Stardew Valley Review
Having debuted on PC and expanded onto consoles shortly after, a whimsical, pastoral life in Stardew Valley can now be accessed on your iOS device, with Android soon to follow. A cautionary introductory note though; a few of you might see the words ‘farm’ and ‘mobile’ in the same sentence and imagine a previous popular release along those lines - do not go there. The game being reviewed here is a hugely impressive, microtransaction-free labour of love, while the one you’re remembering is a cynical corporate cash-grab and waste of time. All clear? Moving on then.
From the moment the woozy guitar intro theme starts up, you feel like a load has been lifted from your tired bones. You’re going to a nice place for a while, and now you can go there anytime you like. If you somehow missed out on this little agricultural marvel to date that convinced at least one guy to buy a farm for real, let’s get you up to speed. Entirely created by a single developer and ostensibly a 16-bit farming sim in the mould of Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley will certainly have you planting crops but also hopefully learning about life, love, yourself and others. Trapped in your cubicle working for soulless food conglomerate Joja, you are granted a way out when you find your recently passed grandfather has gifted you his farm in his will. Arriving in town with a little money to find a dilapidated farmhouse and weed-strewn fields in need of some TLC, you are soon welcomed by the local community, and your journey to make your land a success and honour your dear old granddad's memory begins. With a little effort, planning and luck, you’ll soon make your new home a colourful cornucopia.
To go from these humble beginnings and a single packet of parsnip seeds to a fully functional agri-business might seem a Herculean task, but it’s broken down into a piecemeal series of objectives that you can tackle at your own pace. Soon you move on from growing simple produce like cabbages and potatoes to producing artisanal goods like cheese, wine and truffle oil. However, the game is quick to remind you that there’s more to country life than making bank, and encourages you to spend time with the townsfolk. Like an 80s sitcom or Springsteen’s back catalog, there’s not a gram of cynicism, angst, or post-modern detachment to be wrought from this experience. The citizens of the valley wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, and encourage you to do the same. Even the snarky teens of the town can be pleasant once you get to know them. They aren’t just window dressing either, but offer a completely different facet to the game; by offering gifts and favours and even just a friendly ear, relationships can bloom and, if you read the signs, you might just win someone’s hand in marriage.
The interface doesn’t need much tweaking to conform to a mobile screen; the tools menu has been shunted over to the left of the screen, while the other menus and area map lie behind the pause button as before. Directional controls have been replaced with a tap to move / use method to accommodate mobile play. To compensate for this less precise control method, when digging, planting and watering you can now see the underlying grid to aid in your accuracy. In a similar vein, swinging your weapon to attack the creatures in the mines is now automated. While they are included to help, these features can be turned off if they aren’t to your liking. Aside from these minor concessions, the game has been ported largely intact, minus mods and multiplayer. Previous players will be right at home, but a decent tutorial is on hand if required. Newcomers to the game may find the game’s day cycle a little restrictive; at first, you can’t do much toiling in the fields without getting all tuckered out and needing your bed, but before long your stamina will increase and you’ll have learned a host of recipes to craft enough hearty meals to keep you going long past sundown.
Many games claim to offer you the world, but upon closer inspection reveal that the rolling acres provided are barren, or contain only fodder for pointless fetch quests. Stardew Valley isn’t boundless, but the activities you can engage in feel varied, equally valid and carefully balanced to feed into each other, so you are always working towards something. Short on cash to buy new seeds? You can go catch some fish, chop some lumber, seek treasure in the mines, scavenge the beach for shells, or locate rarities for the museum. Or just take a break, have a drink in the saloon and get to know the townsfolk. For the first while at least, it seems like every day brings a new event that you can choose to engage with, or just ignore. Squint your eyes, turn up the soundtrack and you can almost feel the warm sun’s glow splitting through the trees as you behold the season’s bounty.
The exquisite soundtrack, again written by developer Eric Barone, is once again a welcome companion to life in Pelican Town. The springtime melodies are especially infused with a grand sense of purpose and work to be done, but the auditory journey continues through the fun cod-calypso of summertime and wistful brass and woodwind of autumn, to the frosty, sparse and sombre tones of winter in the valley. Long term residents of the valley can even import their PC save so their pastoral paradise can be with them on the go. There are a hundred and one reasons to return to this game, but that it’s just so gosh-darn-aw-shucks charming and personable is reason enough to bring it to a wider audience on mobile, even if more casual players don’t explore every little thing it has to offer. It is a lovely world to be in, and that can be enough.