Marvelous, Natsume and Rising Star Games certainly feel like they're onto a high-yield crop with Harvest Moon; Harvest Moon 3D: The Tale of Two Towns might be the first 3DS entry but it's the eighth HM game in five years. Any concerns that the creative well is running dry are understandable — after all, it's only farming — but HM3D:ToTT gives it the old college try anyway.
The title gives away arguably the game's biggest twist. Upon starting you choose which town to live in: animal-loving Bluebell or crop haven Konohana. The two mayors hate each other so it's up to you to bring them closer together by winning contests and being nice. Although the tunnel is initially blocked, you can freely travel between the two through the mountains to make use of shops and facilities, and at the end of each season you can uproot and move to the other town if you like.
The differences between the towns and their respective farms aren't vast at first, but as your plot grows you unlock town-specific tools and areas, so if you know you want to concentrate on crops or animals pick one town and stick with it. There are other, more nuanced changes: agricultural fans can now till irrigation trenches that let you water a row of crops with just one tip of the watering can, while ranchers have a petting mini-game to raise their livestock's friendliness. While the North American version had widely reported glitches with the petting game, we encountered none in our playtime with the European release.
A split in towns is really the biggest upheaval to the HM formula here; it's still a case of tilling and tending, slowly building up your assets and wooing a romantic interest. If you've played a previous game in the series you'll be right at home, and that's either a comfort or a concern after nearly 20 years. Upcoming release Harvest Moon: A New Beginning looks to be just that; a more ambitious refresh of the basics instead of another tread over the same ground.
There are other important features to note, though. You can only save when you go to sleep, so you have to play a day to its completion before you can record your progress, and a new noticeboard system gives you the chance to do favours for villagers. These are extremely simplistic fetch quests but earn you money and impress the villagers, and can also lead to new tools, so you'll find yourself doing them whether you enjoy them or not. There's also an online mode that lets you and three faraway friends visit a special online field to harvest crops, but it's limited and unsatisfying.
Most telling is that this is basically a 3D-enabled version of Harvest Moon DS: The Tale of Two Towns: while the 3DS release benefits from a wider viewing area on the top screen and a sprinkling of StreetPass item-swapping, the 3D effect is disappointing. There's no coherence to the world, and what should be behind your character often appears in front, or vice versa. Occasionally items protrude far beyond what they should, and if you're after any sort of comfortable viewing you'll play exclusively in 2D mode.
If you absolutely have to have a 3D Harvest Moon game, this will fill a gap. It's hardly the most expansive and engaging the series has offered in recent times, and its central concept is of the take-it-or-leave-it variety, but it still has the potential to enthral if you let it.