A Winter Storm Warning had been issued, with up to a foot of snow projected to blanket the state. We stocked up on the necessary supplies of root beer, chips & salsa, prepared to be home bound for the entire weekend. The only question left unanswered was what were we going to do for the next 48 hours to keep ourselves entertained? While we brainstormed ideas, I happened across a post on Twitter from a games journalist listing his favorite games of the year so far. I was familiar with every title on the list except for one, Farm Together. How could one of the best games of the year be something that I’d never even heard of? I looked it up on the Nintendo Switch eShop and after seeing a few screenshots thought “Hey, this looks neat. I bet the kids would like to play this.” so I threw down my Andrew Jackson and began the download.
I had no idea what we were in for.
Farm Together is a farming “simulator” developed by Milkstone Studios, a developer I had never heard of before but is apparently responsible for games such as Sushi Castle, White Noise & Avatar Ninja. From the description of the game, you’d be excused for not chomping at the bit to play, as it seems fairly straight forward and familiar.
“Grow crops, plant trees, take care of the animals, and much more! Spend your hard-earned money on new buildings and items for your farm! Earn experience and unlock even more items and buildings!”
Simple isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, I wasn’t looking for the next Skyrim, just a fun little game for the family to pass the time with while we wait out the bad weather. Thankfully what they managed to deliver was something much, much more.
We decided that my wife would take the first crack at it, giving the kids a chance to watch for a while and see how the game plays. When you begin the game you first need to create your avatar, then choose a plot of land to begin with and give it a name. She chose a location filled with ponds & rivers and kept the default name of ‘Cranberry Fields’. You start with a pretty decent sized plot of land to get things rolling but you can expand your farm as you level up to create a sprawling ranch, in fact your farm can get so enormous later in the game that they’ve included the ability to place fast travel markers to get around the map.
Right off the bat we noticed how they’ve made simplicity and ease of play an important aspect of the design. While there is a lot of depth to the game, they’ve done a great job of making the controls intuitive enough for young kids to be able to grasp right away. You press A to till the land, then A to bring up your crop menu, then A to plant, then A to water. Most of the actions are contextual and there’s no fumbling around for different tools to use.
She started off by planting a few vegetables and fruit trees. Once you plant something you’ll see a timer that shows how long until you’re able to harvest your crops. It’s different depending on the item and the timer works in real-time, meaning that it’s still going even if you’re not playing the game. It creates a fun, Animal Crossing-esque element that will have you jumping into the game when you have a few spare minutes to quickly harvest and replant your crops. When it’s time to harvest you’ll collect money and experience points, and you can also sell the fruits and veggies for diamonds (which are used to purchase certain items in the game). The whole gameplay loop feels somewhat like a mobile game, but without the gross time gates and micro transactions that usually accompany those titles.
Once you’ve planted your crops you can water them, which brings up another smart decision the developers made. They’ve kept the game friendly and stress free by creating a system which doesn’t punish you for not keeping up with your chores. Watering your plants and feeding your animals speeds up the time it takes for your crops to be ready for harvest or your animals to produce their wares (milk from cows, eggs from chickens, etc.) but you aren’t punished for not doing these things. They’ll just take longer if you don’t stay on top of it. So the game has a lot in common with parenting young kids in that the best practice is usually to reward good behavior instead of punishing bad. You really can’t “fail” in Farm Together, playing well just means getting the most money out of your time spent and growing your farm faster.
These gameplay decisions mean it’s a perfect game for young kids and both of our girls were immediately hooked. The colorful visuals, cute animals, and simple gameplay all had them glued to the television. Lucky for us the game changes seasons every 17 minutes so there’s a nice, built-in timer for having the girls switch back and forth. “When summer is over, it’s your sister’s turn to play.” They passed the game back and forth all afternoon, their favorite part probably being when they unlocked the option to choose a pet that they could customize and which follows you around all over the farm while you do your chores.
When it was my turn to play I found the gameplay hook to be incredibly addicting. Almost every action you do gets you something in return whether it’s money, experience, diamonds, etc. and there’s so much to unlock that you never go very long without feeling like you’ve accomplished something. There are dozens of plants, flowers, trees, animals, buildings and decorations to unlock as you progress so you can make your farm unique. I’m even in the process of building a house which you’re able to customize and decorate, unlocking all sorts of new objectives and rewards. The sheer number of options available in the game are impressive, but it never feels too overwhelming or complicated. The core gameplay still remains the same. Plant, water, harvest, sell, buy.
After spending more time with the game than I originally thought that we would, we got the girls into their pajamas and off to bed, then my wife and I played some more… and some more… and then some more. Our farm continued to grow, we completed challenges, we unlocked new crops, and on and on. The pacing of the game is so addicting, with a constant drip feed of rewards and the lure of that next unlockable is irresistable. It’s the epitome of the “just ten more minutes” type of game. In fact this ‘Family Game Night’ turned into a ‘Family Game Early Morning’ when we noticed that all of a sudden it was 2am.
Our love of the game continued through the rest of the weekend and every day since. It’s mix of charming visuals and music, relaxing and addictive gameplay, and accessibility to every member of the family has made it the best surprise of the year and a game that the whole family will undoubtedly spend countless hours with for the foreseeable future.
Chloe “It’s very fun and a lot of hard work!”
Samantha ” I like it because it lets me practice at farming. Maybe I can be a farmer someday!”
Cristina “Embarrassingly addicting”
John “It’s an addicting mix of Animal Crossing, Viva Pinata and Harvest Moon. I’ll certainly be playing this for a long, long time.”
Farm Together is available now on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC