Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming Review
Farming is anything but a frantic process. It requires the patience of a snail and progresses just as fast. Think about it — denim suspenders, boots and straw hats aren’t exactly an ideal wardrobe for frenzied, “frantic” activities.
Perhaps this game should’ve been titled Harvest Moon: Oxymoron.
Grammar aside, the long-running farming-simulation series has harvested another winner with Frantic Farming, but this crop isn’t at all what you might expect. Those readying pitchforks and milking buckets for a day on the farm can stop those morning chores and lose the suspenders, because beneath the light of this Harvest Moon, you’ll be firing up neurons, not tractors.
Contrary to what its namesake may suggest, Frantic Farming is a puzzle game. No, it’s not a farming simulator with a few half-baked puzzle-solving elements — it’s an outright, full-blown, pull-your-hair-out puzzler, and while “frantic” may not apply to farming, it’s a perfect descriptor for this spin-off.
The game’s appearance should be familiar to puzzler buffs. Each puzzle takes place on grid comprised of colored blocks, and keeping with Harvest Moon traditions, each color marks a specific crop. As your character roams the grid automatically, you manipulate tiles with the stylus, dragging mature crops into the harvester’s path to be collected. When your character yanks crops, adjacent crops are watered, bringing them closer to maturity. Your objective is generally to harvest as many fully grown crops as possible.
It sounds simple, right? In a sense, it is. Like any great puzzler, Frantic Farming is easy to grasp, but it’s difficult to master and features advanced techniques — setting up chains, growing huge vegetables — you won’t be able to successfully harvest without. It’s a think-on-your-feet premise that requires a quick mind as well as a quick stylus, and it’s a blast to play.
Somehow, Natsume has found another way to make farming fun.
Frantic Farming takes place on the same island players cultivated in last year’s Harvest Moon for DS, subtitled Island of Happiness. The characters Chelsea and Mark also return, and a slew of new wide-eyed agriculturalists is introduced, as well. Although you begin the game with only a few playable characters, each unlocks another when used to complete Story mode. Each of the 12 total characters has different attributes and abilities, as well, so it’s worth the time to unlock them and experiment to find one who suits you.
The story itself, as you might imagine, is nonsense. A tower watching over the island is casting an ominous light, and the Harvest Goddess can’t repair it without an enormous offering of vegetables — it isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy writing, but the story only serves to segue between the engaging puzzles.
Hey, at least the vegetables aren’t going to waste, right?
Thin as the story may be, its presentation is pretty interesting. The plot is presented through the eyes of whichever character you choose, and each reveals a different side of the story. Unlocking new characters unveils more of the story, and the parallel narratives often intersect. As one character, for example, I encountered a harvesting contest with another, and when I later played through as my opponent, I encountered the same contest from his perspective. It’s an interesting way to tell a not-so-interesting story.
Despite the narrative pleasantries, the single-player Story mode shouldn’t last more than an hour for most characters, and despite the wealth of bonus material to unlock, these crops are tastiest when harvested with friends. The game offers plenty of customizable multiplayer options, and as do many of the best multiplayer DS games, it supports single- and multi-card play.
Paired with the addictive nature of the puzzles, the multiplayer modes will ensure you spend lots of time on the farm. Luckily, the scenery’s nice, too.
It doesn’t exactly push the hardware, but Frantic Farming has a charming visual style typical of the Harvest Moon series. The story is told entirely via static anime drawings, but the characters are hyper-expressive and full of personality. The puzzles themselves look just as sharp, utilizing a simple, clean look complemented by bright, vivid colors and flashy animations.
Of course, no farm is immune to producing a little spoiled milk. While the puzzles provide plenty of challenge and fun, the degree to which you enjoy them may ultimately hinge on your tolerance for repetition. Frantic Farming gets progressively more grueling as you unlock more characters, but your chores never really change. Indeed, across the game’s multiple modes, you’ll essentially be solving the same puzzles over and over again.
The game’s biggest drawback, however, is its lack of online multiplayer, a seemingly appropriate feature that would’ve added more incentive to keep playing long after the novelty of Frantic Farming’s puzzles has worn off.
That said, I picked more corn than Orville Redenbacher before it did.
Aside from the lack of online multiplayer and the risk of repetition, which is more a criticism of the genre than the game itself, it’s difficult to find a rotten crop in this field. Frantic Farming doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it does offer a fresh perspective on puzzlers and an addictive gameplay hook.
It may grow in the shadows of superior puzzle games on the Nintendo DS, but surprisingly, the Harvest Moon has yielded yet another prized crop.
Frantic Farming presents an interesting take on tile-based puzzlers, and it feels surprisingly fresh. Dragging tiles with the stylus is mostly a responsive and smooth effort, and the gameplay is often, as the title suggests, frantic.
The power of color and charm surpasses the power of hardware or, more appropriately, the lack thereof. The game is bright, vivid and appealing.
Upbeat music typical of Harvest Moon provides the soundtrack to your day on the farm. There’s no voice work, but the sound effects are effective.
Like a classic puzzle game, it’s easy to learn and difficult to master.
I would’ve never expected a Harvest Moon-themed puzzler to be such an enjoyable experience, but Natsume fleshed out the concept well. The game has an addictive gameplay hook, and it makes sense within the franchise.
You’ll need a stylus instead of a shovel in Frantic Farming, an outright, full-blown, pull-your-hair-out puzzler that offers a fresh perspective on the genre and an addictive gameplay hook. It’s not perfect, but it’s one hell of a crop.