Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Monster Harvest is a farming simulator that combines elements of the typical simulator we all know and love with a turn-based monster fighting game. It appears to be a fantastic addition to the genre but ends up being extremely disappointing. Our review will cover everything from gameplay to combat to the graphics and UI.
Monster Harvest, the next great farming simulator game is out on Nintendo Switch and it isn’t great. We begin our journey like any farming sim. We are contacted by our estranged uncle who needs our help taking care of the neglected family farm. Of course, our character is accustomed to the big city lifestyle that has become dull and boring, so we take him up on the offer.
In Monster Harvest, the locations of the buildings are preset, unlike other games where there is customization. Right off the bat, this feels like a conscious choice to show the building options as well as the supplies required to upgrade. In games like Stardew Valley, players have to go to the upgrade vendor across town to find out what is needed. In that way, Monster Harvest is off to a good start. Players also discover that to the right of our house is a barn of sorts which houses your planimals.
In the beginning conversation, which is about 95% of the whole ‘story’ of the game, we learn that SlimeCo is the great evil (read: JoJo mart). Monstrous slimes are on the loose! It becomes apparent that this is a unique aspect of Monster Harvest. Your uncle, the mad scientist, has found a way to harvest the slime power to create what is known as ‘planimals’. At first, this seems like a refreshing and cool concept because players can grow all kinds of creatures from their crops, but soon it becomes lackluster.
Furthermore, the game would have a cool concept if it was executed well. See, crops are used for everything like profit generation, evolving planimals, and stamina replenishment. At the beginning of the game, making a profit is the best option before worrying about the other elements. And while this creates an interesting crop economy management situation, it is frustrating because there are short-term and long-term problems with its design. In the short term, players decide which crops will become planimals, which crops will be sold, and which crops will be reserved for food. The long-term issue is that players need to have a stash of crops for consumption. The reason is that there is no way to replenish stamina other than by sleeping and eating food. Normally this isn’t a problem, but it feels like the stamina bar isn’t large enough – a point I’ll get into a little later.
The townsfolk are rather bland and don’t have a new dialogue with every interaction. Yep. That’s right. The people have about as much substance as cardboard. Plus, pursuing relationships aren’t worthwhile as there is no reason to try. Yet for some reason players can gift the citizens items without being reciprocated with cool story beats or dialogue.
There is no passage of time in the game. Normally this isn’t a problem as it allows players to focus on farming, building, and exploring the dungeon, but it means that there’s little incentive to do much after clearing the farm of supplies. And about that dungeon, it is procedurally generated and only has five levels or rooms. It can only be entered at night time and only if you have a planimal.
And on that note, let’s talk about the combat in this game.
Combat in Monster Harvest is the most refreshing concept and also the most poorly executed. The first thing to note is that dungeon-delving can only be done at night time. It isn’t reliant on a player’s stamina nor abilities because the combat is done through a turn-based battle system. You fight the monsters with your planimals, which is great, but they only have a total of three abilities. What’s even worse is that none of those abilities include a heal. And to tack onto that idea, there isn’t even ‘planimal food’ to heal them. The only ways to heal are by sleeping (which also heals the planimals) or when the planimals level up.
But the disappointing part of the combat doesn’t only boil down to those aspects. The real killer is that even though there are only five procedurally generated rooms in the dungeon, if your planimal fights more than one creature in a row, they will likely die. If the planimal dies, then players need to use another one, which likely starts at level one – so you lose all the progress you’ve made. This is more disappointing because there is no option to retreat from a combat scenario and you cannot heal the planimals between fights either!
If those factors weren’t enough to convince players that the combat is terrible, then I have one final point to make about the combat system. Players can house several different types of planimals on their farm, but they can only use the primary one in the dungeon. The other planimals don’t matter and this leaves players with the sense that the combat isn’t really important. And considering players only start with one damage ability, this combat system is likely the worst that I’ve encountered in this style of game.
Graphics and UI
For all the mudslinging I’ve done thus far, the graphics aren’t that bad. I like the aesthetics created by the pixelated design. There are certain aspects of the graphics that are quite cool, including the fact that the male and female character models are a little more refined than some of the other farming simulators out there. That said, while I like the graphics overall, it was hard to tell when the crops were ready to be harvested.
My biggest gripe about Monster Harvest is the terrible UI design, especially considering that this is a Nintendo Switch game. In each menu, there are multiple tabs that provide useful information, but somehow this showcases how unintuitive the UI is. Plus, there is no explanation about the control scheme nor the different concepts in the game. While I know that many compare Monster Harvest to Stardew Valley, in the latter game I can use a controller without issue. Part of the reason is due to the simplistic UI and design. In Monster Harvest it is not. Plus, if you combine the Joy-Con™ drift issue into the equation, this game is challenging to play no matter what your expectations are.
And since we are talking about different aspects of the UI, I can honestly say that this game should not have launched to the Nintendo Switch without a better text font or menu options. I played on a TV and I had a hard time reading the text. I can’t even imagine what that would look like in handheld mode. There aren’t even options to alter the UI size either, which doesn’t help provide accessibility to players.
Pros and Cons
With the combat issues, bland characters, terrible UI, small text, and lack of story, I had hoped that something about Monster Harvest was well executed. But, the more I played, the less I liked. In the end, all of these issues became the final nails in the coffin. However, I do have a list of pros and cons for players that are on the fence.
- The game has a nice music loop. It’s soothing, if not repetitive.
- Monster Harvest as an interesting mix of game genres.
- The core game concept is cool. Not only do players use crops to generate profit, but adding slime to the crops turns them into planimals. They can regain stamina by eating crops.
- Planimals fight for you, meaning you don’t have to worry about stat upgrades, gear, or losing equipment like an RPG.
- Players might be happy with the fact that there is no time limit to tasks. The clock is mostly for show because the time passage doesn’t occur until players go to bed.
- Players regain stamina by sleeping or consuming their crops.
- Monster Harvest is a relaxing experience. There is little penalty for losing a planimal.
- Cute title suitable for all ages.
- Inexpensive title to purchase.
- There is no map.
- The game has no rebinding of keys option or UI customization.
- There is no tutorial or full story. In fact most of what you need to know is said at the very beginning. Since the game has no progression, it is uninspiring at best.
- It’s not readily apparent when crops are done their growth cycle.
- It’s very hard to read the text, especially on the Switch. This is partly due to the text size but also due to the font choice.
- Monster Harvest doesn’t have a clear indicator that there are options to buy individual items. I accidentally bought too much product because there is no tutorial or explanation.
- There is no option to sell at the general store! Players are only able to purchase products there.
- During combat, there is no option to retreat! Considering how difficult it is to heal, this concept is a key addition.
- Players cannot heal their planimals in between combat sections except by way of leveling up or sleeping.
- The stamina total is quite low for an infinite daytime cycle or the regeneration of stamina is too low. Players don’t get a lot of bang for their buck. Why bother having an infinite day cycle if there isn’t anything to do?
Overall the idea of Monster Harvest was a great idea, but sadly lacks many elements that make the genre fun. Players are accustomed to building relationships with the townsfolk through gifting, which is an element in the game but there’s no real progression with it. Monster Harvest also lacks the freedom of placing buildings on their farm. Each building has pre-designated locations. And while I love the idea of growing your own fighting pets, Monster Harvest requires a lot more substance to be rated higher than I’m giving it in this review.
If Monster Harvest had invested some more time in any of the major aspects of the game, like the combat system, the relationships, or the story loop, the other issues might have been forgiven. Since I found myself bored with the gameplay and confused about my purpose in Monster Harvest, I can’t rate the game any higher than a 6 out of 10. There are too many missing elements for this game to really stand up to the other farming simulators on the market.Score: 6 / 10