Game Review

Harvest Moon DS: Sunshine Islands Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by James Newton

Farming fun in the sun

Harvest Moon’s power to enthral and entrap gamers is often underestimated by those who have yet to experience the unbridled thrill of growing a crop of healthy tomatoes, but nearly 15 years after the original Super NES Harvest Moon the series continues to sell well to experienced farmers and newcomers alike. Now Harvest Moon: Sunshine Islands has reached Europe, and it brings with it a few tweaks and changes that freshen the formula slightly while keeping it familiar for veterans.

Sunshine Islands will be particularly familiar to anyone who has dabbled in the series’ previous portable release, Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness, as it shares many of the same characters and the same graphical and gameplay style as its predecessor. There’s a different plot this time around, however: your farmer must raise the sunken islands to return prosperity to the world, and this is accomplished through the usual hard work and exploration as well as befriending villagers, meeting a spouse and settling down with a kid. Marvelous is never going to change the overarching formula of the series, and this is a good thing.

Controlled with buttons or the touchscreen – you can change between them at any time – you start off with the usual unimpressive piece of land and build it into a farming empire. Seeds are sown in 3x3 squares and require a certain level of water and sunshine in order to prosper, meaning the weather can have a serious effect on their success: if it’s too sunny or too wet for too long then they wither, but leaving crops on the vine when the conditions are perfect results in higher quality yields. These may be only slight tweaks to the usual fare but they bring a little welcome variety to the farming side of things.

You can also upgrade your tools as usual through a range of items called Wonderfuls, which can improve your tools’ range, power and capacity, and increase your stamina through crafting accessories at the local blacksmith. However, unlike in some titles these options aren’t necessarily available at the start: you can only create accessories through mining ore, and you can’t do this until you’ve raised the correct island using Sunstones.

These mythical stones can be earned through a range of activities: some are found in hidden places, others are given as rewards for winning competitions or befriending villagers and generally being a pillar of small town society. Each island requires a certain number of stones in order to be raised, but brings with it new opportunities for mining, exploration and raising more interesting crops and animals. It’s a decent way of keeping the game world expanding, though even before any islands are raised it’s still significantly bigger than Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar and it keeps growing.

The problem with recovering the solar stones is that you’re not always sure when they’re given out. Occasionally a harvest sprite will give you a clue, but for the most part you’re in the dark, though they are generally meted out at certain milestones in your normal farming life. If you want to burst ahead and raise the islands quickly, you’d be well advised to use a walkthrough to find out the locations of those stones.

The game’s graphical style is very similar to Island of Happiness, sharing the same display, character models and animation style, and it all has a pleasingly bright and big-eyed charm to it. The music is equally jovial and often fits the mood perfectly, although hearing the same tune on your farm for 30 in-game days might just send you mad.

By now you should know what you’re getting with a Harvest Moon game, and the island-raising mechanic is really the only major change to previous releases: unlike Island of Happiness and Grand Bazaar there are no multiplayer options, and everything is pretty standard franchise fare. Happily, unlike Grand Bazaar you’re able to save anywhere and at any time you want, so you needn’t worry about having to finish a day just to save your game.

Conclusion

The inclusion of regular button controls over Island of Happiness’s touchscreen-only commands helps to elevate this above its predecessor, but even with its neat island-raising idea to expand the game world it feels a little unambitious. It rarely puts a foot wrong, controlling well and teasing you with enough new items and areas to convince you to play through just one more day, and it’s one of the strongest titles in the series on the DS, but don’t expect much to shake up the farming formula.

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User Comments (13)

CanisWolfred

#1

CanisWolfred said:

OOooOOoo, it looks like Animal Crossing, exceot you farm stuff (technically you could do that in AC). Me want.:3

pikku

#6

pikku said:

lol guys, this game is rated 'E'. play Fable if you want stuff like that :3

Bankai

#7

Bankai said:

@Kimiko has a good point, though. Same sex marriages should be rated 'E' - assuming they're as explicit as the heterosexual marriages in other HM games - that is to say not at all ("Hey, we're married now. Cool!")

Good review, James! If it wasn't for the HM on the PSP, and Rune Factory on the DS, I would consider this (Might still if I see it going cheap)

Ravage

#8

Ravage said:

I think that pikmaniac02 means the adultery, but I could be wrong. Anyway, good review.

sillygostly

#9

sillygostly said:

Warning: Rant ahead regarding the issue of classifying same sex relationships...

The original Sims game on PC was classified G8+ (equivalent of what is now the PG rating) in Australia back in 2000, and that included same sex relationships and "joined unions" (which are functionally identical to marriages, as the partner to whom the proposition is made takes the other's surname). The game was rated as such for violence as Sims can perish in fires. Heck, any two adult Sims can make out in their underwear, and yet that wasn't considered explicit enough to warrant a PG classification in and of itself. Although this game did not contain any overt sexual content (as the ability to have sex wasn't introduced until the release of The Sims' many expansion packs), it received a T rating in the U.S. due to "mature sexual themes". o.O

The Australian and PEGI classification systems do not discriminate on the basis of sexuality, and are treated no differently to heterosexual partnerships. Despite EA's seemingly permissive stance on the issue, same sex relationships have been omitted entirely from the E and E10+ rated versions of The Sims on Nintendo handhelds, including the most recently released The Sims 3.

I feel that ESRB's disguised discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (hence the minimum "T" rating that is being issued for any portrayal of same sex relationships) could potentially do more harm than good as they are treating homosexuality as learned behaviour, when most people's sexual orientation would be established from a very early age, no matter how heteronormative their upbringing may be.

With that said, I find it worrying that adultery is considered a lesser concern by the ESRB than a committed, loving relationship (as the E rated The Sims 3 REWARDS players for playing the field for having in excess of 10 partners, whereas a monogamous homosexual relationship is considered a "mature sexual theme" that warrants a minimum T rating).

Hypocrites.

Morphbug

#10

Morphbug said:

@james:
Harvest Moon DS Cute has same sex marriage a BFF system for you to share your life with another girl.
With heart events, blue feather, ceremony and all. You can't marry a guy if you already have a BFF.
After some months of love friendship (same as usual pregnancy in the game), the "harvest lord" gives you a random baby he found.
The two live in the same house and sleep in the same bed, celebrate important days (like your BFF aniversary!) and stuff.
But its not marriage at all.

James

#12

James said:

@abgar That's amazing! So it's exactly the same as marriage but just called friendship? I suppose that's a start!

Morphbug

#13

Morphbug said:

Yeah, though on a second check, it seems it's only on the japanese version.
Natsume cut it out for the US release (even though they left the romantic events intact, the girl will never accept the blue feather), and it seems europe simply skipped the whole game.
But a start is a start.

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