Harvest Moon DS
| Harvest Moon DS

Despite years of assault from agrochemical companies and mealymouthed government departments, the idyllic charm of the farming community somehow lives on. Pastoral settings ranging from the hobbits of The Shire to Eddie Grundy in The Archers chime with ancestorial memories of foamy pints of scrumpy, bucolic wenches and rolling around the hayloft. Well, our side of the family always were the dark sheep.

Even those with forebears inhabiting inner city towerblocks will immediately grasp the basics of farming sim Harvest Moon DS, however. You inherit a decrepit farm in Forget-Me-Not Valley, where nothing but weeds grow. Your job is to bring it back into bloom. And with all rustic worlds (virtual or otherwise) being run on material terms, that means making money.

Strategies for success include planting high value crops such as strawberries and pineapples and investing heavily in livestock, so you'll have to quickly get in touch with your land. Finding the most fertile spots and sowing in time with the seasons (basically each day in Harvest Moon takes about 15 real-time minutes) will bring green-fingered success. Lose track of the weather and neglect your animals though and you'll suffer sausage-fingered disaster.

Bearing in mind farming is the number one profession for suicides, you'd might be forgiven for thinking it all sounds too much like hard work to be a fun game. And it's true there's plenty of inventory management underpinning your labour. On that score the DS' touchscreen enables you to see what's in your rucksack and to drag-and-drop items, as well as providing an overview of your financial situation.

What keeps Harvest Moon moving along nicely are the bonds you build with your animals (no, it's not that kind of farm), and also your search for a wife.

Caring properly for your animals is crucial. Keep them happy and they'll produce more goods for you to sell, as well as occasionally winning prizes in the seemingly endless cycle of village competitions. Weirdly, animal happiness seems to mostly be a matter of picking up said animal and throwing it around. However, save up for a Touch Glove and you'll open up a petting mini-game that enables you to tickle your cattle with the stylus. (Hmm, maybe, it is that kind of farm....)

Wife hunting is equally entertaining. Harvest Moon gives you the advantage by making you pretty much the only single non-freak man in the village. But without recourse to speed dating, beating off your token rival invariably means training your dog to do pleasing tricks, organising picnics on the beach, and bringing the right kind of flowers.

On top of this lovey-dovey-ness, you've another mission – to recover 101 Harvest Sprites who have accidentally-on-purpose been transported to another world by the Witch Princess.

To begin with you'll simply find said sprites down wells or waiting on paths as you wander around. Later on though, they'll only appear after you've sold a certain amount of eggs, or performed other similarly upstanding deeds. The pay-off is that once rescued, the sprites will do some of your more boring farmwork, enabling you to slink off early to Forget-Me-Not Valley's very own pub.

As should be apparent, there is a lot of game on offer here. It's a tribute to its creators that you never feel overwhelmed by the enormous range of tasks and duties Harvest Moon DS throws at you. Indeed, no sooner are things slipping into a repetitious watering, planning, and pen-building rut, than a wild dog, some terrible weather-related disaster, a fireworks festival or a sprite dance will come along and renew your interest.

Having said that, it would be a Common Agricultural Policy-sized lie of DEFRA-scale dishonesty to say Harvest Moon DS makes full use of the DS' capabilities.

For one thing, the graphics, while colourful, are indistinct, and the method of 'talking' to other characters – and indeed generally interacting with things – has barely advanced since Harvest Moon's Game Boy Color outing. The control system can be very annoying as well. It's all too easy to water the wrong squares, or throw crops away rather than into your selling basket, for example.

Nobody likes games that are all graphics and no gameplay, true. But it's frustrating that Harvest Moon DS' is hindered by such inadequate and unimaginative presentation because, at heart, this is an interesting and nicely-paced experience. Like too many close-knit farming communities, it's just not as welcoming to newcomers as it could be. Get stuck in though, and you may well eventually feel right at home.

Harvest Moon DS

The gaming equivalent of a brussel sprout – despite being a solid experience, Harvest Moon DS' weak presentation leaves something of a bitter taste