We recently published our reader-ranked top 50 Game Boy Color games, and we've taking a look back at a handful of our favourite GBC carts. Today, Kerry reminisces about her very favourite farming sim...
There have been a lot of Harvest Moon games over the years, with almost every format between the SNES and the Switch graced by their agricultural appearances. Since 1996 the series has seen more than its fair share of sequels, splits, and spin-offs, and inspired an entire genre of slow life sims, including the likes of the incredibly popular Stardew Valley. As the games and gamers playing them have grown, so too have their complexity, with the farming now seen as just one enjoyable part of a whole range of interconnected activities and systems designed to keep players engaged and entertained for months — if not years — on end.
And that’s great. Who doesn’t want to see games evolve and become more intricate as time goes on, combining new ideas with established mechanics in fun and fascinating ways? Well… me, for one. I like my cute farming games to be cute and about farming, and that’s why I love playing my Game Boy Color copy of Harvest Moon 2 GBC.
Sometimes derided for omitting features that were already present in its contemporary console cousins, this more streamlined handheld entry sensibly decides to do one thing very well rather than spread itself too thinly for completeness’ sake. This apparent “lack” of features gives my farming days a welcome rhythm of unhurried routine as my ever-growing list of daily jobs always naturally occur in, around, or for the benefit of each other: the grass I planted will feed the animals in the barn nearby; the water coming from the stream close to the fishing spot goes on my crops; the sale of milk I diligently collect every morning helps fund further improvements and expansions to my little farm.
The real magic lies in how this one very focused job of mine — running a farm — combines so beautifully with the otherwise vast amounts of freedom the game has to offer. How much I decide to burden myself with, and when, is almost entirely up to me, and these two elements make every casual session with Harvest Moon 2 GBC both very easy to keep up with (I know all I have to do is help my farm) and also only as intense as I want it to be (I know I don’t have to work flat out all the time or always plant in the most efficient manner to keep going). I decide what to plant and where to plant it; I decide when I’m ready to buy my first chicken; I decide if I care about maximising every coin-earning opportunity and buy my vegetable seeds based on their growth-rate-to-final-sale-price value rather than sowing something simply because I like it.
Harvest Moon 2 is only as intense as I want it to be. I decide what to plant and where to plant it; I decide when I’m ready to buy my first chicken; I decide if I care about maximising every coin-earning opportunity.
It isn’t the end of the world if something doesn’t work out either — if I miss a day’s watering duties because I went off catching bugs, or if I scatter some of my seeds on untilled earth and end up wasting them — because there’s little I can’t recover from with time and effort, and that means there’s little to stress out about beyond my own self-imposed responsibilities.
HM2 GBC even goes so far as to actively discourage overwork: there’s no benefit in trying to grow plants I don’t have the time or energy to care for, and that big tree stump in the field will still be there tomorrow if my little farmer’s too tired to chop it up or if I simply feel like doing something else today. The game’s relaxed pace — from morning to night, from seed to sprout, from season to season — gives me no choice other than to adjust my expectations to match, and the farm-first gameplay gives me no option other than to stick around and really notice all of the little changes happening on my dusty plot of land.
There’s an abundance of visual feedback to help make my selection of daily chores feel like organic tasks that directly contribute to the new life growing all over my farm, making it so very easy to take real pleasure in noticing how different crops have different sizes and shapes of seed, how the soil darkens when sprinkled with fresh water, and to enjoy the incredibly atmospheric sound of Game Boy-powered raindrops as I make my farmer dash across soggy fields to try to get all of their usual work done on a quiet rainy day.
And if none of that sounds particularly exciting or complicated — good. A fun game doesn’t have to be either of those things, and Harvest Moon 2 wouldn’t be a better experience if it was, anyway. It’s so deeply fulfilling in a way few games are, inviting me to take pride in my own work and work ethic, in setting my own goals and then literally watching them grow as the easily digested virtual days pass by. I made this grow; I made all of it grow. Every flower and herb. Every crop growing where I tilled the bare soil and later harvested with my own hands. Every weed dealt with as soon as it pops up, pulled out myself. My hard work brings about not only a gamified series of rewards and events but also tangible change, a feeling that things are getting better and — thanks to the game’s unwavering focus on farming alone — that I’m always on the right track and always doing enough. It’s wholesome in a way that games can sometimes struggle to get across; sincere without the sickly sweetness that usually goes with it.
Over two decades have passed since the game’s launch and Harvest Moon, farming sims, and gaming as a whole have branched out in all sorts of fascinating directions, and we’re all better off for the variety and inclusivity these newer additions bring. But I’ll always appreciate the clear vision and soothing simplicity of my little Game Boy farm, in busying myself with trips to its tiny town and gathering up all the eggs my hens have laid in the barn every morning. It’s not much, but it’s all mine — and it makes me happy.
Out of all the farming games available, which one do you like spending your free time with? Let us know in the comments.
Don't forget that our list of the best Game Boy Color games ever is now live, and you can still have your say and affect the dynamic real time ranking by rating your GBC collection. Alternatively, if you just want to lust over some lovely hardware colour variants, feel free to let us know your favourite Game Boy Color hue.