Releasing this past week in the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace is Avatar Farm! from Milkstone Studios. Knowing that the studio is releasing Raventhorne soon as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising event, I was curious to check out their most recently released title. It’s a farming simulation that has players raising crops and buying all of the typical structures you’d expect to see on the average farm.
The game structure feels similar to any number of Facebook games available for free. You plant crops each of which has a defined amount of time before they’re ready to be harvested and earn you money. Watering the plants can cut down on that time. You must keep a close eye on your plants. For example, if too much time passes after they’re ready for harvesting, the plants will die and you’ll receive no money from them. Once your plant has been harvested, you must replow the plot and buy a new plant to put in its place and repeat the process.
Time is measured in real-world standards. If your plants are ready at three in the morning, but you’re not online playing, your plants will die. I’ve never been a fan of this kind of mechanic, but it’s an especially bad design for an Xbox game. At least with Facebook games you can access the internet from pretty much anywhere in order to check on your garden. That convenience doesn’t exist with a home console. There’s also no reminder system, so if you have one set of crops that takes two days to mature, you’re going to have to remember that yourself. You can waste a lot of in-game money buying the more expensive crops and not being available to harvest them.
Seasons come into play in the game in that certain crops can only be planted and certain trees will only produce fruit during particular seasons. The seasonal information for a particular crop is available anytime from the store. The seasons in the game appear to change every 15 minutes or so. Nothing much changes in the game from season to season. There are always particles flitting about in the air to indicate the current season, such as white for winter snowflakes or brown for autumn leaves. The changes are a little more obvious when you’re playing in the zoomed-in view; however, I found that I preferred playing in the wide-angle view in order to keep a more global eye on all of my crops.
The real draw of the game, as with any game with this structure, is leveling up. As you earn money and gain levels from harvesting plants, newer plants will open up that will often give you a bigger payoff for harvesting them. Buildings also begin opening up after a couple of levels. Some crops aren’t available until you have purchased specific buildings in the game. For instance, you can’t plant grapes until you have a barn or grow wheat until you have a silo. The structures themselves aren’t used for anything. They simply take up space and offer whatever their particular benefit is, but you never directly interact with them. In other words, they’re mostly there for show and to make your farm look more like a farm.
Making the experience more pleasant is some nice ambient music. There are a couple of acoustic guitar tracks in the game that have a bit of a bluegrass feel to them. It gives a sense of peacefulness to the game and seems like a perfect match for a farming sim. I was instantly reminded of the great music found in Miner: Dig Deep, a well-regarded title in the Indie Marketplace. The music can wear on you a bit if you play for long stretches, though, as there are only two songs that alternate.
Disappointingly, my Xbox froze no fewer than three times during the first 24 hours of playing this game. There doesn’t seem to be anything in particular that triggers the flaw from a user perspective. Perhaps it’s a known issue because the game will autosave for you frequently. It’s a shame this error happens, but at least the autosave will keep you from losing too much progress. The game did just debut this past week, so hopefully they can patch it once they’ve figured out the problem.
There’s no real endgame to a game like this. The dangling carrot is to keep leveling up until you unlock everything. Because of the nature of waiting around for your crops to grow, I almost consider this game a side activity. I often found that I would start the game, tend to my crops, and then leave the game running while I do something else around the house. I’d check back every 15 minutes or so to see if crops were ready or to collect any fruit from the trees as the seasons changed. I think that for a game that doesn’t really draw you in full-time, 240 Microsoft points is a lot to ask. I’m not expecting a Harvest Moon level of depth for three bucks, but it would be a real improvement if there were something to do while waiting for crops to finish growing. It’d be nice if there were livestock to manage or perhaps a more robust store mode that has you haggling prices or buying and replacing farming equipment.
It’s difficult to say whether I’d recommend this game. As I mentioned earlier, if you have any experience playing Facebook games then you’ve probably encountered a similar game. Whereas those games are typically free, this game will have you dishing out a few bucks simply for the ability to play on your television. The game has its charms, particularly the music, and also its share of issues. Personally, I wasn’t overly-thrilled with Avatar Farm!, but a lot of casual gamers will probably enjoy it. My recommendation: definitely try it before you buy it.
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