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Stardew Valley (Switch) artwork

Stardew Valley (Switch) review

"Stardew Valley comes home to roost in an unexpected way on the Switch."

I gushed about the Steam version of Stardew Valley for PC, and while it is almost completely unchanged, there are some aspects of its presentation, controls and performance on the Nintendo Switch that warrant discussion. What is it about the Switch's convertible console-mobile design that makes it feel more at home? Let's get the basics out of the way first, because whether you're familiar with the game or not, it stands quite well enough alone on its own merits.

This is a light-hearted farming simulator in which you assume the role of the grandchild of a man who gives you the deed to his farm in Stardew Valley, should you ever tire of the corporate ladder climb. As this is what we're here for, it's a good thing you do. The beauty of this game, and its most distinctive trait, is how it untethers you almost wholly from responsibility not of your own choosing. Even the difficulty curve is of your own making.

Unlike other - complementary, not competing - games, how much you know about your farm's workings and what you choose to do with it determine just how hard it will be. Your survival is all you need to be concerned about, and you can choose to be as productive as you want to be. That has its drawbacks in the long haul, but as first year potential goes, it's a freeing concept. Stardew Valley's sunny-side-up take on farming is incredibly charming.

You raise chickens and ducks, but just for the eggs and feathers they produce; pigs, but only for the truffles they find, while goats and cows produce milk and never meat. It's not unusual for farmers to eat the animals they produce, and I wonder if some honesty would have hurt the pleasant attitude of this game. However, as an exploration of the joy of farming, few games have had more of a wide ranging impact as this one, so I doubt it. On a related and perhaps strange note, you do keep rabbits, but how one explains that rabbits occasionally drop feet is... well, maybe that's best left alone.

Perhaps there's a parallel in how the game's most notable bugs go unaddressed just as the above rabbit product. For example, your horse isn't going to trip when its animation goes awry, all you need to is change direction and self rectifies. It is odd though, that rabbit's feet serve just one function, as universal likes that are used to befriend and woo villagers, so was their inclusion necessary? Not to say it doesn't work, but the little things have a tendency to distract when they don't mesh with the overall pitch of a game. Having said that, let's take a look at the benefits of this port on Nintendo's still young console hybrid.

For starters, there are no resolution woes. Stardew Valley runs internally at 1080p or 720p but always uses the 1080p screen space, so you're not mucking about with settings or paying the price of having a small screen. In other words, the Switch dynamically scales its resolution down, but you'll always see the same amount on the screen when in handheld mode. This is done for performance, though the game runs smoothly in almost all situations. Occasionally when you have a screen full of plants, you will notice some slowdown, though given that this isn't a reflex driven game (most of the time), it's not detrimental to gameplay when performance is needed.

The most tangible difference between this and other versions of the game are the controls. I've heard players talk up gamepad controls when they were the only ones available. It's true that you can use XInput controllers, such as the Xbox One and 360 gamepads, natively, but until I had no other option I didn't truly appreciate how they streamlined the experience. I know I just said that Stardew Valley isn't reflex dependant, but there times when you really do need fluid, low latency controls. A keyboard and mouse can provide that, but somehow a gamepad just feels more natural for quick response times.

The best way to generate gold quickly in Stardew Valley is to have machines closely grouped together and near their associated producers. In other words, keep a shed by the barn packed full of milk machines so you don't have far to travel when collecting their milk on a daily basis. This holds true for fishing and farming as well. Most farms have their plant produce on the East side of their land just because the collection box is on that side. It's all about proximity, because it can take up to thirty in game minutes to walk across your farm. Or an hour to traverse the distance to the blacksmith.

Time management is a central mechanic of Stardew Valley, and you decide just what you want to invest your time in, and how you earn gold. Along with your social and romantic options, the choice is yours. You can romance anyone who is single, and befriend everyone else. Beware gift giving when married though, because divorce is a mechanic that exists here. These self-made story elements parallel flawlessly with a through-line plot that can be triggered by any number of interactions, but be sure to keep an eye on the low cost competition: Joja Mart and its impact on the struggling little valley town is something you may want to reckon with.

Stardew Valley even addresses player's disfavour of certain aspects of gameplay with options that allow you almost completely circumnavigate what you don't want to do. For instance, you can avoid fishing - for the most part - by purchasing fish from the traveling merchant and raise that skill level with crab pots until your proficiency is maxed out. If you're doing the Community Center bundles and absolutely must fish, you can purchase the top grade fishing pole and select a lure with properties that will make the process much easier. Also, most of the "mandatory" mechanics have assists such as food that temporarily boost your skill level. Choose them if you want, or do it the hard way. There's no wrong answer here.

When you've mastered even a portion of your farm's production facilities, you might discover that you've amassed a fortune and have little left to spend it on. Make no mistake, there are some very convenient creature comforts, such as a table that gives you access to all wallpapers, and another that grants you the option of any piece of furniture you want. All for free, after purchase of table, of course. Having all the money, friends and family in the Valley leaves you for want of anything to spend your fortune on.

There's no active demand from the townspeople to satisfy, no market shifts or varying prices to account for. Everything has a fixed sale value, and having real world variables involved would detract from the singular point of Stardew Valley: The Joy of Living. However it does leave an empty place where some interesting interactivity could be. Yes, this is The Game That Never Has To End, but with all of the backstory you uncover as you play, you begin to see some of the needs you could be serving. It could be a logical extension to start serving some of those needs. Where does Pierre get all of his product, anyway?

ConcernedApe might not have expected that the game could exist as a more than novel portable title, but the Switch brought home the possibility with its very-little-compromise solution and formfactor. Numerous players have discovered the delight of being able to play this game on their terms, and it is readily apparent how natural a fit Stardew Valley is on the Switch. Could it outsell the PC? Maybe, but who cares? With multiplayer connectivity waiting in the wings, the only place to go from here is up.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (April 05, 2018)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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