Thanks to a surprise announcement earlier in the month, one of Steam’s biggest hits from 2016 has made its way to the Nintendo Switch. Stardew Valley, part farming simulator, part relationship management game, immediately won over players by rescuing our avatar from his dead-end job and planting him into a small town full of wonderfully unique characters. While Stardew Valley isn’t a new game, being previously released on Steam in earlier 2016 and on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One some time after, I’d say that playing the game on Switch is the best way to experience it.
The game starts by striking a chord familiar to many of us. You character is stuck in a job they clearly loath, and once they have decided that enough is enough, they open an envelope gifted to them from their grandfather. The instructions for opening the letter are to only reveal it’s contents once the mundanity of their daily life becomes too much to bear. The letter instructs the player to leave for Pelican Bay in Stardew Valley to take ownership over the farm that once belonged to your grandfather. Where’s my ticket out of a tedious workload, am I right?
The farm you inherit is far from a quick fix-up, and clearing out trees and rocks becomes priority before planting anything. This is a simple way to teach the player what tools are meant for what tasks without providing a full tutorial. It also gives you a cool feeling of tearing down and rebuilding until you fully populate your farm with crops and animal housing. Furthermore, each season has crops that can only be grown during said season, so you are constantly experimenting with new produce. As the farm grows, your options for maintaining it grow as well.
Starting out, you are given only a watering can to provide your thirsty plants hydration (a task you must do daily to maximize their growth and income potential). As you progress you can opt to upgrade your watering can, allowing you to water more than one square at a time, or build sprinklers to avoid the task altogether. Through crafting, you will able to create objects that benefit your farm and allow you to give it some personality. Items that are useful to craft can organize and protect your farm, such as fences and scarecrows, and allow you to harvest products not limited to what you plant in the ground, such as beehives. If you’ve never been someone with a green thumb, there are a large array of animals that you can raise that will provide you with plenty of products to sell.
While the farming in Stardew Valley is addictive and has a large amount of variety, the real pièce de résistance are the interactions with the valley’s citizens. There are a little over 30 characters you can build a relationship with and only a few that you cannot. Each of these characters have a unique backstory that you uncover by improving your relationship with them. You can take on favors for people, participate in local events, and give gifts to the villagers to improve your standing with them. Since each person has their own specific taste in what gifts they like, it require a little bit of trial and error to discover what the best items are to improve your relationships. One of my favorite things about this dynamic is that certain items are only available during specific seasons, so once a new season starts, you almost have to start from scratch to find the items that they would like that are available during that time of the year. Unfortunately it takes a long time to build a good relationship with someone, and tastes in gifts are very diverse, so it’s hard to build a relationship with more than just a few villagers at a time.
Between all the time spent on your farm or scouring for resources, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to learn everyone’s preferences. The game remedies this lightly by restricting you to giving one person only two gifts a week (and a maximum of one gift a day). Not only does this compel you to build relationships with more than one or two people, it stops you from spamming the same person with the same gift until they love you. This might be incentive for some players to put 40 or more hours into the game, and the outcome is very rewarding for those willing to do it.
There is also a light combat portion of the the game. Soon after you settle into your farm in Stardew Valley, an abandoned mine becomes accessible. By exploring the many floors of the mine you can find ore used for upgrading equipment and crafting alongside various treasures and artifacts. Many of these areas have enemies that need to be dealt with. There isn’t anything that causes the combat to be particularly deep, but hey, it’s a game about farming and relationship building — not combat. The mines and the combat that accompany it give you a way to farm for resources that is engaging enough to be entertaining.
There are a handful of weapon types that have a primary and a secondary function. Most of them attack as their main functions, while the weapon type determines what its second use it. For example, swords can block incoming enemy attacks, and clubs can perform a heavy attack capable of damage than its normal swing. Exploring further in the mine yields better equipment to help you combat enemies, so there’s a solid enough sense of progression in the combat until you reach the very bottom of the mine. Making your way to the deepest parts of the cave gives you better ore for crafting and improving your farm and treasures to add to the museum in town, so there are definitely benefits to exploring this part of the game.
While Stardew Valley is very enjoyable to play on PC, as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game is a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch. While the game does take its time loading up, once you’ve made your way into the game naturally pairs with the Switch’s ‘play at home or on the go’ design. I enjoy being able to lay down on the couch and play a few days of Stardew Valley while the TV is being used for something else. It is also a perfect game to play in bed before or after falling asleep, something the Switch has turned into a habit for me.
This truly remarkable game has found a great home on Nintendo’s newest console, and is one of the finest indie games to have come out in the last few years. Stardew Valley takes its time to develop its characters, and the progression of the town, its citizens, and your farm are paced in a very believable way. For gamers who haven’t had the chance to pick Stardew Valley up, grab it on the Switch because that has been, by far, the best way to play it.