More and more 2016 is becoming the year of the indie! I can’t say that I’m surprised by this, but I am certainly excited. From Firewatch to StardewValley, the first quarter of the year has been a gaming delight for both PC and console lovers.
Stardew Valley is special for a number of reasons. Not only does it bring back a sense of nostalgia for games like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, but it stands on its own as a solid country-life RPG. Simply put, Stardew Valley is calming and enjoyable in its quirky pixelated way.
In Stardew Valley, players restore a dilapidated family farm while exploring, fishing, mining, and wooing the locals. It is oddly addicting, but I am not sure I can adequately explain its appeal. The game sounds simple and yet I have enjoyed 15+ hours of play. I imagine that for many players the sense of nostalgia is strong. Another appeal is the level of customization and agency the game affords. You can woo male or female characters from a select pool regardless of your avatar’s gender. You can plant a number of crops within season and arrange the farm as you like. Technically, you could focus solely on farming and never step foot into the mine. Do you care about the locals and their stories or would you rather do your own thing? What starts out as a simple game turns into hours of relaxing play appealing to both young players and adults.
Stardew Valley is a slow-paced game in a market inundated with action and thriller-filled titles, yet it has sold more than half a million copies since its release a few weeks ago and has received attention from some of the biggest gaming names on Twitch and YouTube. It takes a familiar formula, adds some new elements, and demonstrates the power of good game design choices trumping a big budget. The developer of Stardew Valley, ConcernedApe, is manned by, well, one man, Eric Barone.
Despites its similarities to the Harvest Moon games, Barone has accomplished much with Stardew Valley. His characters feel like they actually have lived in the valley for years. He also added in a crafting system and combat! I would say that four years of work has paid off for this dedicated developer. It’s the kind of indie dev success story that makes me wish I had the talent to develop video games.
Alas, I will stick to giving Stardew Valley a “YES!” recommendation. Seriously, if you’re looking for a low-key gaming experience to consume a few or thirty hours, the valley welcomes you.