The quaint, quirky, and cute Life/Farming Simulator is a genre that has been shaken to its core and left reeling. The release of Stardew Valley back in 2016 not only reinvigorated the stagnating genre but also set it on a course for destruction. Many developers try to emulate Stardew Valley’s success by just having Stardew Valley – just with something hastily stitched onto its barely breathing body. Sort of like a misunderstood Shelluvian monstrosity, but with dead grandparents and weeds everywhere. Monster Harvest is one of these amalgamations. They added in monster-catching…for some reason.
That Poor Horse…
Not to beat the Stardew Valley horse into a bloody paste, but from the get-go, Monster Harvest wears its inspiration on its sleeve. From the moment you jump into the game, you will see an eerily familiar art style that just screams its source material. I am almost certain they made off-brand trees. That’s not to say Monster Harvest isn’t pretty. Heck, the game looks fabulous utilizing beautiful 2DHD sprite work similar to the eye-meltingly gorgeous games that Square Enix have been pumping out.
But it’s not the graphics that are surprisingly impressive. This is a fairly solid farming sim. It comes with all the trimmings you’d expect. You play as a disgruntled youth who has rejected the notions and demands of city life. Just as you are about to fall into an abyss of mundanity, you get a letter from your uncle – surprisingly not dead – and are given the chance to escape hell on earth and live a life of satisfyingly difficult hard labor in a rural town.
Your avatar has a few seeds, an overgrown patch of land, and a bunch of tools to clear it all away. The cycle is all here. You hit things until you have space to plant stuff; you water the stuff you plant until it’s all beefy and ready to pick; then you yank it out of its earthen home and sell it to the locals in order to feed their insatiable desire to devour farm-fresh food. You unlock new seeds as time goes on allowing you to grow more crops and do more stuff. It’s well implemented and does a good job of getting you hooked on that “just one more day” tomfoolery the genre is known for.
Does Most Things OK
It’s not all about picking grapes and throwing them in a bucket though. Monster Harvest has a decently sized town filled with people to converse with. This is, unfortunately, one of the weaker aspects of the game. The cast of characters here just felt a bit bland – lifeless even. Other games in the genre have had vast, interconnected webs of personalities and backstories that sold that small-town feeling. Monster Harvest misses the mark here, and I found myself not engaging with the town all that much as a result.
Monster Harvest’s biggest “gift” to the genre is the introduction of plant-based animals – Planimals. Your uncle discovered these little blighters and, every now and then, one of your carrots will gain sentience and vow to fight other sentient vegetables to the death. As a concept, it seems interesting enough, but in execution, it’s awful. It ties directly into the dungeon delving combat the genre is known for but manages to utterly destroy any and all semblance of fun, satisfaction, or being awake.
Battles are a turn-based affair. You have your walking legume smack a durian or something, and then take it in turns until your beans get cooked, or you made yourself a decent salad. The issue here is that it’s painfully boring. As a combat system, this is one of the least interesting I have ever experienced. Your bipedal allium starts with only one attack, and then very slowly unlocks more attacks as it very slowly levels up. You’d think these attacks would do something interesting. Maybe apply some cunning debuff or do anything remotely thought-inducing or strategic. You’d be wrong.
Some Bad, Some Good
What this boils down to is a party of melons, squash, and the odd fungus all feeling the same. Why experiment with anything when all you are ever doing is smashing attack? Your killer kiwi is more or less the same as that weird-looking shallot. This is Monster Harvest’s only innovation or addition to the formula – and it falls flat on its face. It’s a time-consuming snore-fest that might as well be skipped. If you are skipping the main gimmick, then all you are doing is playing a less interesting clone of a better game.
Swinging things back to the land of the positive, the game sounds fine and runs fine. Frames held steady for the most part and the jingles were mostly relaxing tunes that fit the game nicely. My only gripe would be the loading times, which are a bit long on the Switch – especially when first booting up the game.
Overall Monster Harvest is an average entry into a genre that, for the most part, is oversaturated with average entries. It tries to emulate the genre patriarch and does a respectable job in terms of the farming mechanics, overall feel, and presentation. The town, the folk, and the whole monster thing hold the game back, however. There is very little reason to invest your time and money into such a temporal vacuum when that game is merely adequate.
WAIT FOR SALE ON MONSTER HARVEST
Many thanks go to the publisher Merge Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.