The Harvest Moon series has always promoted the ideals of hard work and patience over the instant gratification found by more recent prods at gaming agriculture like Farmville. This attitude is even more apparent in Harvest Moon on the Game Boy Color than other iterations, as the handheld game crops the series down to its very roots – this is all about the farm and nothing else.
Your late grandfather has bequeathed his old farm to you. In spirit form, the old man appeals for you to take his land, restore it from its state of disrepair and become a master rancher to continue the family legacy. Oh, and he'll visit each year to check up on how you're doing. No pressure, then.
Harvest Moon starts slowly and maintains a gentle pace throughout, making it a great game to idle away time. After choosing to be a boy or girl and selecting a cat or dog pet, you're dumped into the farm to make your own way. The first task is to clear the land of the rubbish that has accumulated – luckily, granddad has left behind a shed of tools too, so you don't have to buy the axe needed to chop down tree stumps, the hammer to smash up rocks or the sickle to easily slice away weeds.
With little money on your side and a bare farm, your first days are spent scrabbling around to get your place in a semi-workable state, breaking up obstacles and tilling the land with your trusty hoe. You can just about afford some seeds for grass and some basic crops, but plants take a few days of watering to grow and you can't purchase any animals until you have enough grass for fodder.
Thankfully, there's a little secret to this farm; a family of friendly gnomes lives underneath the tool shed, and they're only too happy to share anything they might grow — two mushrooms a day — in exchange for a bit of food every now and then. You promptly exploit them by picking their food and selling it for your own profit: during the crucial initial days, you're sustained only by selling the bounty that the naïve little imps offer up.
Once those first sprouts have poked up through the ground, it's fairly easy to get into the cycle and start making some real money. You can purchase chickens and cows to sell eggs and milk respectively, and there are two types of crop seed available for each of the four seasons. As you go on you get the opportunity to earn golden tools which help you plough through tasks more efficiently.
The problem is, extra elements such as marriage are not present in the Game Boy version, so days on Harvest Moon's farm can become repetitive – you wake up, water the crops, feed the animals, collect anything to sell and then hop back into bed. There's no actual town to explore either, so essentially you buy seeds, tools, animals and food through menus presented by pretty sprites.
While these cut backs don't harm the compelling core farming mechanics – though the small number of crop types and animals might for some people – there is a lack of variety that limits the appeal compared to other games in the series. Random events — such as a girl visiting looking for a missing bird — occasionally break the flow a little, but they're rarely substantial. In addition, you can only carry two tools at a time, so you have to trot back and forth from the tool shed quite often to complete all your daily duties.
Harvest Moon's looks still hold some appeal, despite slightly lacking animation; the animal and character sprites are big and have a whiff of personality about them. The audio is similarly whimsical, but it does suffer from repetition. Each season has a single music track, which restarts whenever you enter or exit a building. After a couple of hours, when you're going in and out of barns and sheds on a regular basis, this gets quite irritating.
Harvest Moon is a reasonably addictive, concise entry in the series that throws out any chaff, but that's also its downfall: there's not enough variety to keep it interesting for huge stretches of time. If you're after nothing more than a simple farming simulator with repetitive-but-satisfying mechanics, this could be worth several of your hours – but you'll be disappointed if you expect anything more complex.