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Slime Rancher (PlayStation 4) artwork

Slime Rancher (PlayStation 4) review

"Suck 'em Up"

In the distant reaches of the galaxy, a single planet exhibits an unusual species that everyone is eager to capture for their own gains. Groups and corporations flock to the planet, but then there's the protagonist, a young woman raring to handle these creatures her own way, with a "weapon" that resembles an arm cannon in the game's first-person perspective. Sounds like a menacing person not to be messed with. A bounty hunter, perhaps? Not quite. As the title distinctly implies, you'll be tending to a ranch on a planet called the Far, Far Range with the help of its inhabitants: cute slime creatures.

However, as with many things in life, you can't sustain and grow your ranch business without a steady flow of money. In order to earn currency, you'll need to deposit octahedron-shaped plorts into a teleporter beside your house. These plorts, to put it bluntly... are pooped out by the slime beings. This is where the exploration aspect comes into play, as you must leave the ranch and traverse the adjacent rocky surroundings; here you'll eventually encounter slime groups clustered around food sources, such as carrots and chicken nests. Let them eat and they'll quickly relinquish plorts, doubly-so if fed their favorites. And this is where the sucking begins. Literally. Your "weapon" of choice is actually a vacuum attached to a backpack with limited space, a Vacpack, and you use it to collect plorts, food, or whatever can be sucked.

This causes repetitive back and forth travel while depositing plorts. But that's why you have a ranch. Use money to build corrals to toss in slimes, feeding them delicacies from nearby gardens you also constructed, along with optional add-ons to make the process faster and easier. In turn, this gives you more free time to accomplish the goal of journeying throughout the game's land and reaching its final destination. Slime Rancher is constructed in such a way that its main ranching and exploration elements are tied together when you utilize their potential. For example, the further you explore, the more you'll discover new slime types which grant more money per plorts collected, which speeds up accumulation per day. More money means more upgrades and more space on the ranch.

Granted, a solid structure is a basic need when making a farm-type title, so that's one thing Slime Rancher nails correctly. Unfortunately, the exploration portion of the game comes off mediocre. You won't realize it at first when everything feels fresh, and the act of discovering stuff in nooks and crannies is simple yet fun in the initial area beside your ranch. Unfortunately, once you finally unlock a new portion of the map with a discovered key, you'll realize variation is lacking. New places visually look different, but from a design perspective not too much. You'll travel through a linear, brief path, such as a rocky valley or across a wooden bridge over water. Once you pass through these areas, you'll enter wider locations, usually containing slime variants of that particular spot. That's... that's 99% of the map design.

Outside the core blueprint of exploring for slimes and sucking up plorts, there's not much variety to be had. The game has "threats," but they are absurdly non-threatening. Certain slimes have spikes on them, others can explode, and there are even radioactive versions. They can harm you, but unless you sit the controller down and walk out of the room, it's a major non-issue; you barely lose health from a regenerating life bar, and you can resolve the "problem" by literally walking around them. There's also the main antagonists of the game, called the Tarr, who come into fruition when a slime eats a plort they're not supposed to. When not immediately handled, an entire area can transform into Tarr through infection. But, you just need to hit them with one or two splashes of water... Water isn't hard to come by and you should always have a full tank in your Vacpack. Again, a non-issue.

Here's another point: unless you love collecting stuff, you don't have to capture every single slime variant for plorts. You just have to make note of ones that give you a respectable amount per deposit, keep them at the ranch, and that's it. Approximately five corrals will suffice for your daily plort "salary." The reason this comes off as a negative is because, in the endgame portion of your escapades, you just kinda shrug off new slime creatures because you already have a steady income; the allure of discovering new creatures sadly becomes stale. Tie that in with the already-unimaginative layouts, and you easily get a sense that several aspects of Slime Rancher weren't fleshed out.

That isn't to say every game has to be challenging or wildly creative in order for it to be good, it's just that this game in particular has a specific structure and stubbornly sticks to it from beginning to end. That's interesting at first, but quickly turns problematic when you apply it to a full-length product. It's not until the very, very final sections of the map that the game feels like it's trying with layouts and whatnot; it's unfortunate that you have to reach the finale to experience this. Though, the game also has a couple side-tasks which are an attempt at variety to aid on your adventures, but they unintentionally hinder actual progress.

Range Exchange, for example, is a teleporter where you can send requested items to other ranchers in exchange for money. Sounds neat, until you realize money given in return isn't worth the time it took fetching said items; if you have even a "decent" ranch set up, the daily amount of plorts obtained by corrals eclipse the amount you get from this exchange. Eventually, you're invited to other ranches if you do enough, but that honestly doesn't make up for the effort. A lab is also purchasable where you can buy nifty gadgets, but this also feels trivial. Essentially, you have to collect several unique items to craft even the simplest of gadgets, which unnecessarily takes away time that could be spent finishing the game. Bizarrely, some gadgets come off as jokes, such as a pump for water or a clone machine for chickens, two things that are easily attainable during your adventures.

Probably the most irritating thing about those two side-tasks is that, with some modification, they could have been incorporated into the main exploration portions of the game instead of being optional impediments. For instance, when you're invited to one of the ranches, you kinda-sorta get to be in a race; you actually have to chase after speeding slime creatures on a race track while gathering their plorts with a modified vacuum, all while crossing limited checkpoints to keep the race going. It's one of the most creative features within the game, but it's optional and can be missed if you're not doing Range Exchange. Would have been neat to have that pop up as a main objective. Also, pointless water turret gadgets could have been implemented as some kind of "castle defense" objective during one or more portions of the map; perhaps to protect slimes in transit or something.

Slime Rancher isn't terrible. The ranching aspect is fine, a harmless time killer if you want to do a bit of farming with your cutesy slime creatures. However, nearly every other idea introduced comes off weirdly disorganized or incomplete. It's playable, you'll get through the game just fine, but the whole way through it will feel like you're just going through the motions, right up to the unceremonious ending stretch that hits suddenly. If you want a farm-style product, there's much better choices, with the same going for the adventure side. As a final note, Slime Rancher takes framerate dips on both a normal PS4 and Pro when you're in big areas with constant activity, making it a poorly-optimized port. You think this would cause major issues when navigating lands and encountering slimes, right? Nope. Not even framerate issues could invigorate the game.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (February 25, 2021)



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dagoss posted February 25, 2021:

Good write up. This game sounds more like a tech demo that something fully fleshed out. I can't look at slime creatures and not think of Dragon Quest though.

Can you ride the slimes? I mean, it's a ranching game, so that seems like a natural feature. If you can't, this game has squandered so much potential.

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pickhut posted February 25, 2021:

Nope, can't ride the slimes. A lot of the "extra" stuff you're allowed to do in the game requires gathering rare resources to make in the lab. The game wants you to do a lot of "busy work" with the lab component just to obtain basic gadgets and such, and it's just not worth the effort. You can pretty much beat the game in the same time span spent doing all that.

That's for reading!

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