by Staff Writer
March 1, 2010
OverviewAstro Ranch is a brand new game that is based upon popular games, but unique for the App Store. It’s basically a mash up of Farmville and Animal Crossing mixed with a space theme. You play as either max or sindy, and have crashed on a foreign planet. You meet the mayor of the town when you first begin, and he tells you what to do to survive on the planet. From there you begin your farm starting by digging up land and planting some crops. Your actions then lead to experience points which increase your rank, and opens up more items to purchase to build your farm.
FeaturesAs you progress through Astro ranch there will be ten different crops to purchase, and five animal types. The crops taking varying lengths to grow, and are worth different amounts. The animals grow at relatively the same rate, and are of two different values either to harvest for eggs, wool, and milk, or to sell the animals themselves. All of the selling prices vary every single day like a stock market system. There is a store to buy everything including seeds, animals, animal feed, bug spray, animal medicine, and tools. The entire control interface revolves around tapping, You tap where you want your character to move, and drag to continue walking. All other action revolves around having an inventory, tapping on your bag to bring it up, and then dragging the selected item on to the screen to perform the action. Online social features are provided by scoreloop which leads to high scores for ranch value as well as a store front for in app purchases. Regarding in-app purchases none of the items are essential to play the game, but rather are mostly decorative including clothing, and items to improve your house.
The GoodThe main game revolves around ranching from growing crops to raising animals. The best part if building your rank to buy new types of seeds, and plant the best ones for the time of the year. The same is true for animals, as it’s always fun unlocking a new animal, and build a stable for it, and raise it immediately to see how it turns out. On top of that the animals allow for eggs, wool, and milk to give you added tasks to do, and more money to make. The ranching is a fun distraction, but there’s other things to do besides ranching. You can also fish after you buy the rod, and there are many types of fish to collect all worth different amounts, and all stored in a scapbook. You can pan for gold as well which is just a little shaking mini-game. The game isn’t as deluxe as the games it’s based upon, but that is a good thing for the mobile platform. It’s nice to check in for a few minutes every day planting some vegetables, harvesting others, feeding your animals, and harvesting them too. The space theme is a very nice addition to help the game stand out. It’s a joy to see a spicken (space chicken) or corot (space carrot). With the space theme it also allows for creative characters, and overall just a very colorful, and unique environment. The 3D cartoon environments are definitely well done, and an achievement for the iPhone. Everything is designed well, and Tag Games has created a whole new world inside your pocket. The design of the animals is simply outrageous, and is so great because of it. The included soundtrack varies nicely, and is really pleasant in the background as you go about your tasks. You also hear the sounds of your farm animals which are amusing, and further bring you into their world. The game semi saves on exit, but you really need to manually save for it to pick up right where you left off. There is the possibility for nearly infinite replayability to continue to build your astro ranch. On top of that you can also gain the online achievements and compete for a high score. A really nice addition is that there are weather effects to allow for some days to rain, and the seasons to change which impacts the growing seasons.
The BadThe game feels more like a chore than anything else. Why do we need virtual chores when we have so many real ones already. This is true for most of the simulation genre in the App store too. The game is definitely way more Farmville than Animal Crossing, and that’s a disappointment. No offense to Farmville, but having played both, Animal Crossing is far superior, and an experience unlike any other. We are still waiting on an Animal Crossing type game for the iPhone. A few alien characters are included with only a couple having you do any tasks for them. Most of the game though is just farming related, and as you progress the space theme wears off, and it’s just growing crops, and animals that never change. All of the customization that could really make the game great is via in-app purchases rather than items you can pick up be exploring the landscape. The control method is a little bit convoluted so it seems that there are just too many taps to do anything. Also everything except the time moves slowly whether it’s the character walking between the store, and your ranch or performing any action. To plant, water, feed, sell, or pretty much any action in the game is slow paced requiring multiple taps which become rather frustrating, and fit more to the chore mentality.
The VerdictAstro Ranch is an engaging experience like no other yet on the iPhone, and consequently one of the best simulation games so far. If you’re a fan of Farmville then this is definitely a good pick up, but it doesn’t seem to have mass appeal, and is even disappointing for Animal Crossing fans. The game design is great, and the system is set up to have nearly infinite replayability. For $2.99 it’s worth it, but it’s a little too simplistic in terms of tasks to be rated any higher.
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