My attention span isn’t the best in the world. I do find that if something hasn’t captured my attention within ten minutes, I am usually off procrastinating or raiding the fridge. I was therefore rather apprehensive when Plantera was up for a review. I like simulation games for sure but it all looked a bit…well cute. Too cute? Perhaps not in every case.
Mercifully, the game is nice and small with no frills to worry about in terms of whether it will run on my machine (Only requires 30MB). It actually loaded on my archaic laptop that I use for typing so I was able to review it with my son around (he is almost 3). He has helped me to compile this review for reasons you will come to understand!
First up, the game looks really cute. Its certainly not taxing on your graphics capability and its very bright and colourful. The graphics have a very retro, pixel feel to them and the music is really quite catchy. You soon find yourself humming along, day and night I might add. You open to the main screen which is where you build your farm. You have ground, sky and this little blue chap called a ‘Helper’. There is a pop up menu. That’s it. No tutorial, no explanation, no help. You simply have to begin experimenting. Now, for me this is a dream as I hate tutorials. My patience doesn’t allow for step by step learning like that without doing a whole lot. I would much rather look up a tutorial if I need it and not be forced to do it as a tick box activity. I’m a button presser by nature so this experience didn’t feel alien to me at all. For some though, a lack of tutorial could be confusing. I read one review of someone who had sat for 30 minutes waiting for something to happen. Obviously their attention span trumps mine.
There are next to no words in this game. It is all produced via a very symbolic framework of pictures and mathematical representations. For example, clicking the ‘?’ on the chicken, informs you how many coins each chicken egg will earn you. The same for other livestock and crops.
So you plant the carrots and very quickly, the carrots are harvested (you can click to do this or the helper will do it for you) and you earn coins to plant more crops. As you level up you get different, more valuable crops and also livestock. You can also use coins to expand your farm, add extras such as scarecrows and farm dogs or pop down some manure to increase the yield. As you expand, so too do your little ‘Helpers’ and you also face invasion from ‘Critters’ in the form of Magpies, Foxes, Wolves and Moles.
There are some thoughtful touches too, like the Loot Knight (featured in another of the developers games) who occasionally charges across the screen, impaling the naughty ‘Critters’ and, if you click him repeatedly, you get free coins. There are also ladybirds which, although hard to spot, can give you great bonuses when clicked too. There are over 20 achievements to collect across different gameplay features which involve collecting or amassing quantities for the most part.
This is where my son comes in. Inevitably, although he was quite content playing and watching his cartoons, the music and sounds drew him over with a “Mummmmyyyyyy…what you dooooooinggggg?”. So, I decided that as this was a nice gentle game, to sit him down and do a bit of Master to Padawan teaching. He was absolutely captivated, especially with the little animals wandering around. He liked chasing away the ‘Critters’ and clicking the fruit to harvest it. He found it very hard to use the mouse but every 10 minutes or so he would wander back and ask to “See his farm” and “buy more cows”. It was a lovely exercise in learning for him too as he had to control the mouse, click, check he had enough coins to buy ANOTHER cow, name objects etc. There was no swearing, violence or reading to do and it all made perfect sense to him, helped considerably by the ease of controls, catchy music and attractive interface.
Now this is where our reviews began to differ. Although you got something new to play with at each level, there was nothing to do except click, grow, harvest, chase Critters. As an adult, although the game was very addictive I did crave something more complex after 10 or so levels. The escalation in coins earned is very fast as is progression but after level 20 there is nothing new to place. What would be nice is a set of DLC with seasons or a mock trade set up with some ‘neighbouring farms’ – either CPU or other players on your friends list. Perhaps having to harvest a certain amount of a particular crop to progress could give an extra element of challenge? Although this is part of some of the achievements you can obtain, it really has no hand in the playing of the game itself.
The little lad had a different issue which was the mouse. His teeny hands weren’t big enough to move and click and he kept attempting to tap the screen with his finger (I won’t deny it, I laughed my head off). What he would have enjoyed more is the exact same game as an app on the iPad, which he can use independently. It would be an ideal game that you could return to once a day and click to harvest and plant (and yes, add more cows). We both enjoyed the speed of progression too. We didn’t have to wait 5 days for a cool down on planting a tree or save for weeks to plant a crop of radishes – a welcome relief from games such as ‘Farmville’ (yeah, remember that?) where sometimes you had to wait days for a flipping potato harvest.
But this is where the distinct appeal of this game is going to differ based on the market. For an adult player, although it is very addictive, attractive and a nice casual game to dip in and out of, there is little progression and no element of challenge. However, this inst a developer who is resting on their laurels. They are active in their forums and discussions and are actioning points recommended by their players. They do, in fact, welcome tips and wishes to be submitted. This is reflected in the 10 updates since release to include new features asked for by players which surely shows a willing to reflect popular opinion, both within the interface and the gameplay alike.
For a soon-to-be three year old, this game was absolutely spot on. Few words meant no frustration. No instructions encouraged problem solving and exploration. It was attractive and enjoyable for him to play, with no complex rules to remember. He also particularly enjoyed the poop noises the pigs made. The only part he found frustrating was the need to use a mouse. As a side scrolling simulation and one that is all click based, this would have been much more successful as an app for a tablet. He craved the ability to move things physically with his hand which would have suited him developmentally too. However, he was happy to “help” me move the mouse to achieve some of the tasks.
So, it’s a twee £2 spend that can go on forever but only evolves and progresses for a short time. Nevertheless, it held the attention of this parent and child team for a few hours. We actually had a really lovely time playing it together and talking about the game. It’s not going to win any prestigious awards or make billions however I don’t think we have seen all this could have to offer yet and I really hope the developers build on the success they have already seen by adding further layers of complexity to what they have already. As for the little guy? Well he thinks more animals and tractors is something he would like in this game. Let’s wait and see!