Until recently, I'd never played a Harvest Moon game before – I'd been interested in them, but had never really tried one until I got the new Wii game, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade to review. And it was awesome. But I'm beginning to wonder if I've been spoilt a bit by that game, as Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands doesn't reach the same lofty standards set by its bigger brother...
That's one happy sheep.
In case you've never played a Harvest Moon game before, it's basically a farming/life simulation game, where you run your own farm, caring for your animals and planting your crops, whilst getting to know the villagers and starting a family. There's also usually a sort of vague story about how some disaster has struck the land, and in order to rectify it ,you'll need to trawl the lands searching for some items – and Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is no exception.
The story begins when you travel to the Sunshine Islands, a set of islands linked by bridges, to start up a farm, taking over the abandoned and dilapidated farmstead located on the imaginatively-named Farm Island. Now, in years gone by, there used to be a heck of a lot more islands, but a massive earthquake sunk them all, and this has affected the prosperity of the remaining islands. About a week into the game, you get ambushed by a Harvest Sprite – a little elf/fairy thing wearing a night-cap – who tells you about the magical Sun Stones, and their mysterious island-raising powers. Needless to say, it'll be your job to run around collecting all 100 (yes, 100) of the things, assuming you'll be able to squeeze it in between the ridiculously short days and fainting from hunger.
Taken shortly before he passed our from exhaustion.
The problem is, things are a little bit more complicated this time round. For starters, your character now has another bar besides the usual stamina bar – one for fullness, that you'll need to keep topped up by eating, lest you faint from hunger (as I've found out on multiple occasions). The problem is, having another bar to watch just seems to make the game unnecessarily complicated, and quickly drains any money you make because you'll have to keep nipping to the diner to buy snacks – because with a low fullness bar, your stamina bar will deplete faster, so you'll tire even more quickly than usual. I'm not really sure why they thought such a thing was a good idea – all it does is effectively apply an arbitrary limit to what you can do in a day, which is a bit pointless in itself, as the overly short days limit what you can do anyway. Watering 3 sets of crops seems to be the best you can manage before your stamina bars empties, by which time it's 6 pm anyway and nearly time for bed.
The shorter day length is probably because the game is intended to be easier to pick up and play for five or ten minutes when you get the chance (although making them a tiny bit longer might have helped a bit, and would have made you feel a bit less rushed). Other things have presumably been done for the same reason. For example, instead of sewing your seeds one square at a time, they plant themselves in a 3x3 square – which is fine, until you come to watering them. Once your plants start to grow, it stops you from walking over them, so there's no way to water the central plant - at least not initially. You'll need to have a trip to Chen's shop and buy either a red or blue "Wonderful" (little stones that upgrade your tools), which will increase your watering can's horizontal or vertical range respectively, letting you water that elusive central square. These things aren't cheap though at 5000G each, especially considering the sheer number of snacks you'll be shelling out for on a daily basis.
You'll be haemorrhaging money on snacks in the early part of the game.
And while we're on the subject of money, Harvest Moon: Animal Parade had a nice, friendly scale for working out how much you'd get for each of your crops – the quality of each item was measured on a scale from Decent, to Good, to Perfect to Shining, with shining being top-quality produce that would get you the best price when you sold it. Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands decided to abandon this nice, simple ranking entirely, giving each item a rank between 1 and 10 for three characteristics – Quality, Size and Freshness – which all add together, seemingly using some mega-complicated, top-secret algorithm to give your produce a grade from A to D. And whilst it's not a massive problem, it does seem to make the game seem far more complicated than it needs to be, especially considering the lengths they've gone to to try and make the game easy to pick up and play when you get a moment.
You also seem to need to use your hard earned cash to build everything – before you can cook, you need to build a kitchen; before you can own any animals, you'll need to build a coop or barn; and before you can travel to any islands you've put all your effort into collecting the Sun Stones to raise, you'll need to build a bridge to get there. You can off-set the cost of these a bit though, if you can collect enough lumber, stone or ore so gold-digger Gannon doesn't need to find the materials himself and charge you through the nose for the privilege.
Another, albeit minor, niggle was the fact that at the end of each day, it didn't give you a break-down of how much money you'd made from shipping your crops and things – there was something strangely satisfying on Animal Parade about lying down to sleep at the end of a busy day to see how much money you'd made, and whether it was from your amazing quality cherries, the massive carp you caught or whatever.
Chelsea was ecstatic at finally managing to harvest the elusive central crop.
Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands isn't all bad though – just not as good as it could have been. The fact that there's so many sun stones to collect, means you'll be busy for a good long time, and by finding a set number of sun stones, a new island is raised, giving you more of the world to explore. Another interesting addition is the ability to 'enchant' – those little Harvest Sprites aren't just for show you know, as once you've rescued them you can put them to work some chores around the farm, or you could borrow some of their magic to make it so that making friends with the villagers becomes a whole lot easier.
The various villagers all have their own sort of personality - from those who tell you off for browsing their stock and not buying anything, to the food-loving top-hat-wearing Pierre, to the aloof Eliza, who believes no-one - not even you - can look as good as her. There's also a magical creature called Witchkin who loves playing pranks on people, and a failed pop star who's developed a liking for fishing, as well as mysterious voice that doesn't like you littering the islands with your unwanted stuff... And these characters are no where near as materialistic as in some of the other games, where you had to buy there friendship with various gifts - the people of the Sunshine Islands are more than happy with just a little chat every now and then. This means you don't need to dedicate entire afternoons to socialising, which is good, seeing as you probably wouldn't have time for that anyway.
Whilst the shorter day length can be annoying, it also means that the game is more suited to short play sessions - you can pick it up for 5 or 10 minutes here or there, and play through a few days, and you don't need to worry about trekking back to your house to save either, as simply pressing the X button and selecting the Diary from the menu will let you stop and save wherever you happen to be. And, as someone who likes to be able to stop playing a game at a moment's notice, and can't stand save points for that very same reason - it's a welcome addition.
All in all, Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands is a good game if you're looking for a more portable version of the game, or if you only have a few minutes to fill in at a time. They did make a few strange decisions though, this time round, with the addition of the Fullness bar tending to make the game seem overly complicated and more hectic than it really is. If you're looking for a more straightforward and relaxing game, you should try Harvest Moon: Animal Parade instead.