The rise of farming games over the last ten years can’t be ignored. Popularity skyrocketed and the franchise split between two clear categories of games. The fun element of a deep storyline, social interaction and the more open world concept combining material finding and dungeon crawling took players away from the burden of just tending and harvesting fields. Titles like Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, Stardew Valley and slightly deviating and more focused on the building aspect, Minecraft and Terraria.
We’ve heard about them. We’ve played them and nobody can dispute that the gaming community has bought them and continues to constantly talk about them.
The other side was the growth of the more realistic and involved and the more hardcore appeal of games like Farming Simulator, Real Farm and Professional Farmer. Games that are more focused on the true business of farming by using a huge chunk of the core gameplay with actually driving and using machinery on the fields. Managing resources and also coping with the fine balancing act of staff employment. Field management such as ploughing, seeding, fertilising and growing and harvesting crops. Then use the money you make to put into the business to expand and buy better machinery, buy new fields to grow more crops and expand your output with a larger variety of grains, fruits and vegetables to eventually sell. Spending hours, days and weeks of your life obtaining one goal. Making a profit!
The same can be said for this particular review. Farm Tycoon. Running a farm and making a profit but approaching it from a different angle altogether.
Here, developers, SONKA have taken influence from the core game Farm Manager for the PC. Then built it from the ground up and created a game that is made specifically just for consoles. A business simulation in the same mould as the Railroad Tycoon, Zoo Tycoon series but without the humorous leanings of say, the Theme Park, Theme Hospital games.
On load up, we get the customary farm screen accompanied by banjo music and a list of the game mode options. Campaign Mode, Scenario Mode and Free Mode.
For games of this type. The main mode would normally and essentially be Free Mode. The ability to have all the tools and options at your pleasure and the freedom of choice to pretty much do what you want from scratch.
Aside from that, Scenario Mode gives us a generous list for players who want their farming practices more trade specific. This mode contains such headers as Land of Milk and Honey which concentrates on life as a dairy farmer and a large list of jobs and objectives relating to that trade.
Raising cattle, feeding and breeding for milk production and building beehives for honey. Or something like Satisfy Carnivores. Where you’re tasked with raising a large selection of animals and building the utilities for slaughter and selling to the meat trade.
Finally, there’s the Campaign Mode. A mode I chose for a large part of this review and above that, a bit curious as to what it exactly entailed.
It starts with a story about your family not wanting to sell their farmhouse and passing the unenviable task of doing everything to get the business up and running again down to you. It’s massively cliched and exists in a large number of mobile and farming games. So because I never came across a continuation of this story whilst playing and probably don’t care. I took a photo of the story in a bit more detail.
Luckily the game is far better. You are given an area of land with enough room to add a decent number of buildings and fields and on the right side is a list of tasks to do.
On initial startup, you have to repair buildings like the farmhouse and barn and add silos, and a water well as you strive to get basics up and functioning. You are then requested to add a field and tend to the land to grow strawberries and gain a quick profit.
In the top right corner is a season wheel for keeping tabs on the time. Spring is essential for laying down fields, ploughing the land, cultivating, seeding and fertilizing. Summer for harvesting and Autumn prepare the ground for the following year because of the winter months. In Winter there is no opportunity for work to be done outside due to the frozen ground. Leaving players to pretty much deal with admin and finances until the coming spring.
Visually, everything is well presented and easy to follow. The camera is at a fixed top-down view which allows you to see every area with the ZR button feature to get in closer and see things in finer detail.
The most important part though is the game’s interface and menus. A business simulation’s most valuable asset is that any faults or clunkiness can ruin the playability and enjoyment of the game.
I’m pleased to report though. Farm Tycoon has a very simple but effective method of pulling down and easily going through the menus on offer. Moving a cursor with the left stick highlights whatever building or field you wish to work on. Then pressing the L button will bring up a wheel with several icons around it. From here you can select to add buildings or decorations, select A and access the extensive sub-menu with the types of buildings and decorations on offer. Players can easily build fences and roads, place buildings or from the wheel, start a field or visit the market to buy seeds or buy and sell produce.
Other menus are activated with the + button. A management screen that allows you to extensively work on the administrative side of your business. Train in agriculture, administration or negotiation skills. Apply for a bank loan or gain more employees. Here, you can hire and employ staff with little icons indicating what field of work they are best at. It’s no good employing an expert field worker to manage looking after cows or to get an expert in admin seeding a field. There are also energy bars to consider and employees’ time spent working for the task you give them. When energy is zero they go back to their accommodation and sleep it off until the next day (how dare they!) meaning careful planning on getting the best from your staff and the tasks done in the appropriate time frame.
When it comes to the actual fields and growing crops. Once again it’s quick and easy due to the ease and simplicity of the interface. Select wheel with L and draw a square with the cursor. Press A on the field and pick what task you want to do from the field menu. Then allocate which workers you want to do the job and press enter and off they go.
For a fast and efficient interface soon comes the realisation that getting jobs done comes painfully slow. This game learns players that they soon require two things. Scrutiny to monitor every action and event as it unfolds and to take the necessary action to complete the task as efficiently and effectively as possible. But to also exercise a great deal of patience and planning to get the job done before the change of seasons and if that’s not immediately possible then there’s always next year.
Even if you have to succumb to a long haul over the winter months. At the top centre of the screen is an adjustable timer to speed things up at any time. With the pacing of tasks and frosty months ahead. It soon becomes a most used and valuable tool and a welcomed option.
Graphically. The game performs the job well with scenery adjusting to the seasons. Trees go brown in autumn and the winter months are gorgeously depicted with buildings and scenery covered in thick snow and smoke rising from the chimneys of residences.
The zoom-in feature is also a welcome addition to see the finer detail with the workers walking around and tending to fields and animals with a good deal of realism in their actions.
When it comes to the sound. There are realistic animal noises in the game as you zoom in to the pens and sheds and also to alert the player of various conditions that occur. A cross icon will indicate an animal is sick and a need to call the vet and a heart icon will indicate the animal is happy, ready to breed and a need to call the inseminator. (please don’t ask!)
Yet above all that and from the predictable banjo tune from the starter screen. We get the game’s main soundtrack that’s an upbeat country tune and after playing a few seasons you are suddenly hit by this surprising in-game piano soundtrack in the autumn time that’s hauntingly beautiful. Playing with softness, often serene and at times fused with melancholy. This sublime music perfectly blends with the scenario and is a complete joy to listen to.
So with Farm Tycoon, we have a pretty solid game with a great deal of content and that feeling that the developers have done a stellar job and taken the time and effort to put out a quality product. There’s a massive amount of opportunity to build the business you want and yet there are a few issues that I still question. The main one is the Campaign Mode!
For a start, ill quote the game description here…
“The Campaign will guide you through all the major aspects of the game and teach you how to properly manage the farm..”
Except it doesn’t!
If you start campaign mode then there’s a list of objectives to follow for each chapter. You are under the belief that this is guiding you and showing you what to do. You complete objectives and suddenly budget falls dangerously low. You planted and harvested strawberries in a field but it never told you that you could sell them now for profit. A grass field was ready to harvest according to an in-game message at the bottom left of the screen but not until you reach another chapter instructing “Build a Sileage Silo. Collect Two Sileage” that I realised that I should have cut the grass field first and only from knowledge did I know that harvested grass is used to create Sileage. Imagine if you’re playing this and had no idea?
So what is this mode? It’s not a story because there are no chapters that seem to run alongside the original story header. Is it a Tutorial? Well, it’s certainly not succeeding there and it’s certainly not doing what it states in the description either. How about my depleting cash in the bank? Let’s apply for a bank loan. No. I have to complete two training sessions to apply. Did the game tell me that before then? No!
So to sum up. Farm Tycoon is one step away from pure perfection. It has some great modes, a nice look, a great soundtrack and a solid performance with plenty of in-depth options and tools to build your perfect farming empire from the ground up. It’s just a shame that my opinion of the entire game is blemished by the oddities of the campaign mode. The lack of vehicles and tools to do the jobs and lack of guidance in the time frame it asks. It’s so confusing.
For its amazingly low price tag of $15 it certainly comes highly recommended.
I would prefer that they worked or reworked the campaign mode and add an extra farm location and I would gladly pay a slightly higher price tag for the privilege.
Anyway. I can’t stop. I have an urgent appointment with the inseminator to attend…
Thanks to SONKA for the game code.