"A second stage type finds you controlling a dragonfly as he soars through the air on a fruit-gathering mission. He has to avoid floating flower seeds and other plants, as well as trickles of water that sometimes fall from above. Bumping into anything lowers his life meter, and splashing into liquid will slow him enough that heíll miss valuable fruit or bump into something nasty. Itís like a horizontal shooter, only without the bullets or violence."
Unless youíre the parent of a preschooler, you probably have no idea what Sunny Patch Friends is all about. That would make you the target audience, of course, but hereís the explanation for the rest of you: itís a series of books by David Kirk that has been adapted into a somewhat animated (weíre talking computer animation here) show that airs on Nickelodeon. It features a bunch of insect creatures that are friends and cope with lifeís various issues in a wooded environment so typical of early morning fare. Sounds like a great idea for a game, right?
Whether you answered Ďyesí to the above question or not, someone thought the license was perfect for young gamers. That someone was Shiníen, who has poured a healthier dose of magic into the little cartridge than you might have thought possible. Harvest Time Hop and Fly isnít the greatest game youíve ever played, but itís a worthwhile purchase if you know a younger gamer and youíd like her (or him) to someday move onto more challenging titles.
The basic idea behind Harvest Time Hop and Fly is that youíre trying to clear a map by collecting fruit in each of its areas before Winter arrives. Yes, thatís all thatís ever really explained in any sort of memorable detail. Itís a fairly old gameplay mechanic, but it works. To clear the map, youíll have to pass through several gates that require you to collect fruit from the various stages. If you donít have enough of it, you canít proceed. So it is that youíll adventure through 24 action-packed stages, in somewhat non-linear order.
Those stages are broken into four gameplay types (note that you can also play them under ďBug-a-BonusĒ mode to unlock artwork galleries that will mean more to television-viewing youngsters than they did to me). When you finish them all, the credits role and youíre done. Harvest Time Hop and Fly isnít about the destination; itís all about the journey.
So, letís talk about those four stage types.
The first of them is a simple platforming affair. You control an insect who moves from left to right (or just the opposite, if the situation calls for it) while grabbing fruit. He can jump into the air and perform a simple butt stomp, which breaks open shells and nuts and lets him uncover crannies or paths forward. If he grabs a power-up, he can fly higher into the air. Thatís it. Shiníen uses this simple setup to account for eight of the 24 stages previously mentioned. The fun in playing is that some of the fruit is hidden off the beaten path. You might have to ride a few log lifts or make creative use of your power-ups (you can carry three at a time). None of this will challenge older players, but itís designed at a level that shouldnít frustrate younger folk.
A second stage type finds you controlling a dragonfly as he soars through the air on a fruit-gathering mission. He has to avoid floating flower seeds and other plants, as well as trickles of water that sometimes fall from above. Bumping into anything lowers his life meter, and splashing into liquid will slow him enough that heíll miss valuable fruit or bump into something nasty. Itís like a horizontal shooter, only without the bullets or violence. The execution is quite solid, except that some of the floating seeds are pretty white and blend into the light backgrounds enough that you may sometimes take damage from something you just didnít see coming.
Stage type three is a little less straight-forward. Youíre drifting downward as plant seeds and fruit come within your reach. Your goal is to avoid the former while snagging the latter, but what usually happens is that you avoid a threat only to find that the delicious fruit has drifted up above you. At that point, you must then blow into the DS systemís microphone, which gives you the updraft youíll need to grab the dangling rewards. Players are forced to blow cautiously and to keep a constant eye on surrounding obstacles, which is a fun and perhaps even educational challenge. Only four of the levels are spent here, but theyíre all pretty enjoyable.
That leaves the fourth and final sort of stage, which is again a little off the beaten path. It makes use of the stylus. Within, you guide a pair of insects as they walk from left to right grabbing fruit. The problem is that the one on the ground has to avoid thorns and the one in the air has drifting leaves to worry about. To play, you must tap your stylus on any hazards, while drawing circles around the fruit you wish to knock from its perch above so that the lower of the two insects can pick it up. These stages are often the most frustrating, because sometimes you will see a leaf and tap the screen but it wonít disappear. You also might draw a circle around some fruit, then watch as the flying insect takes so long to dislodge it that the guy wandering beneath doesnít catch it in time. Take too many hits or miss fruit and you have to do it again (if you want a perfect score for the level). I had to retry one of the stages three times before I was able to complete it, but I still donít think the challenge is too extreme.
Throughout the different stages Iíve described above, the game plays cheery music that is never really so annoying as to be objectionable, though itís chipper enough that you may feel life is unfair if a kid insists on playing it near you for hours on end. The backgrounds and visual style are equally polished, and make the game one that your kids should enjoy with little if any assistance from yourself. Ultimately, that makes Harvest Time Hop and Fly a pretty good investment but for one thing: 24 stages just doesnít feel like enough. I played for about 40 minutes and had finished the main game, while another half-hour or so allowed me to tend to any unlockables. Iíd done everything it was possible to do, and all I had left was to replay everything.
So, the question you should ask yourself is how likely it is that 24 stages will keep your kids occupied for long enough that the purchase price is justified. Harvest Time Hop and Fly is a good game--surprisingly so--but its longevity isnít as hot. If your kids are like any I know, though, they wonít mind; kids like playing the same comfortable things over and over, and thereís little more comfortable than this. Recommended.
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 27, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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