Harvest Moon DS Cute - Staff Review  

It's a Terrible Crop
by Ethan Pipher

Click here for game information
60-80 Hours
+ Same core, addicting, tight farming mechanics
- GBA era graphics and presentation
- Extremely frustrating and occasionally pointless touch controls
- Very few changes from the original to justify the release
- Miserable tutorial and information resources
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Nintendo definitely threw the world for a loop when it announced the Nintendo DS as its "third pillar" about four years ago. Some developers seemed to approach the system with hesitation in case the ambitious dual-screened platform didn't take off. In the first year or so, there were a number of games that seemed to be blatant Game Boy Advance titles with some tacked on touch screen controls. While frustrating, this period of transition allowed for a bit of forgiveness and understanding from the gaming community. However, in the case of Harvest Moon DS Cute not only is it far too late to be at all forgiving regarding these issues, but this is the second edition of this title that Natsume has put out for the DS. If the original Harvest Moon DS was too little too late (it was), then Harvest Moon DS Cute is far too little, far too late.

   For those unfamiliar, Harvest Moon is a long-running popular farm-simulator series. It involves farming chores like harvesting crops and taking care of animals. There is usually the option to court a potential mate who will soon become the spouse. It has spanned across many generations of consoles since the Super Nintendo era, with varying degrees of quality. Harvest Moon DS Cute is assuredly on the lower end of the quality spectrum.

   But before going into details about the almost insulting interface, the differences between the two Harvest Moon DS titles must first be explained. Cute was never meant to be a true sequel to the first DS title, but rather the same title changed just enough to be marketed toward the female demographic. First off, it is plain offensive to assume that tacking "Cute" onto a title makes it clear that the game is now supposed to be for girls. It makes sense to assume a game must appear inviting to draw in a statistically non-gamer crowd, but the art style and premise of Harvest Moon hardly needed to be made any more non-threatening. The decision is embarrassing and a clear attempt to milk even more money from the disappointing DS original. This will become especially obvious when a player starts the typical courting process and realizes many gift items haven't made the gender switch. While there is nothing wrong with a guy wearing necklaces or broaches, it is clearly an oversight and not an intentional equalist statement. Beyond that, the main character is now a girl and marries a guy. That is essentially the extent of the changes that Natsume seems to think justifies putting out a new title.

The chicken is having more fun than you will The chicken is having more fun than you

   Social issues aside, Cute does incorporate some touch elements to pretend to be a legitimate DS game. All the menus and inventory are allocated to the bottom screen and everything is touch-compatible. Sounds good, right? Wait, no, actually: wrong. Although the idea is a great one, there are a few glaring issues that seem to exist partially out of laziness and partially as a result of some really terrible decisions. To start, while items can be rearranged using the stylus to drag them to another slot, it is also possible to tap one slot, then tap another, and the two items will switch places. Because the icons are so small and close together, errors are a common occurrence and it grows to be quite frustrating. When not braving the inventory, the other menus can be navigated far more easily using the touch screen. Although there's never a clear border around tappable areas (making it feel like a GBA game), it never becomes irritating in the same way as managing items, but Natsume decided to balance it out by making an extremely unnecessary decision. Since the character remains in the play area on the top screen while the player works with the menus, the character grows tired of just standing around and she soon goes to sleep. This is a common easter egg found in games and actually adds a bit of character to the experience. What isn't positive, however, is that the menus cease to function when the character goes to sleep. Almost every time it will feel like the game has broken until the player remembers that she has to press a physical button to wake her character up before diving back into the menus. This doesn't make the game feel more real; it rather takes the player out of the experience in a purely asinine mechanic. The other touch screen aspect of the game is its use in the animal mini-games. When going to milk, pet, or sheer the cow, dog, or sheep, the option exists to turn the two second animation into a screen-scratching mini-game. Not only are these games mundane, but they offer no benefit over choosing to not endure the process. There is no reward; it is literally an option to waste time, except in the case in which a Harvest Sprite is freed to progress the story through these touch-screen games. That feels like a contrived addition to force players into indulging the uninspired scratch-fests, however, and it only happens once.

   Speaking of uninspired, there is an attempt at a story made at various points throughout the game, namely the beginning, but the story is so vapid and feels so removed from the world that the game would have truly been better off without it. At least without a story, it would feel like the player is telling her own tale as the open-ended gameplay would lend itself well to that. Alas, silly dialogue bookends the "main quest" and forces a particular tone upon the player.

Look familiar? It is. Look familiar?

   To make matters worse, almost nothing is well explained. For a game that is apparently trying to be friendly and draw in a new audience, it does a terrible job letting the players know what they are supposed to do. There are some convoluted tutorials, and a few explanatory cut-scenes at the beginning, but a new player would be instantly over-whelmed and confused with the poorly-designed interface and many game mechanics inherent to the Harvest Moon series. Even the instruction booklet leaves out important explanations, such as the fatiguing system. If the player is lucky, she may stumble upon the bookshelf in the character's house that provides some helpful information, but that may not happen for at least a few in-game weeks if the player can even make it that far before understandably giving up in frustration. It truly wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Natsume was trying to shoot itself in the foot with this title.

   However, beyond all the insulting, annoying, lazy, and sexist flaws in Cute lies the core, addicting Harvest Moon gameplay. The regular crop, animal, and courting mechanics are there and they work as well as ever, even if the interface is trying to make it difficult to see that. Also, the music isn't bad; it is just limited, a bit repetitive, and occasionally out of place. Visually, the game looks like a GBA game, another unacceptable trait this far into the DS lifecycle. This game isn't broken, but there are many other Harvest Moon games that saw a lot more love from the developers.

   If somebody has managed to not dabble in the Harvest Moon series yet, and wouldn't be offended by being slammed with incomplete changes to an already half-hearted sequel that was the original Harvest Moon DS, and also has a way to learn about the basics of the series without expecting to rely on the game for that information, then perhaps picking up Cute wouldn't be the worst decision that person ever made. But that decision is still strongly discouraged. There is so much potential for a great traditional Harvest Moon DS game, but as it stands, that potential has been completely untapped. Avoid this game.

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