Bottom line: If this is your first farming simulator, or if you're looking for a relaxing way to spend your time, Stardew Valley is an excellent choice. Its open gameplay style, rewards for achieving goals and progressive relationships make it a great contender in the farming simulator genre.
Detailed pixel art
Lack of NPC diversity
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I must admit — this is my second time playing this game. Being a long-time Animal Crossing fan who's been playing the slow-paced life simulator since 2007, opening Stardew Valley and realizing that the day is measured in increments of 10 whole minutes at a time, I got very overwhelmed very quickly.
However, something (read: the pandemic) spurred me to pick this game up again on my Nintendo Switch once my other games began to grow stale. And I am super glad I did decide to give it another go. Once I started working on going slowly and focusing on one area of gameplay at a time, I began to relax and actually found it difficult to put this game down.
Stardew Valley review What I like
Open-ended gameplay Play your way
If you've heard of Stardew Valley but never played it, like me, you'll know that the game is multi-faceted. You can farm, raise animals, fish, forage, mine, and defeat monsters in caves and mines. A popular aspect of Stardew Valley's gameplay is the ability to get to know, befriend, and even romance some of the residents of Pelican Town. I enjoyed being able to take my time, focusing first on farming, then getting some adorable chickens and cows for passive income, and spending rainy days in the mines. Some days I did nothing but gather wood! Stardew Valley doesn't punish players for not playing the "right" way and allows them to make their own mistakes which they can correct next time around.
Charismatic art style Say a lot with just a little
In the last decade, retro-styled games have become cool again. Sometimes I get a bit fatigued by all the pixel art featured in indie titles. Don't get me wrong — I understand that smaller development studios can rely on pixel art's simplicity to get to where they want to go. But I often prefer hand-drawn art styles, and lots of character.
Stardew manages to do all of that, even with pixel art. You can see it in the entrancing environments, with little details strewn over the charming landscape. Little birds here, worms in the ground, flowers and weeds swaying in the wind — sometimes I forget that Stardew Valley isn't actually a real place.
Tangible goals Slow and steady wins the race
I suppose the "right" way to play this game is by working to complete the bundles at the Community Center in Pelican Town. Players are rewarded for donating crops, fish, and other items to various themed bundles, which in turn result in repairs to bridges, access to new buildings, and increased friendship with the locals.
In a way, the Community Center taught me how to play the game. It gave me guidance on where and when certain crops, fish and items can be found, encouraged me to expand my farm beyond just fruit and vegetables, and kept me coming back with incentives that were easier to get through bundle rewards than making them myself. This was a brilliant way to teach newcomers to the farming simulator genre what they can focus on, whenever they want to.
Relationship options Keep your heart open
Though I haven't thrown myself headfirst into the world of Stardew waifus, I very much appreciate the variety in relationship options. Sure, many of the locals fit into cliché stereotypes: the emo kid, the shy bookworm, the upbeat girl next door — but I do love that you have the option to romance any of the single characters, or even multiple characters at once! Of course, you can only marry one person, but romancing multiple people does have its humorous moments. It's something that other farming simulators have yet to embrace fully, so I'm glad I have the option here.
Stardew Valley review What I don't like
Lack of diversity Kinda disappointing
I know I just spoke about how happy I was about being able to date anyone you want, regardless of gender, but … I kinda wish the locals in Stardew Valley were more ethnically diverse. Of the 40-odd villagers and NPCs in the game, only one of them is black. His name is Demetrius, and he's married. His biracial daughter, Maru, is an eligible bachelorette, and she's the person I chose to pursue.
The option for queer relationships is amazing, but I just wish I could see more of myself in this game. Of course, visibility is important in other ways such as disability, so sexuality and ethnicity are far from the only ways in which the dating sphere can improve.
Short days And even shorter nights
I know this may be a sort of unique complaint from someone who is coming from Animal Crossing, but as I've said before, time moves quite quickly in Stardew Valley. I know that things can be simplified with sprinklers, but in the beginning I spent most of my morning watering my plants. On days that I wanted to both water my plants AND go to the mines, I found myself hard-pressed for time in the initial few weeks of the game, as you're punished for staying out too late.
Farming and mining do get easier with sprinklers and the elevator (though it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realise the elevator was functional), but I think I would have been a lot less stressed had the day been measured in increments of five minutes, not 10.
Stardew Valley review Should you buy it?
Stardew Valley has been praised immensely since its release — and not without good reason. It features solid open-ended gameplay that allows you to figure things out at your own pace, and facilitates players choosing one or more paths through the Community Center. Stardew Valley is absolutely stunning during all four seasons, with great writing and soothing music tracks that had my head bobbing without me even noticing. I'd definitely say it's one of the best games available on the Nintendo Switch now.
Farm at your own pace
Go and make Grandpa proud!
Venture to the world of Stardew Valley and build your very own farm from the ground up, just the way you like it. Fish, farm, mine and mingle with the locals in an adventure that's dictated entirely by you.
Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.