|Developer:||ConcernedApe|||||Release Date:||2016|||||Systems:||Windows, Mac, Linux|
This week on Super Adventures, my Star Trek 50th Anniversary Celebration drags on to day four with a game that's only one word away from being called Star Trek Valley. This was actually a surprise gift from a friend who was aware I was planning a 'Star Trek' week so there may be other secret connections to the venerable sci-fi franchise... but I doubt it.
I've never played Stardew Valley before, or read a review, or watched a Let's Play, but I do know a couple of things about it: first, it's very similar to the Harvest Moon games, which bored the crap out of me last time I tried one, and second, it's the first 2016 game on my site! I'm visiting the present day for the first time in a long while, though you wouldn't know it from its SNES-era pixelwork.
But unlike your typical SNES game this was put together by just one guy: a bloke called ConcernedApe (aka. Eric Barone) who did the programming, writing, art, music... basically everything. So hopefully the things he's good at make up for the things he's not. Unless he's good at everything, in which case I already hate him.
(Click the images to view them at their original resolution! They won't look much different though to be honest.)
This is a nice character creation screen; reminds me a bit of Terraria. I like the rotatable preview and the colour sliders, though I'm less impressed with having to cycle through 112 shirts to see them all, especially as they don't seem to be organised by gender.
Don't get me wrong, it's nice they've let anyone wear anything (including beards), it's just a lot to click through. Plus there's a few dozen hair styles available and the skin tones cover the whole range, so if you want your farmer to be Mystique blue or Orion green it's got you covered.
This is actually the player character's grandfather. He doesn't necessarily share your character's skin colour (you can't turn him blue), but he knows if they're a guy or a girl, so the dialogue does take that into account. He's got an envelope for them, BUT it must only be opened on the inevitable day when they are crushed by the burden of modern life and their bright spirit has faded before a growing emptiness.
So the player goes back to working in a grim grey little cubical at a company called Joja and waits XX years until they feel sufficiently crushed.
XX YEARS LATER.
Though personally this has got me feeling kind of nostalgic. I want to reach into the screen and play with that old school mouse. I bet it's not even optical, I bet it's got a ball in there and wheels so dirty that when you try to use the thing any motion by the mouse cursor on that archaic CRT screen is purely coincidental. I want to click all the icons on that ancient OS, see what's on the floppy disk...
Oh right, I'm supposed to be miserable and I need to take my grandfather's letter out of the world's thinnest desk drawer and see what it says.
Though already there's something that really bothers me about the dialogue in this. I don't mean the writing (because it's fine) or the voice acting (because there isn't any), I mean the text itself. It's rendered in a different resolution to the dialogue box! How am I supposed to resize screenshots properly when the box has been scaled up four times and the writing three times, huh?
But if you click the screenshot to open it up at it's original size you'll see that the game is actually perfectly sharp.
Actually I've just had an idea! Stardew Valley is supposed to be inspired by SNES game Harvest Moon, so I'll turn this off and play that for an hour or so first so I can compare the games.
A FEW MINUTES OF HARVEST MOON LATER.
|Harvest Moon (SNES)|
Okay I walked around all the houses again and talked to everyone twice this time, so let me out already. LET ME OUT OF THIS VILLAGE YOU LITTLE GIT.
Actually fuck it. There's a million of these Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games out now and they've no doubt evolved over the decades, so maybe it's a bad idea to compare Stardew to the original. Except the graphics, I'm totally comparing them, and this screenshot demonstrates what genuine SNES looks like compared to the imitation.
Though the game keeps buzzing for some reason and I don't get it. Wait, that's my Xbox controller trying to leap to the floor! Man it's been a long time since I've played a game that makes the controller vibrate when I'm using mouse and keys. Fortunately it was easy enough to fix and I was even able to redefine my keys while I was there.
Okay I've got two objectives in my journal:
- Cultivate and harvest a parsnip.
- Greet 28 people.
Moving stuff around the room is effortless, I can even shift the window across using one weird trick that carpenters hate, but there's only so much fun you can get out of deciding where to place the potted plant so I suppose I should get up and plant a parsnip already. I've already managed to waste 3 precious in-game hours of daylight and I'm not even out of the house yet.
A LOT OF CLICKING LATER.
I have to keep manually switching between the right tools for the job, but when I have the correct pickaxe, axe or scythe selected it only takes one click to remove a boulder, branch or bush from my soil (the ones small enough to smash anyway). Hacking at a tree takes a lot more work but I can just hold the button for that.
Oh damn, I just realised that every time I use a tool it costs me a little energy and I've very nearly ran out! I need to plant some parsnip already.
And he's just collapsed in his own field. Oops.
I got a letter the next morning saying that he'd passed out from exhaustion and was taken to the clinic, so I've lost 50g for medical expenses. But I've gotten enough energy back now to finish planting my parsnips, then I can head off to Pelican Town to meet folks and buy things!
Though I can't buy anything while half my inventory is filled with tools and the other half filled with crap I picked up from my field, so I'll need to figure out where I can put stuff to store it.
The town seems quiet, but then it is only 10am. One thing I've noticed is that running around doesn't use up any energy, so I can still walk through town and chat with people even after a long day's work. Another thing I've noticed is that I've got different footsteps on different surfaces, which is cool. You don't find many SNES games that do that.
I checked the message board outside the shop and it's got a calendar with all the upcoming birthdays and events marked on it, to let me know when to give gifts out. Seems that the seasons last a month in this world, so it's the 2nd of Spring today.
I met a few villagers here doing their morning shop, so I'm at 4/28 people greeted now. I couldn't actually pick dialogue options, but I appreciate that the game makes it obvious when an NPC has more to say. Plus it takes a second and a half for me to sweep the mouse around to check who I haven't spoken to yet. Alright, where else can I go?
Wait, is that a sewage pipe down near the sea? Wow, remind me not to go down to the beach then.
I went to the jukebox and found they've got my old Joja office soundscape in there, so I switched it over to the electric buzz of PC fans and fluorescent lights, and the sound of people typing away in dozens of tiny grey cubicals as their spirit fades and they're crushed by the burden of their dull routine. Makes the place feel more cozy.
Though I utterly suck at this twin-stick shooter called Journey of the Prairie King. The trouble is that it uses WASD to move and arrow keys to shoot, but I'm left handed so my poor brain expects them to be other way around. I started having a lot more success though when I had the genius idea of crossing my hands over.
I made an even more important discovery as I was investigating the vending machine, and that's that I can drink a Joja Cola to get some of my precious energy back. This also works with fruit and vegetables, so my dude can keep on working for longer as long as he occasionally munches on a dandelion or something. Turns out that energy may not be a huge concern.
Doesn't seem like there's anything I can do to keep him up later though so I'm running back to bed before he collapses again. Of sleepiness this time.
Oh right, I think I remember the mayor mentioning something about that now. Well I'm a bit annoyed about losing a day's worth of wood and stone, but I can't complain about making 265g. I could buy 5 potato seeds with that, or 12.8% of a cherry tree!
WEDNESDAY, 3RD OF SPRING.
Oh, turns out that the general store doesn't open until 9am. And it doesn't open at all on Wednesdays. Well I should be saving up 2000g for a backpack upgrade anyway, seeing as I can't figure out any other way to store items.
One thing I like about this is that it auto-stacks stuff when I drop it in the chest. Though the thing's only got 36 slots so I've got a premonition of ending up with rows of chests, Terraria-style, one for every kind of item. A chest for fruit, a chest for vegetables, a chest for geodes... oh hang on, it's telling me to take this geode down to the blacksmith to get it smashed open. I'll have to do that tomorrow though as it's getting late and the shops aren't open long.
THURSDAY, 4TH OF SPRING.
Inside I found a petrified slime which I can now donate to the museum. If I give them enough crap like this they'll give me rewards. Hopefully one of those rewards is a bike, as my guy's running speed is like a walking speed, and his walking speed is like someone tied his shoelaces together after breaking his kneecaps.
Alright, what am I doing now? Oh right, chatting to NPCs and watching parsnips grow.
FRIDAY, 5TH OF SPRING.
I met an old man there who gave me a sword and now things have gotten very Zelda. The slimes here take a dozen hits to kill and it's not like chopping trees as I have to click every time. Killing them gets me loot and sometimes I get stairs leading down to the next floor as well! If I'm lucky. Else I need to keep smashing all the rocks with the pickaxe until I find my exit.
Seems that every 5th floor down I reach an elevator that can take me back to the entrance and then I'm pretty much done for the day. All these slimes are chipping away at my health and hitting rocks is exhausting! So the next morning I'll water the crops, run across town to the blacksmith to get my geodes cracked, donate any new treasure to the museum, then race back to the mine to pick up where I left off.
SATURDAY, 6TH OF SPRING.
Also it's harvest time for my parsnips at last! I can stick them in the sell box and then tomorrow I'll get the money I need to buy more parsnip seeds. And the eternal cycle of parsnips continues, at least for three more weeks. They only grow in spring you see. Plus they apparently grow better when crows aren't eating them so I have to add 'scarecrow' to my list of things to craft.
I've also got a new objective in my journal: build a coop to raise chickens. I'll be sure to get right on that just as soon as I'm rich.
I found a mysterious shiny tile here but it's written in a language I can't understand, so I guess this is something that'll make more sense later.
Plus I killed 10 slimes along the way so now I'm allowed entry to the adventurer's guild, where I can buy a wooden sword. Because even that's better than this crap I'm carrying now (I hope... it doesn't actually let me compare stats on the shop screen).
It's getting late though, so I have to get back home again now to sleep and wake up and water the crops and etc. I don't actually mind watering a dozen or so squares individually all that much, it's the minute-long hike back to the farm in the dark that's draining my will to keep playing.
I finally built that furnace, stuck 5 copper ore and a bit of coal in there, and now I guess I have to wait. Somehow I figured it'd instantly spit out a copper bar, because I'm an idiot who apparently hasn't noticed how everything in this game works yet.
So I left that going, went off to town, cracked more geodes, got more minerals for the museum, and was rewarded with my generosity with cauliflower seeds! These are exactly what I need to fill the gaps in my field now that I've been harvesting parsnips. Then I accidentally watered the museum guy's desk and left for more adventuring!
Oh, plus I got new mail. A letter from the wizard telling me to pay him a visit to discuss the community centre's 'rat problem'. So I guess one of my neighbours is a wizard then.
Hang on, was he about to say 'Keeper of the sacred chalice of Rixx'? Because that would be a 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' reference, making the game approximately 150% more relevant to my Star Trek 50th anniversary week! Also he's got a purple goatee like 'Deep Space Nine' producer Ira Behr.
Anyway, the wizard gave me the power of forest magic and now I can use the shiny tiles in the community centre.
Next I need a parsnip, a potato, a green bean, and a cauliflower, which just happens to be what I'm growing in the garden right now. There's a ton of other bundles here for me to complete but they're all asking for things I just can't get yet.
THURSDAY, 11TH OF SPRING.
Thankfully with this 250g reward combined with the profits from my farming and mining I'm basically at the point where I can afford that new backpack at last! Double the capacity! Twice the crap I can haul back from the mines! So I've started to store two of everything in my chests (one for quests, one for the community centre bundles).
Speaking of the mines, I'm only up to like floor 14 and it's already kicking my ass. Too many slimes, too many annoying bastard flies! Also I keep trying to aim with the mouse and it doesn't work like that. I attack with the left mouse button, but he swings the sword in the direction I left him facing with the keys.
There was also an egg hunt event where we all ran around looking for eggs hidden behind the scenery, but I suck at that too so I got nothing for it. Well that was different! Time to get back to watering plants, mining for copper, and hiking from one side of the map to the other and home again.
So now I get to confront Linus over what he's doing.
FRIDAY, 26TH OF SPRING.
I've also hired the carpenter to build me a chicken coop over the next few days, but I had to squeeze it over in that corner because I didn't have the forethought to clear a better space for it first. Sure the area around the house used to be clear, that's the first thing I did in the game, but it sure didn't stay that way. I can also buy other buildings like a barn or a house expansion, but they're not cheap and I'm the one who has to provide the hundreds of pieces of wood and stone needed to put them together.
But the most implacable of the forces of nature opposing me right now is summer, which is coming along in a week to kill off all my crops and make my spring seeds useless. I'll have to resist the urge to upgrade my pickaxe and save my pennies to buy summer seeds instead.
Thank fuck, it's still there! I lost 8 levels of progress though and that ain't good, as it's taken at least 1 button from from my elevator! I'm really going to have to start carrying a stack of fruit with me from now on. Not just as health potions, but to give me energy too, as I'm having to crack a lot of rocks to find the exits lately.
WEDNESDAY, 3RD OF SUMMER.
Explaining this minigame is probably going to be as hard as playing it (even with the instructions right there in the screenshot) but I'll try. Alright that little fish icon likes to bounce up and down erratically inside the watery part of the minigame gauge, and I have to keep the green bar behind it. When I hold the button it shoots up, when I click it gets shoved upwards a little, and when I let go it falls like a rock. The longer the bar's in contact with the fish the more the green gauge on the right fills up, and when it's full I get to catch it. But every moment the fish evades my bar gives the gauge a chance to empty out, and when it hits zero the fish is gone.
I am very bad at keeping the bar behind the fish.
SATURDAY, 6TH OF SUMMER.
I've also been busy putting paths down, so I can find my way through this thick forest I call a farm to the outside world. I'll get some stone walls around them too to hopefully stop nature reclaiming them. That'll give me something to do when they all collapse into rubble a couple of seasons from now.
Of course now I get around so fast that the blacksmith is always closed when I get there, but that just gives me an excuse to go pick up seashells or do some fishing for an hour or so.
Seems that animals are actually really low maintenance in this. I just need to make sure it's got some hay out of the box each day and it's happy. Then it gives me eggs to drop into the mayonnaise machine! The dog I adopted is even less effort as he doesn't need anything from me.
Right, now I'm going back to the mine. I'm almost at the bottom of it now and I'm so close to gaining the closure I need to turn the game off and move on. I just need to hold out until floor 100 and then I'll receive the ultimate treasure that awaits me.
I'm basically trapped in this game forever aren't I?
I have to be honest, I was really dreading playing Stardew Valley when I was gifted it, because I'm not a big Harvest Moon fan and it seems rude somehow to write a few thousand words how much you hated someone's present and then post it to the internet.
But fortunately for me I actually almost kind of like the game. Though it'd be more perhaps more accurate to say that I'm so addicted to it right now that I resent my website's existence, because the time I'm spending writing this, is time I could be playing the game more. Hang on, I've just realised that I should start a new game right this moment to double check some stuff. You only get the one save slot per character, but you can start over without erasing your progress, which is a nice feature for players who have friends or family.
My first surprise when I turned it on was how good it looks and sounds. The graphics didn't look so great to me in screenshots, but they clicked with me when I got to walk through the pixels myself and see it all animated. The music's nice too, but mute it and put a podcast on and you can get lost in this game. I don't literally mean get lost in the game world, it's far too small for that even after you've started unlocking side areas, I mean you can get trapped playing it for hours. It does a cunning trick where it only saves the game after you've gone to bed, so by the time you're finally free to quit your brain is back into 'run outside, check the mail, harvest the plants' mode and then you get suckered into completing another full day of work so you can save again.
Sure it'll eventually get dull and repetitive, but you'll have to put tens of hours into this game before you get the luxury of not having anything that needs doing. I found myself in a routine of putting ores in the furnaces, sticking fruit in the pickling barrel, getting hey for the animals, sticking an egg in the mayonnaise maker, collecting the gem from the Crystalarium, and then I was finally ready to go off to town to get my geodes cracked. After grabbing all the gifts I wanted to give out that day of course.
It's a game about doing what you want, but it's also a game about things to do and if you want to get to the more advanced content, and have your automatic field sprinklers, your fast travel mine carts and your kitchen full of recipes, then you have to do a bit of everything. In fact you have to do a lot of everything, and I ended up revisiting that mine in particular so many times after finally reaching the end of it, grinding for resources.
And the more you want to do, the more there is to keep track of! It's got the Terraria problem where you end up with rows and rows of chests full of items and you have to remember what goes where every night when cleaning out your inventory. Plus making friends with people is all about giving gifts, and you need to keep on top of of what gifts people like, where you can find them, when their birthdays are, and who's already reached their two gift limit this week. All this bribery actually helps you get to know people as you learn what they do each day and earn new cutscenes (I even played a co-op minigame with one of them) but the way you make friends is less than natural. There's not enough time in the virtual day to manage all this crap!
Well actually you've got as long as you want, as the game seems to last forever (the food doesn't even spoil over time). But I found myself frantically trying to get things done as efficiently as possible, racing to achieve everything I could while it was the right weather, the right season, the right time of day etc. Some people find it to be a really chilled out game, but I personally I'd be more relaxed if I had more than 15 minutes each day.
But it's nice to move in to a small rural village and become part of a (reasonably) friendly tight-knit community. Turns out that farming really is more fun than spending hours indoors in front of a monitor, mouse and keyboard, working your ass off... hey wait a minute. Speaking of mouse and keyboard, that's been my preferred set up for this one, but the game played fine with my Xbox 360 pad as well. In fact I found the controller worked out better when I was clearing out the mine, as it made it far more likely I was facing the right direction when swinging the sword. Fights were still very 'Swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, ow missed the timing on that block, swipe, swipe, swipe, and the slime's dead... onto the next five,' though.
I like the game about as much as I was ever going to like a Harvest Moon clone with action RPG combat, and there's even more features like multiplayer promised in a future patch, so I guess I have to give it a shiny prize. See, this is what happens when you don't port your successful game series to PC, someone else is going to come in and claim your empty throne.
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