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Puzzle De Harvest Moon

Developer: Platinum Egg | Publisher: Natsume
Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: Puzzle

Release Date: 11/06/07

Few game series are as niche as Harvest Moon. As a game series comprised of what can best be described as “farming RPGs”, the target audience for these games is already narrowed down to “players looking for a slow-paced but unique and somewhat Japanesey game”. Add to that the fact that the series has been around for some time now, and the target audience narrows considerably, thanks to the additional descriptor, “not drained of all interest in the series by the numerous previous titles”. I doubt there are still very many out there waiting in high anticipation for the next big Harvest Moon game, and with Puzzle De Harvest Moon doing something completely new and different for the series, one could argue that they’re narrowing the target audience even more.

Or not. While Puzzle De Harvest Moon retains the same kind of presentation and general focus as the rest of the series, its design is one that anyone can easily jump into with no prior knowledge of the series (or farming, for that reason). This is a puzzle game through and through, although it remains to be seen whether a farming puzzle game can set the world on fire.

Players take on the role of one of the many Harvest Moon characters that have appeared in the series over the years. The character selection screen is huge, so it’s pretty likely your fave character will be here, although this doesn’t seem to affect the gameplay at all.

After this, it’s time to get going, in a competitive match against three other players (AI opponents or other players via local multi-cart play). The top screen shows the four players and their current score, while your bottom screen shows a progress bar to your left, a timeline on top, your inventory to your right (which randomly fills with items), and the main gameplay field in the middle, which you share with your opponents.

Players use the various implements on their inventory to grow and harvest crops, planting seeds, watering them, and using fertilizer by tapping the area you want to use these items on, and then finally rubbing the fully-grown crop once it’s ready (like a lotto scratcher) to harvest it (awarding them points). Players do this simultaneously on the field, which works a bit like the classic board game Othello – surrounding opponents’ crops with your own changes them into yours, making placement a bit more strategic. Players can harvest opponents’ crops, but they get more points for collecting their own, so it’s always best to try to make sure most of the crops are in your name.

In addition to the usual utilities, the inventory also has special items that you can use to help you. A harvest basket, for example, allows you to instantly harvest a crop without scratching it, and animals like chickens, pigs and cows interfere with opponents, eating their seeds, keeping them from harvesting their crops, or making their inventory items more difficult to access.

After playing through the four seasons (with the appropriate change in scenery), points are tallied up, and the one with the most wins. It’s a formula that seems simple, but when three people are all interacting with the same small field all at once, it can get hectic. Perhaps a bit too hectic, even – it takes a bit of time to get used to the full process of planting, caring for and harvesting crops while on the clock, and new players are bound to be decimated in their first game.

Still, it seems like a solid and unique puzzle game, although I can’t help but express my worry over the lack of features currently planned for the game, especially when it comes to multiplayer. Being so multiplayer-centric, it seems like a pretty big omission that the game doesn’t support Wi-Fi or even single-cart multiplayer. Still, the game isn’t due out until October, so maybe we’ll see new content added by the time it’s released.

A surprisingly challenging and fast-paced puzzle game with some potential to be a breath of fresh air for the genre, although the lack of features (particularly multiplayer features) so close to release is worrisome. Hopefully the final game will have more to offer than what we saw.

By Jake Mcneill - 07/25/07

Screenshots for Puzzle De Harvest Moon

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