Game Reviews

Astro Ranch

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| Astro Ranch
Astro Ranch
| Astro Ranch

We’ve been waiting patiently for Astro Ranch since way back in 2008, but just like the valuable crops that are the focal point of this delicious cross between Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, it’s been worth hanging on for.

Casting you as Farming Federation members Max and Sindy, the game maroons you on an alien planet with nothing but a few farming tools to your name. Soon after crash-landing on the surface you’re greeted by the three-eyed mayor of the local town, who amiably proceeds to offer you your very own tract of land on which to make a living.

Growing and farming various crops is one way of earning cash. Using your tools - basic gardening items including a spade, watering can, scythe, and others - you can establish an intergalactic commercial empire. Succeed and you gain the ability to manage livestock and entire fields full of mouth-watering fruit and vegetables.

The simple life

You don't have to live the simple life, though. There are other methods of accruing wealth. You can pan for gold in a nearby stream, for example. By far the most enjoyable pastime is fishing, which borrows heavily from Animal Crossing but with a welcome accelerometer twist.

Controlling the on-screen action is easy: tap and your character gleefully bounds to the noted point. Open up your bag and you can select a tool which will then appear in the top-right corner of the screen. Simply drag the equipped tool to the intended target and you’re done.

For example, dragging a spade to a bare spot on the ground prompts your character to dig a hole, which can then be used to plant seeds. Top up your watering can at the nearby well and you’re able to water the freshly-sowed seeds.

Before long, you have something which can be harvested - using the scythe, naturally - and then magically teleported to market using the transportation pod.

Time attack

As any good farmer will tell you, it’s not just a matter of sticking something in the ground and hoping for the best. Astro Ranch not only uses seasons to represent the passing of time, but also boasts a real-time clock which directly affects your options within the game.

You can’t visit certain locations during the night, for instance, and your plants and animals require feeding and watering at predetermined points in the day. Since you only have a certain amount of time available to perform all of your tasks, caring for your investments becomes complicated lesson in time-management simulation.

This obviously makes it quite demanding and involving - particularly for a portable game - but it’s also incredibly rewarding when your hard work pays off and you see the cash rolling in.

Working the land

Of course, earning money is only appealing if you have something to spend it on, and for that there’s the opportunity to purchase additional tools, obtain insecticides to keep away pests, and customise your new abode. You can even invest in some new clothes if you fancy a change of wardrobe.

To round it all off, Astro Ranch also includes social networking features which allow you to interact with other players via messages and even gifts.

Those of you intimately familiar with Animal Crossing will no doubt be struck by the similarity between these two titles. Tag Games has unashamedly lifted several key elements from Nintendo’s title, but it’s hard to complain when the execution is so assured.

In fact, if this had Nintendo’s name on it you wouldn’t bat an eyelid, and that's surely one of the highest compliments one can pay.

Pesky bugs

Unfortunately, troublesome technical issues do drag Astro Ranch down. It crashed on us several times before actually offering up the opportunity to start a game, and there are moments where everything slows down to a crawl.

Criticism can also be levelled against elements of the game's design. The close-up camera angle could stand to be pulled back, and the short tutorial might offer more guidance as you break ground on your farm.

Derivative though it may be, Astro Ranch is an achievement - a title capable of going toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s finest at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes the sheer ambition of the game weighs it down, but for the most part this savvy combination of resource-management and task-based gaming practically begs to be downloaded.

Astro Ranch

Trigger-happy types are unlikely to find their appetite for destruction sated by this relatively laid-back farming adventure, but everyone else will find it a fertile furrow to plough