Love it or loathe it, there's no denying the success of Farmville. The casual farming simulator has been embraced by thousands of people, many of whom would otherwise never class themselves as gamers. Whether its success is down to polished game mechanics or the social and free-to-play aspects is up for debate, but instead we'll look at the spiritual ancestor of Farmville known as Harvest Moon, specifically the version that came out on the Gameboy Color.
The Harvest Moon franchise started off on the SNES and has had multiple instalments over the years. The premise is straightforward; the player character has inherited a dilapidated farm and is tasked with maintaining it and making it successful. Initially the player does this by planting crops then harvesting them, hence the title. The crops have to be watered every in-game day before they are ready to harvest and sell As an added mechanic, certain crops are only available in specific seasons; corn and tomatoes in summer, turnips and potatoes in spring, etc. Once the player has earned enough cash, they can purchase tools to aid them in their farming duties and can even expand their farm to house cows and chickens. The livestock element offers a light “virtual pet” element to the game, looking after the cows and chickens by feeding them every in-game day will produce eggs and milk to sell. Te player also has to keep an eye on their farmer character, making sure they're well fed and rested.
While “grinding” is usually associated with RPGs, Harvest Moon certainly has it too. Every in-game day has the player planting and watering crops as well as feeding livestock in order to earn enough money to maintain the farm, with tools such as the sprinkler and horse's saddlebag essentially making it easier to keep farming. At first this seems repetitive, but you'll soon find yourself in a scheduled rhythm and there's something inherently satisfying about seeing your crops fully grown after days of looking after them, especially when you see how much you earn from them. In comparison the Farmville (where tasks are completed with a click of the mouse), having to “physically” move your farmer character around to perform tasks such as watering and harvest crops feels more gratifying and tangible.
On a technical level the graphics are simplistic and serviceable, as to be expected for a Gameboy Color game. The character sprites are quite adorable, especially for the animals. The farmer character has a few simple animations, ranging from the tasks they perform as well as indicating when they're tired. The music is by no means bad, but it's nothing to write home about.
If you want a game that's a break from the usual AAA gung-ho action, but the social and free-to-play elements of Farmville put you off, then Harvest Moon is a more-than-suitable alternative. While certainly a niche title, Harvest Moon is relaxing and satisfying to play. You can get the original Gameboy Colour version, and it's also available on the 3DS eShop.