Harvest Moon: Animal Parade Review
Horse racing, making it big in business, playing the field at the local bar, and a trip or two to a private island. Would you believe the game is an E-rated farm simulation? Well believe it or not, the Harvest Moon series offers all of this and much much more. Natsume attempts to once again capture all that is beautiful about life in a small farm town in its latest installment of the series: Animal Parade.
Animal Parade begins similarly to previous Harvest Moon games in that your character inherits a decrepit farm in a struggling small town. You are made responsible for not only saving the farm, but consequently changing the fate of the entire town. You'll do this by efficiently managing your farm, but also by finding a series of gnome-like creatures called Bells, handmaids of the mystical Harvest Goddess, who must be rung to restore natural elements vital for the town's and your farm's success. The subtitle Animal Parade ultimately stems from an unrelated subplot involving animals that have escaped a circus, but this Harvest Moon also places greater emphasis on the livestock and pet elements of the series. The story is very fantastical and rather shallow, but gamers who play along will find comfort in the quality and depth that the game boasts elsewhere.
Players will be asked to select from one of four predesigned characters to play with, and to name their character and farm. Early on, the game presents with impressive character and environment design. The town, farms, animals, and everything in between create a picture perfect rural world for your exploration. After a brief introduction to some key citizens of Harmonica Town, with so much to be done you'll soon be wondering where to begin. This is where the true beauty of the game lies; in its open-ended gameplay. Farming crops or livestock, fishing, mining and foraging all offer money-making opportunity to the player, but Harvest Moon really excels in its consistent depth throughout all these ventures. Each of these primary means of making your living in the Harvest Moon world offers a second level of production – processing, cooking, and refining. Tasteful incorporation of the option to process raw materials allows gamers to make a choice to invest in expensive equipment to maximize profits, or to sell commodities for quick money.
The nature of simulated life on a farm lends well to a simple, fluid system of controls. The camera angle is fixed, but a few untimely changes are a minor blemish. Unfortunately one or two clunky interfaces in the otherwise sound menu also leaves room for improvement. One of the nicer control options is the ability to lock your character into a grid, making watering and harvesting large plots of crops easier than ever. This drastically reduces the potential drudgery of daily duties. Despite being a title exclusively for the Wii, the entire game can be played without using the motion-sensing abilities of the console. Whether or not this is a bad thing is up to the individual gamer, but on a console designed to get gamers moving, Harvest Moon Animal Parade does fall short. What becomes clear is that neither the fun, nor the challenge in Animal Parade will come from skillful control. Rather the game's appeal will be found in skillful management of all the opportunities that that game offers.
Though there are plenty of people to meet, places to explore, and even a bar to patronize after a hard day of work, there is no avoiding that hard day of work! No matter how beautifully rendered on your television, life on the farm demands discipline and some good old fashioned manual labor. The field must be tilled, seeds sowed and watered daily, and crops harvested. With the most basic tools, this must be done space by space of a sizable plot, and it all, including any other activities that could potential earn you money, requires energy that must be replenished with purchased or found food sources. Though social elements, including the option to marry, will draw you from the farm for periods of time, much of the core game play in Animal Parade is essentially simulated chores. The unavoidable question is who would want to play a game that borders on feeling like work? Well I did and you may too; here's why. Animal Parade is successfully rewarding. Upgrades don't come cheaply or easily, but once earned, that larger rucksack, improved watering can, or bigger barn will provide real benefit to the player's progress. Perhaps the true beauty is that with the exception of time allotted in a simulated day, the only limit on how successful you are and how quickly you reach success is you! No matter how hard you try, you will always find ways to further perfect your farming technique. In a completely unique way, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade manages to make the mundane challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable.
At first glance, Animal Parade is yet another Wii game intended to appeal to a younger audience. There's no denying that appeal, but the game's depth and its preservation and improvement from earlier installments give it appeal to older fans of the early games. The most impressive accomplishment of Animal Parade, however, is its ability to capture the beauty in farm life and the sense of achievement it grants for performing the simplest tasks. Its appeal to a large audience, the depth of gameplay, and its general quality of production earn Harvest Moon Animal Parade high marks.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.