Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands Review «

I always joke that each Harvest Moon title is essentially the exact same game. And that’s true to an extent — if you’ve played one entry in the farming sim series, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from every other one. But outside that “tend crops, raise animals, woo a villager, sleep, rinse, and repeat” formula, the changes from title to title can be subtle but significant. As a devoted Harvest Moon fan, it’s these changes that keep drawing me in time and time again; I need to see what’s new, experience what’s been improved, and gripe about what features have inevitably taken a step backward. For those who haven’t played Harvest Moon since the SNES days, or for gamers whose only exposure to a farming sim is Facebook’s Farmville application, the complexities contained within this DS cart may be surprising. Whether it’s a good surprise or a horrific one depends largely on your patience for delayed gratification.
Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands requires a lot of research. Despite its cutesy graphics and non-violent nature, Sunshine Islands is a hardcore game (albeit in the same way your mother can be “hardcore” about Farmville), particularly because of game’s new premise and weather system. As it turns out, your farmland is set on an archipelago, only you come to find out most of the other surrounding islands have sunken into the ocean. In order to raise them all out of the depths, you’ll need to uncover the game’s 100 hidden Sun Stones. Some are hidden in plain sight around the islands — in a well, or behind a building — but you can only get others directly from the town’s villagers or by fulfilling some other unexplained criteria. Though the game never explicitly tells you all the ways in which to uncover these stones, you’ll meet most criteria naturally through the course of the game — provided you play long enough.

Click the image above to check out all Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands screens.
But the new randomized weather system will most likely be the largest source of frustration. The in-game weather is predetermined more than a week in advance, making the old “save and reset” trick for manipulating the rain obsolete. And since many of your crops are extremely sensitive to overwatering, a few rainy days in a row can ravish your profits for an entire season. The only solution is ample research: There are fansites out there that detail just how much sunshine and water each crop can take before it dies, but the game itself unfortunately does not. Simply watering your plants every day, while serviceable, is definitely not the best way to play this game.

But even with the weather throwing a wrench in your strategically planned farming machine, the in-game years aren’t a drag to get through. Raising the surrounding islands gives your days a more tangible goal (aside from getting married and rich) and a sense of steady progression. Each unlocked island rewards you with various in-game features (like Volcano Island’s ore-rich mine, or Rice Island’s large rice paddy), new villagers, and more opportunities to collect Sun Stones.

Click the image above to check out all Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands screens.
Sunshine Islands has a ton of other stuff to keep you occupied and the days flying by as well: You can raise various pets, catch over 100 different types of fish, learn dozens of cooking recipes, plant an orchard, befriend woodland creatures, and dig deep into the mines for rare ores. Your daily tasks are a lot easier to accomplish now that most of the touchscreen controls are merely optional, though a few tasks are still easier to handle with the stylus (like dragging animal feed to the troughs).

The Harvest Moon games aren’t very welcoming to newcomers. The series still thrives largely on its dedicated, niche fanbase, and though Sunshine Islands does an admirable job of offering brief tutorials (should you need them; vets will love that you can skip these), the start of the game is still pretty overwhelming. Which island do you raise out of the ocean first? Should you build a chicken coop or save up for that barn? You’ll likely find yourself bumbling inefficiently through your first in-game Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter seasons unless you’ve read up on the game prior to your start. But be patient, put in the dedicated time, research, and strategic planning, and Sunshine Islands will reward you satisfactorily.


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