Growing up, I never really got into the Harvest Moon titles because the suggestion of farming was always eclipsed by my blatant desire to kick tons of ass and save one world or another from the threat of complete annihilation. When Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming finally made its way into my hands, I was gearing myself up to be dissatisfied. But, I was pants-on-head surprised by what the game actually offered. While there were a few minor concerns, there was a lot to write home about in the way of fun.
As much as Iím sure youíre going to hate reading it, the story didnít exactly suck me in. In fact, I glossed over it as much as possible because after the first few sentences I read, I felt as though my childhood years of education stood to suffer irreversible damage if I bought into any of it. Suffice to say, youíre a farmer, there is a Harvest Goddess, an Evil Witch of Some Kind and an amalgamation of kids that you encounter throughout the course of whatever story there may be to speak of as far as gameplay is concerned. To be sure, if there was any real narrative to illustrate, believe me, I would. However, as the story was more or less a vehicle to shuffle the player between levels, it felt like a second thought, written up at the last minute by the same person who threw the instruction manual together. In all fairness though, I doubt youíll be playing Frantic Farming for its story.
The puzzle elements of the game, which without a doubt kept me drudging through the story, reminded me of the love/hate relationship I was slowly developing with this title. Starting a round of one to four players, you have a Ďharvest spriteí you tap with the stylist who essentially does all the harvesting for you. All you really have to do is place fully-grown vegetables within reach of the little guy and heíll go get it. But thankfully, proving that there was a deeper mechanic at work here, you can also chain together the same vegetables, which are coincidentally grown in color-coded boxes on the grid. Additionally, there are gold vegetables, which harvest all itís respective type instantly, pending you can get it grown by shifting your sprite around it in a way that itís watered to full growth. When your sprite picks a fully-grown vegetable, he then waters the adjacent crops allowing them to grow and so on. The more vegetables you pick and the more chains you form contribute to your score total or harvest total which ultimately decides if you clear or fail a particular level.
The final mechanic I want to discuss out of the fact that this is a game about farming is the fact that you have special moves in the game. Yes, you get special moves. I know, I was surprised too, but eerily intrigued enough to continue playing out of sheer curiosity when I first saw it happen. As I told my harvest-bitch-sprite to pick my vegetables, I noticed my score would fill a bar to the right of the level. When this filled, I would receive a special move in which my character would ride a dog around the outer edge of the puzzle grid and make all the vegetables fully grown. While this was cool and allowed me to rig up some pretty cool combos, my only complaint was that all other action was frozen on the map during this sequence, making me feel like time was being wasted by utilizing the ability. Conclusively though, the play mechanics at work in the game left me feeling satisfied as it definitely appealed to my love of puzzles and at the point in which I was playing, I genuinely was having a great time doing so. After all, itís hard to chastise a title too harshly, especially when it actually proves to have some qualities that many would consider fun.
Beyond this, my grievances are few and far between. The music is passable in the sense that I have no memory of it whatsoever, which is only impressive in part, that I had my headphones plugged into to my DS during the entire course of play. Speaking of course of play though, a complaint I do have is that the story mode was incredibly short. Starting and finishing a game in the span of a solid hour is a bit disappointing, especially when puzzle games like Professor Layton, Henry Hatsworth and Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords all stand up far better in the way of offerings. By and large, it just doesnít feel like they crammed as much into the cartridge as they couldíve, but I was mostly happy with what I got. Consequently developed for both the DS and the iPhone/iPod Touch, itís clear that the aim of this title is its multiplayer and in that respect, Iím reminded of games trundling us through whatever single-player experience there might be just for the sake of being a competent multiplayer opponent.
While Iím glad this was one of those Harvest Moon titles that I felt didnít beat me over the head with milking something or marrying someone, it was generally a surprisingly decent experience. Despite the length of the game, there is definitely a fair share of replay value as Iím fairly certain this would be one of those games I could go back and play again. Unfortunately, as it was incredible short and I would be hard pressed to find anyone else I know in possession of a copy, it just may remain on the shelf. Granted, while this game isnít the best puzzler Iíve ever played, it certainly wasnít bad by any stretch of the imagination. Truly though, at the end of the day, at least I can take comfort in the strength of this entry into a franchise along with the reminder that Harvest Moon is as close as gamers can come to a valid game about playing a farmer instead of Farmville, right?
Review Score: C (7 / 10)