Taking up farming as a career option can be lucrative business these days, given the skyrocketing cost of dairy and produce. Thanks to Nintendo you can even do it from the comfort of your couch; a few dozen hours to spare and some careful planning will see the profits rolling in… all without getting your hands dirty or breaking a sweat. Okay, so the money’s not real, but the fun certainly is.
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody is a more or less direct port of the 2005 GameCube title of the same name, and the latest in a very long line of Harvest Moon farming sims. In keeping with the successful Harvest Moon formula, the game revolves around developing and managing your very own farm from scratch, growing crops and raising livestock whilst juggling work with a bit of recreation and socialising.
The game has two main goals: to turn your fledgling agricultural venture into a financial success, with marriage and procreation being the master plan; and to revive the Harvest Goddess, who, due to a lack of followers has turned herself into stone. The latter is achieved by collecting musical notes, which are earned via your experiences – not all of them positive – throughout the game.
Initially you are given a choice of three plots of land complete with basic amenities and equipment. Each plot has its pros and cons, such as size, locale, and crop/animal suitability, and it is up to you to put in the legwork with your trusty farmer’s tools, which you’ll want to upgrade as soon as possible, because your starting kit is heavy and stamina-draining to use.
A handy stamina bar sits onscreen, letting you know when it’s time to down tools and go home for a nap or whip up a tasty concoction in your kitchen, with produce you have foraged, purchased or harvested. What could be more delectable than a plate of ultra-fresh sashimi made with trout you’ve just fished from the river? Mmmmmm… raw fish!
As in real-life farming, successful crop planting is dictated by weather, seasons and soil nutrition, and once you’ve familiarised yourself with these you’ll be able to raise prize crops in no time. When the weather is less suitable for planting you can supplement your income by foraging and mining. Raising animals takes a little more care, expense and attention; however your efforts will be rewarded with happy animals, higher quality products and better returns.
Of course, there’s nothing like a little healthy competition to maintain one’s interest, and in Harvest Moon: Magical Melody this competitive element takes the form of a rival farmer, whose progress and achievements are compared to yours on an ongoing basis. As you accumulate assets and increase your product output, so too will your rival. You will also have to fend off other would-be suitors from your prospective bride.
The socialising aspect of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody adds another dimension to gameplay. Interacting with other villagers is more fun and informative if they actually like you, and by being generous with your gifts and deeds you will soon acquire a circle of friends to hang out with. The original GameCube version of the game allowed you to choose your gender; however the female option has been dropped for the Wii version, which may upset some purists.
In addition to farming and climbing the social ladder, Harvest Moon: Magical Melody offers several unlockable mini-games, where you can pit your skills against other players.
Much of the gameplay involves directing your farmer around the map and pushing a few buttons. It’s all pretty basic stuff, but the control layout is not what we’d call intuitive, and doesn’t take full advantage of the Wii’s motion sensing capabilities. Add to that the lack of instructions for those new to the Harvest Moon franchise and you’ll find it takes a good hour to get comfortable with the nunchuck and Wii-mote set-up. From a gamer’s perspective an onscreen cursor would’ve made the process a lot simpler and far more enjoyable.
Graphics are kiddy-cutesy, colourful and uncomplicated, which does suit this type of game. When compared to other titles available for the Wii today they appear somewhat dated, though. The background music is innocuous enough to begin with, but after the first 20 minutes you will be sorely tempted to reach for the mute button.
Despite having lost some of its features in translation, veteran Harvest Moon farm hands will probably enjoy this GameCube port due to familiarity with the game’s formula and the number of options available. As for the rest of us, Harvest Moon: Magical Melody is a game which, once you’re reasonably au fait with controls and gameplay, will keep you engrossed for hours at a time.
Word has it there’s a new, Wii exclusive Harvest Moon title due to be released later this year, too, so watch this space!