Despite the importance of farming in sustaining human life, we don’t see many videogames built around the subject. Consoles have the long-running Harvest Moon series, but outside of a puzzle game spin-off, those games haven’t made their way to mobile phones, nor has time-waster Farmville landed on Windows Phone. Thankfully Russian developer Alawar Entertainment brings us Farm Frenzy 2 as an Xbox Live title. It provides an extremely casual version of agriculture rather than an actual simulation, but the theme and unique gameplay are still worthy of notice.
Little house on the prairie
Farm Frenzy 2 is broken up into a whopping 90 levels. Starting resources and goals vary by level, though the object is always to collect a certain amount of one or more products. Upon reaching the goal, you’ll receive a bronze, silver, or gold medal, depending on completion times.
Each level is visually identical – you’ve got a large dirt area in the middle of the screen, a well located at the top of the dirt, and spots on the left and right for buildings. Tapping the well fills your water bucket, which in turn allows you to plant grass in the dirt for animals to eat. Animals roam around in the dirt area, consuming the grass until it’s gone. If you don’t keep grass planted, they will starve and die. Drawing water from the well costs money though, as does just about everything else you can do. This game is a combination of resource and time management.
See, there are several kinds of livestock, which you either start with or manually purchase, depending on the level. Each one produces a different type of resource: chickens lay eggs; pigs make meat (without dying, somehow); cows squirt milk; and ostriches drop feathers. You can sell these products by sending them to town on a truck, whose progress is displayed at the top-right corner of the screen. The more expensive the animal, the more valuable its product.
Selling eggs and raw meat for money brings in some scratch, but to really increase your earnings you’ll want to process products into more expensive goods. For each item type (eggs, milk, etc.) there is a corresponding building that turns it into a new item. You can sell these new items for profit, or process them into even more costly stuff – with the right building. Some goods even require things your farm doesn’t make – for instance, you need ice trays in order to turn steak into frozen meat. You can send off for things via airplane, ordering in quantities of one, five, or ten. It takes time for the plane to return and airdrop stuff into the field, but the payoff for making stuff that way is highly worthwhile.
On top of collecting and selling goods, players also need to manage storage space. Everything you collect takes up room in a storehouse, with larger and more valuable items generally taking up more space. It’s entirely possible to fill up the storehouse and have no room to collect the stuff buildings and animals are producing; anything that sits on the ground too long disappears. Selling things expediently is one remedy, but you’ll often want to invest in a larger storehouse.
Like the storehouse, most everything can be upgraded for a little (or a lot) of money. Upgraded trucks return from town faster and can carry more items at once. Improved wells allow more grass to be planted between refills. Upgrading buildings allows them to process more items at once, greatly expediting production. And if you need to make basic items like eggs faster, then buy more chickens. Deciding when and what to upgrade is generally a matter of personal preference, though some upgrades will be essential in reaching gold medal completion times.
Don’t feed the bears
Time limits aren’t the only thing players need to watch out for as they tend their farms. At any moment, one or more bears could drop down from the sky and start destroying whichever animals or products it touches. Bears come in several varieties, including vicious pandas. Why do bears attack the farm instead of wolves or wild cats, you ask? Because in Soviet Russia, bear attacks you! That’s my best guess, anyway.
To stop a bear, tap it furiously until it’s caged. From there you can either tap it again to move it to the storehouse or wait a while and it’ll disappear. Bears sell for decent money, but they take up a ton of room in the storehouse and truck, so it’s often important not to actually collect them after applying the cage. In the heat of the moment you might end up collecting the bear anyway and ruining your gold medal run on a level, which is annoying. Also aggravating: livestock doesn’t try to avoid the bears, and the bears even fall directly onto them sometimes, giving players no chance to save the brainless animal. Again, this usually forces a restart.
A few more issues stem from Farm Frenzy 2’s origin as a PC game. The final level takes about 30 minutes to complete, which is ridiculous for a mobile phone game. Similarly, the icons for upgrading buildings are tiny and difficult to tap accurately in the heat of the moment. I occasionally replaced an important building with one I didn’t need due to their icons being so scrunched together. A little optimization for mobile phones wouldn’t have hurt, but they’re not game-breaking issues.
One more thing: the game never informs players that animals are sellable. I struggled with some early levels because I didn’t know I could sell my excess critters for money. A web search solved the problem, but the tutorial text should have been better.
Farm Frenzy 2’s Achievements are mostly easy, but many of the descriptions make little sense and seem to be poorly translated. For instead, what does “For deliberation” tell the player? Is there a deliberate button? Of course not. Thankfully Isaaccummins’ excellent Achievement Guide makes sense of those vague objectives.
The most challenging Achievement will be Golden Goose, for earning a gold medal on every level. Some stage’s gold medal times leave virtually no room for error – I failed 5-7 minute levels by only one or two seconds on more than one occasion. Achievement hunters will want to use this gold medal guide in order to save a lot of headaches.
While farming may have lost its glamour in industrialized societies, it still provides a unique and solid foundation for a game. Farm Frenzy 2’s resource management is both challenging and entertaining as players rush to harvest some goods, create others, and make every trip to the market count. The bizarre art style and esoteric design decisions like the use of bears as antagonists are slightly off-putting, yet they eventually endear simply by virtue of being so different. Farm Frenzy 2’s 90 levels will likely take more than 10 hours to master, but because the objectives, resources, and time limits vary so much from level to level, it doesn’t get old before the end. Here’s hoping Alawar brings the remaining Farm Frenzy sequels like Viking Heroes to Windows Phone as well.
Farm Frenzy 2 costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Just watch out for bears on your way to the Marketplace.