Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Publisher: Rising Star Games
I'm pretty sure that when Carol Ann Duffy mentioned that quote about men and buses that what she was actually referring to was Harvest Moon games. You wait around for a bit and then two show up at once! We already gave you the lowdown on Rune Factory 3, which forsook hardcore farming for some ramped up action elements, fixed combat and plenty of things to do. Indeed, sometimes it could be a little bit overwhelming considering that the game was pretty bad at letting you know what you were doing if you forgot.
Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, by contrast, is a bit sparse, if we're being honest. The trouble is, that Rune Factory 3 actually saw things improve, whereas this little game has barely changed at all from its ultimate grandaddy over a decade and a half ago. Moreover, it's a game that's over three years old, finally getting a European release. You might wonder what they spent that time doing and then you'll play it...and you'll scratch your head even harder.
Of course, there's a policy really of 'if it ain't broke...' and the Harvest Moon series still does some things superbly that you just can't get anywhere else. The organic whimsy of it is incredibly charming, the cutesy characters are all very pleasing, everyone's relentlessly cheeful, which should get annoying but somehow never does in these games.
Once again, you find yourself a stranger in a strange town, but everyone's very accepting and - would you believe it?! - the owner of the local farm has died and everything's a bit run-down. So you move in, taking over the premises with an eye towards turning fortunes around, making a profit and eventually marrying one of the villagers' daughters. As per usual, your first few hours are spent clearing house, sweeping out rocks, logs and pesky weeds, tilling your earth and scattering lots and lots of seeds so you can make some money, buy better seeds, repeat, sell crops, buy better equipment, harvest better crops, repeat, make more money, buy a cow and then a chicken and then a sheep.
So far, so Harvest Moon. But this isn't just any farming game...this has a Grand Bazaar!
What that means is that one day a week, a bunch of random nondescript NPCs come to town to sample the best wares of the community and you have a stall, along with a bunch of sales targets. Essentially it's your job to balance the books and charm the punters to elevate your stall's rating. Anything can be sold, from prize crops to an old boot you fished out of a puddle. The game implements a rather nice processing mechanic meaning that you'll be able to fetch far greater profits if you take the time to turn those grapes into wine. Pour it into a glass for your consumers and you'll be able to fleece them even more. Basically you can mix and match up your products by taking them to the windmill for processing, blowing into the microphone to make the windmill spin faster and thus speed up the process is a nice touch, but it will get you rather odd looks on the train. It's a simple system, but effective.
Of course, aside from that there's very little to separate this game out from those that have come before. It fails to make full use of the DS' qualities, looks pretty old (which it is) and the community isn't anywhere near as engaging as it should be, all of which means that what you're really left with is the grind. It might be more accessible than it used to be, but the grind is still a grind - addictive in its own way, but crucially not as rewarding as it should be.
Of course, there's an elephant in the room, and its name in FarmVille. If we were reviewing this three years ago (or even last year with the US crowd) then circumstances might be different, but the fact is that there's just no space for this game. even if you want a Harvest Moon game, you're probably better saving your money and trying to pick up a copy of Sunshine Islands. Surely it's time for the series to take a year out, take a long hard look at itself, and work out how to evolve to fit into this modern era, because it needs to. Pumping out repetition upon repetition helps no-one. Yes, it's charming and whimsical and colourful and eschews Romantic principles that are wholesome and good, but unless you're collecting game cases, you can get that from any of the many Harvest Moon titles that have come before.
- Bazaar adds some slightly new elements
- Series' staple addictive gameplay
- Full of whimsy...
- Sometimes quite fiddly
- Little to distinguish it from any other farming game
- FarmVille is free
The Short Version: The best Harvest Moon games never made their farming activities feel like work but, after sixteen years, the fact is that the series has barely evolved at all. It might be fine for the younger generation, but original fans will be disappointed that there's so little here to make it a more attractive prospect than the many free-to-play farming, and more fully featured, farming sims out there. And yes, that includes Zynga's bloated behemoth.