The award-winning open world farming game finally comes to iOS
Size: 100 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
It’s hard to define Stardew Valley by genre. Is it a farming simulator? A lifestyle RPG? An interactive statement about the joys and pitfalls of American capitalism? Or all of the above?
In the charmingly pixelated opening cinematic of Stardew Valley, our lead character tires of the monotonous drudgery of the nine-to-five and starts a fresh new life on their late grandfather’s farm in the countryside. How things pan out thereon is up to you; this is an interactive playground that dumps you into the thick of country life and asks “what next?”
Like farming? Enter your prize vegetables into the yearly harvest festival. Fancy yourself a family man (or woman)? Sweet talk your neighbors until they want to marry you and start a family. Love fishing? Head to the beach and, uh, catch a really big fish. Beyond that there are opportunities to redecorate your house, tend lovingly to your favorite livestock, and – for the action fans among you – delve deep into underground mines to battle monsters for their valuable treasures.
Whatever you choose, there’s plenty to do here and what to focus on is always up to you. It’s an impressively open world that doesn’t railroad your actions beyond some basic tutorial stuff in the early game. Though digging soil, sowing seeds, and watering vegetables may initially sound like a repetitive and thankless task, it eventually becomes an addictive habit to punctuate the more explorative elements of the game.
There’s a reason games like Farmville are so popular with the masses – there’s something inherently satisfying about building and managing your own plot of land. Thankfully, this is a premium game and as such, you won’t encounter a single in-app purchase or frustrating wait-timer. If you want to make progress quickly, hitting the hay immediately launches the next in-game day.
As you make progress, expanding your crops and increasing your yield day by day, something of a meta-narrative unfolds. Will you sell your soul to a huge faceless corporation (the one-man dev team missed a trick in not calling it ‘Big Farma’) in exchange for easy and cheap supermarket goods? Or will you become an essential bastion of the local community and start a literal grassroots movement to help your small town prosper?
Combat can be a little fiddly on a touchscreen, but fighting is a relatively minor element of the game and in all other ways this port does a surprisingly good job of translating a somewhat complex series of menus and interactions onto the small screen. It’s easy to navigate the world, and actions are often automated based on context so you don’t have to manually switch tools all the time. Though the controls have adapted, content-wise this is the exact same game that won awards on basically every other gaming platform.
It’s worth noting that both the graphical style and many core gameplay elements are a throwback to the popular Harvest Moon series that hooked gamers in the 1990s. It’s both a striking homage to a niche genre and an improvement on what came before in almost every way. Make no mistake: this is the quintessential farm life game.
Stardew Valley most certainly deserves a high rating – it’s far too polished and feature-packed to merit a bad score – but that doesn’t make it an instant recommendation. Rather, this is a game that certain folk will fall in love with and others will find somewhat baffling.
If you like the sound of exploring a vast, detailed world full of people to chat with, environments to explore, and produce to cultivate, you’ll love Stardew Valley. There’s a near-infinite stream of things to do which can provide frequent hits of pride and accomplishment without ever giving the impression that you’re finished. Improving your house, extending your farm, and helping your community is hugely satisfying. But it all moves at a gentle pace, and those who shudder at the thought of investing hours and hours into a fantasy work routine may want to steer clear.
It’s wholesome, fulfilling, and meticulously detailed – but micro-managing parsnips isn’t for everyone.