John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland
Despite evidence to the contrary, apparently there are people who seem to be under the impression that simulators are fun. These people will claim that these slow-paced management games are educational and require a more sophisticated taste. Don't believe their lies. Simulators try and convince you that things you would normally not find fun are, in fact, fun. These games are meant to fool you, they know that what they're about to ask you to do is inherently boring and tantamount to you working, but the game developers assume that you'll want to do this because it looks like a video game. But don't believe their lies. You don't play video games to escape your everyday chores and real world responsibilities, so don't be tricked by these so-called "realistic" simulations of boring old work. Work is not the most exciting thing to do on a game system, and farming is not fun.
I can tell you don't believe me; you have images of SimCity and Theme Park dancing through your head. I present to you John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland, the newest Nintendo DS game from Destineer. Harvest in the Heartland could have an exciting mix of SimCity, Harvest Moon and blatant commercialism that kept young green thumbs glued to their Nintendo DS all through the cold months. But alas it was just not meant to be, because the only thing Harvest in the Heartland does well is prove that farming is not fun.
In Harvest in the Heartland you play a young farmer (either male or female) who starts with a small farm and through hard work and patience becomes one of the most influential farmers in all the land. It's basically the same story as Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, only with more carrots and cow milking. The object may be simple, but in order to beat this game you're going to have to do a lot of tedious work that never quite adds up to an exciting game.
You start with a small farm, a plot of land that is fenced off from what looks like a bigger, and more fertile growing area. Basically what you do is buy a plot of land from town and then till it, seed it, water it and then watch for disease and bug infestation. If you've managed to do all this you will be able to harvest the produce and earn quite a bit of money. The object is to keep doing this and reinvesting your money into the farm. Eventually you're area will grow and you will be doing a lot more than just planting carrot seeds and fighting off bugs, soon enough you'll start to deal with livestock, enter your crops in competitions and more. Not much more, mind you, but still more than what I'm describing here.
The game's problems start to show themselves immediately after you've started the game. After a lengthy (read: boring) tutorial explaining the dos and don'ts of fake farming you're off to make your destiny. The first step is to buy some sort of vegetable field and place it on your property. Once you've done that you'll have to get the land ready and plant seeds in each of the 36 little boxes you just made. To do this you will have to use a number of different moves performed with the touch screen and the stylus. For some things you may draw away from your character, while other moves are performed by pulling towards your character. No matter what the move entails, the point is that you're going to have to draw a little line on your system 36 times before your plot of land is ready to grow. And that's not taking into account the amount of lines you'll have to draw to water them, protect them from diseases and, most importantly, harvest the crops. In a lot of ways this game feels like an elaborate ploy to remind you that farming isn't fun.
If the non-stop line drawing wasn't enough, you're also going to have to put up with a lot of load screens. Every time you select a new item to hold you have to wait. And every time you pause and resume you have to wait. And what about leaving your village, going into a shop and mapping out your surroundings? Yup, you're going to have to wait for those, too. While it's something you can get over, this game has a troubling amount of load screens for a card-based game. The load screens in this game rival anything I've seen on the PSP.
While those first two problems are bad, with time you can get over the constant load screens and repetitive line drawing. What is hard to get past is the rampant technical problems that plague this farm simulator. While you won't notice it at first, Harvest in the Heartland has some terrible draw-in times that will play tricks with your eyes. It's not uncommon to have major objects (your barn, animals, etc.) completely disappear, only to reappear a few seconds later. Experiencing your barn pop up out of nowhere is not only jarring, but it's also frustrating on a gameplay level. This is the kind of problem that plays into the notion that farming simulators are slow-paced and boring.
Then again, you'll think that this farming simulator is slow-paced and boring long before the draw-in becomes a major problem. The good news is that there are a few bright spots worth mentioning. For example, eventually you'll start to deal with real animals (cows, chickens, etc.), which is a lot more interesting than planting, watering and harvesting different crops. Also worth mentioning is that once your farm grows you will have a need for a tractor ... supplied by John Deere, of course. Although I may not be much of a farmer in real life (because, and I hate to sound like a broken record here, farming is not fun), John Deere is a name I know and this license certainly makes a lot of sense. Buying and using tractors is easily the most satisfying part of the game, which is understandable given the John Deere name. Of course, if best I can do is talk about how the license is not intrusive, then there's something wrong right from the get-go.While much can be made about the technical issues, it's not the loading screens and draw-in that keeps Harvest in the Heartland from being another worthwhile Nintendo DS game. Instead the problem is the actual gameplay, which involves nothing more than a lot of busy work. It won't take long before you realize that you're basically doing the same thing over and over, generally for very little return. What's more, none of these tasks are much fun, so you're constantly being asked to draw lines and play mini-games because you have to and not because you want to.
The game looks fine for the most part; all of the characters and animals look like what you would expect from your run of the mill Nintendo DS game. The presentation here is good, everything looks about right and outside of the draw-in there are no problems with the game's look. Of course, nothing about the presentation is going to blow you away. At best the game looks like a simple sprite-based farming game ... which is exactly what it is.
What it comes down to is that I can sit here talking about all of the minor things until the cows come home (sorry, I couldn't resist), but nobody is going to care about the graphics when the gameplay is broken. If John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland teaches us anything it's that farming is not fun, it's a tedious job that has you getting up early in the morning and dealing with unruly plants and animals. It's pretty much the last job I would want. And if that's what Harvest in the Heartland is trying to simulate then perhaps this game should get a 100%. But I have a hunch that the developers of this game intended for some of this to be fun and entertaining, and that's where this game fails.
What can I say? Farming is no fun. You have to get up early, you are constantly getting dirty, you have to deal with unruly animals and it can be a thankless experience. In other words, it sucks. This feeling of tedium and hopelessness is perfectly conveyed in Harvest in the Heartland.
Rating: 4 Heavily Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.