understand Gameplay
- A Compact Harvest Moon Experience for young audiences
- Little to No Complexity
- Lack of Dialogue Hampers Learning Opportunities
- Extremely Short Gameplay Loop
- Dodgy Hit Detection