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DS  header logo

Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness

For: DS

Farm hand(held)

Product: Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness | Developer: Natsume | Publisher: Rising Star Games Limited | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure, Strategy | Players: 1 | Version: US
Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness DS, thumbnail 1

Life, it has often been observed, is not fair. If it were, lawyers wouldn't exist and then where would we all be? The particular unfairness in question here though is that Harvest Moon DS is the best-selling game in the series, by a country mile, and yet is also – by an equally inexact measurement, some will say – the worst.

Unfortunately it's the only one of the more-than-a-decade-old series that ever got any advertising so that's the one people bought, despite the fact that it was a not-at-all-disguised retread of Friends of Mineral Town on the Game Boy Advance. If you must know.

Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness though is a proper DS game, designed for the console from the ground up.

There's still a catch, however, and that's that the aforementioned design process all took place in Japan circa 2006 and before the game has even been released here (this review is based on a US import) there's already been another two portable sequels and three spin-offs.

But if you pretend you didn't know that the improvements over the 'last' game are more than enough for Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness's country charm to overcome. That charm, if you hadn't already guessed, involves running your own virtual farm. For most people at least this is far more entertaining than it sounds, not least because the game is set in a twee imaginary world of yesteryear and the subjects of foot and mouth, intensive farming methods and shooting burglars in the back with a shotgun never come into it.

As ever you start the game as the owners of a derelict farm, the excuse this time being that you've ended up shipwrecked after journeying out to start a new life. Luckily for you, you wash up on the Island of Happiness and not the nearby islands of Death, Despair or Cannibal Natives. Within minutes of arriving you've taken over an abandoned ranch and set about turning it into a Hugh Feathery-Wibblybottom (or whatever his name is) beater.

All of the above, and indeed much of the below, is common to all Harvest Moons, with the game having no more specific a goal than getting rich off the fat of the land and tying the knot with a willing farm gal or guy (Island of Happiness's not being terribly modern about relationships – you choose to be a boy or a girl at the start of the game).

The series' open-ended goals and non-violent gameplay were always well ahead of their time, but Harvest Moon has never quite grappled successfully with the problem of repetitiveness. Sowing some seeds and keeping them watered all seems terribly productive and rewarding the first few times, until you realise you have to keep doing the same old thing year in, year out in order to be able to afford a slightly better hoe.

Another evergreen problem is that it takes so long to actually do anything useful at the beginning of the game. Although you can eventually get better tools and automate some jobs, at the start you'll be fainting from overwork after just a minute or two of planting seeds and moving small logs, as if your farmer has got a bad case of narcolepsy.

Stick with it though and gradually more and more of the island opens up to you, more people move in and you're able to branch out with new crops, as well as owning cows, chickens, horses and a pet dog (as ever the local butcher never manages to get his hooks into your business – so there's no pigs or meat farming).

You can also increase the size and salubriousness of your farmhouse, go mining for gems in the nearby mountain, enter a vegetable growing contest, enjoy a spot of fishing for fun and profit or learn to cook. Or you can concentrate your efforts on wooing your bride/groom-to-be and maybe rearing some kids (despite the fact that you seem to be barely out of primary school yourself).

The only problem specific to this version of the game is the generally dour presentation and graphics and the unsatisfying touchscreen controls. This is where the game shows its true age, with the stylus control never feeling anywhere near as slick or accurate as Animal Crossing or Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Every menu option or action seems to take just that extra stab of the stylus too many and your first few hours will be spent constantly selecting the wrong things by accident.

Most of the subsequent hours though will be spent enjoying what could easily be considered as the original non-game. You won't be getting any motion sickness from the intense action here, but if you want a relaxing, laid back time waster you'll find this is the video game equivalent of a gentle country stroll.

Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness
Reviewer photo
Roger Hargreaves | 20 November 2008
A considerable improvement on the first DS iteration, but still not the definitive Harvest Moon
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