Harvest Moon is definitely what I would refer to as a “niche” franchise. You either love it, or you don’t really care about it. It may be hard to believe, but this farming sim has been with us for more than ten years, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon! But what many longtime fans of the series have begun to notice is that even though we’re nearly guaranteed a new Harvest Moon title every year, all of them have seemed to run together, and the Harvest Moon series has done very little to move the series forward, at least until last year’s Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon.
The newest Harvest Moon title, Island of Happiness, also does a lot for the series in terms of moving it forward, but unfortunately, there are a few elements of this title that really hold it back as well. One thing that has changed in Island of Happiness is the storyline. You play as a boy or girl who was involved in a shipwreck that has left you marooned on a deserted island. Luckily, many of your shipmates are with you, and a small village is soon formed. You have been given the task of farming, and by creating agricultural products for export, you will attract more people to this little island. The story actually feels a lot like the standard Harvest Moon storyline with a little bit of the Lost in Blue series mixed in. But as someone who was getting tired of the old story, any innovation was welcome.
Once you get past the new story, you run into what I would say is this game’s biggest problem: the control. Instead of having the button-based control with some touch-screen elements like those in Harvest Moon DS, Island of Happiness has switched to exclusive touch-screen controls. While this might not sound like a bad thing at first, once you start farming, you’ll really start missing the buttons. You move around by dragging the stylus in front of your character. This part works fairly well when you are trying to walk around town, but when you are trying to reach a certain plot on your farm grid, this control method is extremely imprecise.
To make matters worse, the tools are also controlled on the touch-screen in a counter-intuitive way. Instead of touching the plot you want to work on, you have to walk using the stylus and line up a rather ambiguous blue square with the plot that needs work. Then you need to tap the tool (not the plot) you’ve equipped in order to engage it. If this sounds complicated, trust me…it is. Working on the farm in this Harvest Moon is much harder than it should be and makes this aspect of the game close to unplayable.
If you do overcome the controls, you’ll probably be happy with the amount of content that is in this new Harvest Moon game. One of the big draws here is the ability to expand the population of your island. This adds a great new dimension to the gameplay and a more overreaching goal. There are many more characters to meet this time around, and it is really fun to watch your empty little island grow into a thriving metropolis. The world of Island of Happiness is also a lot bigger than previous Harvest Moon worlds, and it gives you a nice sense of freedom in the game that had been absent previously. Of course, all the old Harvest Moon conventions are here, and you will still need to expand your farm, find a spouse, and raise livestock.
I was actually quite pleased with the new elements of the gameplay in Island of Happiness, but again, the control really got in the way of any substantial enjoyment. Island of Happiness also features several new Internet play options, including online leaderboards and voice chat. The leaderboards are sort of cool and give you a great opportunity to share stats with your Harvest Moon buddies. However, the inclusion of the voice chat ability is just confusing. You aren’t able to chat with your friend while you are actually playing the game; you can only talk to your friends while looking at a chat room screen or browsing the different leaderboards. The only use I can really imagine for the voice chat is the ability to talk to your far-away Harvest Moon Pals without paying for any long distance phone charges. But that doesn’t really seem much like an actual game feature, does it?
The visuals in Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness are pretty much the same as the visuals in Harvest Moon DS, although there is one big difference. For some reason, the decision was made to give the Harvest Moon characters bobble heads in this title. The look is a little awkward at first, and I can’t say I ever really got used to it. But hey, if you just can’t get enough of the anime-inspired super-deformed “chibi” style, then you may appreciate the cranial enhancements made to the game characters.
Overall, I was pretty happy with all the improvements that Island of Happiness made to the traditional Harvest Moon formula. However, I had serious issues controlling the game, and it was always a battle to get my character to do what I wanted. The stylus controls just don’t work well with the grid-farming system and made this game really frustrating to play. I am certain this game would have been one of the best Harvest Moon titles ever if they had kept the old control scheme, but, as it stands, this title just doesn’t live up to its potential. However, if you have a good amount of patience and are a Harvest Moon addict, there is plenty to find and discover in Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness. Plus, you can use it to call your friends!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Graphics look almost exactly the same as they did on the original Harvest Moon DS, except for the addition of bobble heads. Is that really an improvement? 1.0 Control
Farming controls are terrible! You are rarely able to do what you want easily, and this takes most of the fun out of the game. 2.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Music is alright, despite being quite generic and repetitive. 3.9
If you can overcome the controls, there is plenty to do in this game. The Wi-Fi capabilities are interesting, though perhaps useless.
3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.