Review: Harvest Moon Lil’ Farmers 

Harvest Moon Lil' Farmers

Harvest Moon Lil’ Farmers (iOS, Android [reviewed on an iPad])
Developer: Natsume, Daredevil Development
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Released: May 25, 2017
MSRP: $3.99

Harvest Moon Lil’ Farmers shows its hand quite quickly. Five minutes in and I’ve done everything I’m ever going to do in the game. I plant crops, milk my cow, gather eggs, wash my horse, and shear some sheep; all so I can give those goods to the many similar looking townsfolk who visit my barn. This is Lil’ Farmers’ endless gameplay loop.

If that sounds so easy a first grader could do it, then good because that’s the intention of the game. Lil’ Farmers isn’t the next mobile entry in the Harvest Moon series, it’s a different kind of experience, one that is not aimed at the same people who downloaded Seeds of Memories. This one is for the kids, and with no microtransactions, ads, or always online requirement, it’s a game parents needn’t worry about letting their kids play.

I compare it to a placemat you find at a restaurant like Denny’s or The Old Spaghetti Factory, the ones intended to keep kids occupied until the food is served. Like those paper printouts, the activities here are simple enough for any kid to understand, but also more engaging than just tapping the screen until something happens. With no dialog or reading required, I have to rely on my ability to recognize images to figure out what I am supposed to do.

In planting my crops, I touch the spot where I want to plant, pick a crop, and then proceed to water and tend to it as needed until it’s fully grown, a process that takes roughly 45 seconds to a minute. In that time, pictures of a watering can or a spritzer will appear above the plant and I have to drag the corresponding item from the bottom of the screen to the crop.

The other activities are just as easy to grasp. Milking my cow requires me to drag the bucket under the udders, tap them to get the milk, then drag the bucket to a large milk can and repeat the process until the can is filled. For the sheep, I drag the shears across the sheep, snipping away at its wool, and then pick up the sheared pieces and drag them to the wool bag. With the chickens, I simply tap the chicken to make it jump, then drag whatever eggs are in its nest to my basket. And with my horse, I drag the soap across it to wash, then drag the sponge to rinse, and then drag the brush to finish it off.

With exception of the horse, all of these games lead right into last activity which is giving my goods away to the people who visit my barn. They come, asking with pictures for specific items. I drag the requested item or items to the basket and then drag the filled basket to the customer. Up to five can visit my barn at a time and supplies deplete quickly. When it comes time I cannot complete an order, this whole process starts over again.

My reward for all this work? A good ‘ole fashion thumbs up. That’s it. There’s no fireworks display or confetti or raucous rendition of “Ode to Joy” when I complete a task. It’s just a thumbs up for all that “hard” work and there is perhaps no better distillation of the Harvest Moon experience than that.

Farming simulators aren’t here to coddle us, to tell us we’re special, or to baby us from one congratulatory moment to the next. Farming simulators exist to test people, to see who among us is determined enough to seek success with little reward along the way while finding joy in the simple things in life. That’s Lil’ Farmers. It’s a collection of small victories, tiny tasks that chain together in a straightforward gameplay loop aiming to fill kids with a sense of real accomplishment rather than the hollow victories afforded by more flamboyant mobile games.

Harvest Moon Lil' Farmers

I see some small improvements that can be made. No instruction is given on feeding my animals even though it’s an important aspect of the game. The icons at the top of the main screen that alert me when it’s time to collect eggs or milk my cow can be brighter and more obvious. There also isn’t a lot of variety. Obviously, some elements of the series like marriage would not lend themselves well to this app, but more can be done with what is here. I don’t believe classic mechanics like fishing or cooking are necessary, but maybe some diversity in the art with differently patterned sheep, chickens, and cows would help fend off any feelings of stagnation.

But that’s just 32-year-old me speaking and Harvest Moon Lil’ Farmers is not a game for me or probably anybody else old enough to read this review. It’s for our kids, the youngsters who we thrust our phones and tablets in front of whenever mommy and daddy need some quiet time. It isn’t flashy or snazzy like other apps, but it’s also not as empty. Like its forbearers, this Harvest Moon is a low-key, laid-back experience where hard work is its own reward. Whether that’ll be enough to keep your kids engaged is the question, but for $4 it really couldn’t hurt to try.

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