Review: Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness

Susan Arendt | 25 Sep 2008 20:50
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Satisfying cause-and-effect relationships aside, Island of Happiness is definitely not a game for the impatient. It will take many hours of play before you can afford even the cheapest upgrades to the island, especially if you're saving up to buy chickens, sheep, or improvements to your house. You don't so much plan your next move as you plan your next season or year. A quick dip in your bathtub, for example, will renew your stamina and increase the amount of work you can do in a day, but before you can buy the pricey tub, you have to upgrade your house, which ain't exactly cheap. Getting a tub, therefore, requires careful planning of crops, estimation of profits, and allocation of wood resources that can be a year or more in the making.

All work and no play makes you a dull farmer, but you can always nip into town for a quick visit with the locals. Unfortunately, they don't really have very much to say. Barring certain special situations or events, your neighbors only say two or three things, which they will repeat over and over again, like so many nattering parrots. You'll also encounter a handful of potential romantic partners, both bachelors and bachelorettes. Pitch just the right kind of woo, and eventually you'll be able to get married and have little mini-farmers of your very own, but like everything else in the game, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a love connection.

I realize that I've made Island of Happiness sound like a complete chore -- and it is - but it's a chore you'll genuinely enjoy and find very difficult to put down. You'll gain great satisfaction from seeing your ranch prosper and grow, as it gradually expands to include fruit trees, rice paddies, and even a machine for making mayonnaise. New characters will come to the island as you repair roads and remove path-blocking boulders, bringing with them new items and opportunities. Island of Happiness requires both dedication and patience, but you'll give up the necessary hours gladly, happily digging in the local mine or spending a rainy afternoon fishing.

The only thing that may put a damper on your experience is the game's over-reliance on the DS' touch screen. Everything in the game is controlled using the stylus, which works very well for precise tasks such as watering plants, playing the milking minigame or managing your inventory, but can be quite annoying when it comes to moving your character around. You'll find yourself walking when you want to run, and standing still when you want to move just a bit to the side. It's not a game-breaker, but I found myself constantly wishing I could just use the D-pad to move around the island.

Bottom Line: Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness is the most cheerful grind you're ever likely to encounter. If you're willing to put in the time, you'll be rewarded for your efforts. Also, the cows and sheep are freakin' adorable.

Recommendation: If you're a fan of the series, there's no question you should have this game, as it adds several new satisfying tweaks to the well-worn formula. For everyone else, if you're allergic to cute or don't have much time to spare, sail on by. But if you're looking for a game you can really throw yourself into, you'll truly enjoy your time on the ranch.

Susan Arendt wishes the bachelors in Island of Happiness weren't all complete losers. She also named her cow Steak, which makes her giggle.

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