Version reviewed: Switch
How much you enjoy this game will be dependent on where you sit on the gaming/farming spectrum; more on this later but interpret as you will for now. Stardew Valley is an established indie-darling which has had great success on other platforms. Now, it reaches the golden-paved streets of the Switch eshop. It has held the number one spot on the UK download chart for over a week so let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Without spoiling anything, the premise is you inherit a derelict, forgotten farm in Stardew Valley. For perhaps the most compelling of reasons – which many pennilessdads will relate to – you begin a new life living off the land. The game adopts a faux-16 bit top-down style which charms from the outset. As the game progresses, more farming options open up to you. From humble beginnings sowing parsnips, the game quickly opens up crafting elements; the ability to raise livestock as well as join in with the village-greenesque lives of its residents. Gameplay chunks are split into days (which last around 7-10 minutes) and seasons. What you grow and do is dependent on the latter. But what are you farming for?
Again, without spoilers, the game tells you quite early on how long you’ve got to become the Apple of apples yet the game stretches beyond this boundary. Quests from residents nudge you along certain directions but you are free to ignore – if you want to forge your own path. Each day you drop off your produce to sell and collect your earnings – and so the grid begins! The loop of selling stuff to get money to buy new, better stuff is perfectly balanced in Stardew Valley. It’s loot: akin to Destiny or Diablo – always encouraging you to play just 5 more minutes to get that new shiny thingamajig you need. This is one extreme of the gaming/farming spectrum. Like the brilliant Slime Rancher; or crafting in Fallout 4 or engram farming in Destiny, the farming is almost (as fun as it is) is almost arbitrary. This game’s pull is the constant desire to improve your slice of Stardew Valley and realise your place in its world. Reminiscent of forgotten Wii gem Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King, you become very attached to your homestead which grows along with your pride – and earnings!
So what’s the other end of the spectrum?
One can easily walk past a game of Stardew Valley and write it off as a FarmVille 2017. This would be a great discredit but it is a possible reaction. The crafting, building and exploring this game encompasses either hooks you or it doesn’t. I love it! It’s the perfect game to hop into whilst the kids play next you. Five minutes or five hours – it doesn’t matter. They melt away regardless, making this a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console.