Stardew Valley has been a long time coming for Nintendo fans. Originally planned as a Wii U title, the game was unexpectedly cancelled late last year when development shifted over to the Nintendo Switch for release at a future date. While it may be a little later to the console party than the competition, rest assured that this version has been worth the wait. Not only is this an excellent port of Stardew Valley but easily the best version thanks to one simple feature – you can take the game with you anywhere.
Stardew Valley opens with your newly created character inheriting an old farm from their grandfather in a place called Pelican Town. The location of this town is up to the player allowing you to choose between five types (riverlands, forests and so on) each one encouraging different skillsets. This is now your new home and where you’ll be spending a fair amount of time cleaning up and growing a whole range of fruit and vegetables or raising animals, among other things. How and when you go about this is entirely down to you with little punishment should you opt to take your time and focus on things outside agriculture. The game does have overarching goals for those wanting something to work toward, but if you just want to take a more casual approach then that’s an option too.
On the surface, Stardew Valley may appear to be just another farming simulator but the fact of the matter is that’s only one side of this hugely deep and complex game. Sure, there is plenty of farming to be done but the list of things to do in your town extend much further than mere watering of crops or feeding chickens.
A couple of days after arriving in Pelican Town I went and introduced myself to its local folk, a game in itself where you’re free to chat, give gifts or take on requests in the hope of raising your friendship level. Get along with someone well enough and marriage may even be on the cards. A few days after being a social butterfly, I then started to fish as a means of gaining some extra income. A few more and I went adventuring in the local mines for stone and gems. As I hit the hot summer season I finally got around to donating rare items to the museum as well as tidying up a dilapidated community centre. And even after finishing the game’s equivalent of a year, I was still picking up new things to do and more ways to make money. The point is, Stardew Valley isn’t just about being a successful farmer, but rather living an all-around great life.
Things feel a little slow in the early goings with funds low and skill levels undeveloped but within a few in-game weeks, you’ll start to learn how to craft new tools that not only allow you to produce more expensive and sought-after goods but also make your life much easier in general. For example, you may start off selling your fruit and wheat as soon as you harvest them just to accumulate some sort of steady income. Later down the road though you might choose to take some of your stock and use a keg to brew your own beer or wine to sell for a bigger profit. Or you might buy a furnace to take your iron and copper lumps found in the mines to form into bars which again can be sold or used for crafting even better utilities.
Your house too can be upgraded starting out as a simple building with just the bare essentials before adding a kitchen, extra rooms and even a basement. While the game takes a while to truly get going, it feels totally necessary as there are so many systems in play at once that it can be a little overwhelming. Furthermore, the slow improvement of your farm and town, in general, all adds to the feeling of satisfaction. Rather than the game just giving you all the best tools, you’ll have to work hard and save up for them which feels so much more rewarding.
It’s very impressive just how much is going on in Stardew Valley but what’s even more impressive is how it includes ideas you wouldn’t normally expect as well. Take the dungeon crawling mines, for example. Out to the north, you’ll find an underground mining system featuring a series of floors where you’ll need to mine your way through, attempting to locate ladders to take you deeper. Here you’ll find rare gems to grab as well as monsters to slay using weapons you find or purchase. While the combat may be a little simplistic, exploring these uncharted floors proves exciting and is just one more way to pass the time in your town.
Seasons play a key role in Stardew Valley offering new events, birthdays and chances to grow crops unique to the weather conditions. Winter, for example, can prove especially tough with its icy climate where the use of a greenhouse is vital to stand any chance of growing new crops. Spring meanwhile offers a good mix of sun and rain with a neat dance festival to spend with the locals.
I’ll never forget attending my first dance event, a day of rejection from pretty much every attendee which, if anything, made me more determined to impress them and become friends. Each season though feels unique offering their own perks and challenges. Time and energy is also something you’ll need to keep an eye on demanding you to manage your daily hours well between farming, socialising and adventuring. Get to bed too late and you’ll wake with half energy. Deplete your energy bar and you’ll pass out from exhaustion – a costly mistake.
There’s always a concern for how well the controls will translate from a PC game to console but fortunately, Stardew Valley doesn’t fall at this hurdle. Moving around and performing your daily duties works fine with any control setup, however, the lack of touchscreen feels like a major oversight especially when there is so much item management in the game. Hopefully, this will be added in the future.
Visually the game sports a charming pixelated style that looks great whether you’re playing on the big screen or in handheld mode. Neat little touches like shining fireflies or the reactions of your character really help bring Pelican Town and its inhabitants to life. I was especially surprised at how strong the soundtrack is too, tunes often relaxing and catchy whilst keeping in tone with the game itself. Sure, it’s not something I’m likely to listen to on my drive to work, but in the context of farming or wondering a quaint town its perfect.
What sets the Switch version apart from its other console siblings is the ability to continue playing on the move. Part of the reason it was so easy to keep playing Stardew Valley was that I wasn’t restricted to the television. I could fit in another day’s work on the train or in a lunch break at work. This truly is the ideal way to play the game.
Stardew Valley is one of those games I could write about for pages and pages. Whatever the next day had in store for me whether it was harvesting, fishing, exploring the mines or simply running a quick errand for a friend, I couldn’t stop playing. The constant pull to earn money or better my relationship with the townspeople or just make my farm the best it could possibly be was a constant and something that continues to bring me back even now. Stardew Valley is a delightfully charming and deep experience and easily one of the Nintendo eShop’s best.