Farm life has always been the focus of the Harvest Moon series, and My Little Shop technically continues that tradition. You do live on a farm and have to knock out the daily rituals of watering crops, feeding the chickens and petting the cows, but that’s pretty much it and is accomplished in about one minute. Which leaves you plenty of time to deal with the game’s namesake farm store dishing up ice cream, juices and, uh, decorated eggs to locals and tourists.
In the real world the story would make absolutely no sense, but since this is a video game we’ll just roll with it. Your parents in the city are whisked away to an emergency archeological dig (yep), leaving you with your too-old-for-this grandparents on their farm next to a little town. The town has seen better days and is pretty desolate by the time you arrive; there’s a big ol’ tower said to be able to solve the town’s problems, but the wind won’t blow or something so it’s screwing everyone over. In order to presumably stave off boredom, you take it upon yourself to run the farm and shop despite being around eight years old and citified.
It should be noted that My Little Shop is squarely aimed at Your Little Kid; the storybook art style makes this pretty clear and the game mechanics are so simple that any child with a decent memory and basic reading comprehension skills will be able to play. And the constant repetition is something only a child would be able to put up with.
The most interesting thing My Little Shop does is take place in quasi-real time. This means that while a day/night cycle is absent, in-game events are associated with real-world days: crops can take several days to grow and need to be watered daily, and if you neglect your farm one day then you’ll see it when you return. People of the town come and go and usually have something new to say each day, so there’s always something to do every day. It even goes so far as to set customer reservations for certain days to make sure you keep coming back.
Your willingness to come back depends largely on how much you like playing the exact same tedious minigames over and over again. In order to grow your farming business you need money, which leads to most of your time spent behind the counter. Say you want to make juice: in order to do so, you need to knock the needed vegetables off a conveyor belt (that also happens to inexplicably have cyborg-esque “decoy” veggies) shooting-gallery style, dice them by slashing them as they fall from the sky (if you bought the slicer upgrade), and finally blend them by pumping (waggling) the Wii Remote. It takes about a minute and a half, you get a score and send the customers on their way. It’s fun at first, but after the second go you start to question what you’re doing with yourself (just like a real job!). Making ice cream involves a hokey Simon Says rhythm game with a cow, which we suppose is a step above waggling udders.
The money you make in the shop allows you to buy new stuff for business, be it tools, food processing stuff (a.k.a. more minigames), livestock, seeds, shop decorations and to clear more land for growing crops. If you’re looking for a farming-type game then My Little Shop is not the game for you, as the actual taking care of crops feels like an afterthought. Water daily and you’re done.
Put simply, it’s just not that fun, which is too bad because everything else about the game is lovely. Control is handled by pointing in the direction you want to go, you speak to people and interact with objects by clicking on them, and it all works without fail. The storybook theme presentation is really quite striking too, and you can send a picture of your customized storefront to Wii friends’ message boards.
Harvest Moon: My Little Shop is really good at what it does, and what it does is bring the tedium of working in the food service industry right into your home. Charming looks and an interesting time system can’t save a shallow experience that feels like work to play. Put those 1200 points towards something, oh, you know, fun instead.