Farming might not be the first option that springs to mind when thinking about which careers you’d most like to see simulated in video game format, yet this series is a hugely successful one that has been going for some time. Farming Simulator: Nintendo Switch Edition is the latest offering in a franchise that has spanned across multiple console and mobile platforms for almost ten years and, effectively taking last year’s Farming Simulator 17 for a portable spin, it is hoping to be the definitive handheld farming experience.
The attention to detail and realism of this game is incredible; everything from the real-life brands of farming vehicles to the fluctuating market prices for produce and livestock has been truthfully represented. In fact, this doesn’t really feel like a game – instead, it feels like you really have woken up and started your working day. You’ll be taking on a whole host of farming duties – ploughing and cultivating in the fields, managing and selling animals and their produce, managing your own workforce of employees, and so on – and every single step needs to be carefully planned to make sure that you are making profit. You see, whilst there isn’t really any specified goal in the game, you’ll likely want to be working towards seeing your farm grow into your own empire; you’ll need to be efficient to achieve this.
At the start of your career the game will give you some quick tutorials for using various vehicles, how to manage your fields and navigating certain menus, before completely leaving you to your own devices. From there, the world opens up with literally no indication of what to do next. This can feel incredibly daunting; there are numerous fields, a town centre with shops for the equipment you’ll need and places to sell your produce but, unless you’re already a farming expert, you’ll still have no clue on what your next move should be. The game has some incredibly extensive help menus (including information on what tasks can be done and how to do them) but this was the first sign of Farming Simulator’s main problem.
If you’re a farmer, or if you know the ins and outs of farming through some other means, you’ll stand a chance of progressing with ease. If you have no idea on the other hand (which is the situation that we were in), the wealth of information thrown at you - coupled with the fact that you are just launched into the deep end - can be extremely overwhelming. After the initial tutorial we were left sitting in our tractor feeling utterly hopeless and underprepared. To properly understand this game as a farming novice, you will likely have to properly study the menus and guides provided, learning what specific task each vehicle or tool can do and how every aspect of a farm needs to be cared for. It genuinely felt like we had gone to a real farm, suddenly having to manage it with no experience whatsoever, and it felt rather stressful.
Thanks to this, Farming Simulator: Nintendo Switch Edition is a difficult game to review. On the one hand, it does what it sets out to do perfectly; the amount of depth and detail on offer simply can’t be appreciated without seeing it with your own eyes. Unfortunately, though, it simply cannot work as a video game for all to play – the already potentially niche market the game would appeal to gets shrunken even more by the incredibly complex learning curve.
For the sake of comparison, Stardew Valley offers a farming simulation experience that is both simplified and then combined with other gameplay elements to create something stress-free and fun. Farming Simulator does nothing of the sort; instead of adding more ‘game-like’ activities or altering the real experience to create something consumer-friendly, it sticks to the absolute realism of the job that it is simulating. If that means taking a literal hour to harvest a field and drive the wheat it produces to a selling location, then so be it. Both approaches are equally as valid and having these options to choose from is fantastic, but make sure you are aware of what you’re getting into before splashing the cash. Farming Simulator is a very serious, very long-term style game that will only reward those who are patient and passionate about farming.
In terms of the game’s performance on the Switch, everything runs along very smoothly indeed. It is instantly clear that the love and care for the game’s visuals was almost entirely directed at the officially licensed vehicles and tools featured in the game; each different vehicle type and their accessories look great, with decent engine sounds and an in-car radio making them even more enjoyable. The scenery takes a small hit because of this, though – whilst it is never offensive by any means, crops will noticeably pop onto screen in the not too distant space in front of you and the animations for humans are a little basic. This doesn’t take away from the game’s playability in any way – the practicalities of the jobs and your management of the farm are the key aspects – but it is perhaps worth noting nonetheless.
Farming Simulator: Nintendo Switch Edition is definitely one for the farming fanatics – and not really anyone else. If you’re interested in farming from both practical and management points of view – and have an awful lot time on your hands to explore that interest – you won’t find a better way (apart from perhaps a real farm) to experience it than this.
If you were hoping for a more casual and easy-going experience to play out a mild interest, however, this is not the game for you; the intense realism and complexity of the game’s core concept will be far too overwhelming for most players. Giants Software has done an amazing job at making this feel extremely real – whether this is for better or worse depends on you as an individual.