Afterpatch Review: Monster Harvest
Developer: Maple Powered Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4|5, Xbox One, and PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
THE PLANT LIFE! - Introduction
I was planning on covering Monster Harvest sooner than I am. What ultimately ended up prolonging that wait were the issues reported by other publications. I was faced with a decision. Either I could rip the title to shreds or anticipate future patches that showcase the true vision from Maple Powered Games. Sadly, I’ve overestimated my ability for time management, and as a result, it got buried in my backlog. Well, the time to be unleashed is upon us. Updates have rolled out, and I’m eager to see what’s been addressed. The ideas implemented here have me genuinely excited. Everything sounds interesting, especially the fusion aspect. Creating odd hybrid amalgamations has me buzzing. Hell, as a kid, I had an unhealthy obsession with that very concept. The question I aim to answer today is if the fixes were salvation or detrimental to the experience.
ABSENTEE CHARISMA! - Writing
We humans are naturally creatures of habit and thrive off having a routine. Slice-of-life romps aim to mimic that notion, and, arguably, it’s the very reason that this genre resonates. They effortlessly warp the player into their world, allowing them to lose themselves. We get introduced to a variety of characters, sometimes to an empathetic degree. Monster Harvest takes that crucial ingredient and fumbles, dropping the ball altogether. From my roughly 15 hours of gameplay, I have to say that a glaring misstep is the NPCs. There’s no rhyme or reason for their presence in the town. No one feels substantial or alive. Their personalities are bland, and the dialogue is a disappointment. It’s tough to articulate, but it lacks soul. Sure, romance options exist, but I couldn’t care less to try anything because they’re all empty husks. Instead of feeling believable, the NPCs just exist.
LACKING BULK! - Writing
Conveyance can easily jeopardize a farm simulator or video game in general. Like, if mission objectives are poorly explained, it leads to bewilderment. I end up not sure of my next move. Monster Harvest, while having this faux pas, isn’t atrocious. That doesn’t necessarily negate the fact that it fails to manifest a cohesive plot. It’s a mess of individual ideas that just don’t slot into each other. Hell, after I’ve conquered the one and only dungeon, the journey abruptly ends. I hit a brick wall. Granted, a cutscene does occur, but the substance isn’t there. It depicts an evil organization but goes nowhere afterward. Sure, I give kudos for trying to tell a story, but the disjointed nature shackles it down. Weirdly, it does appropriately layout ideal gifts to swoon a lover, but nowhere else. The biggest sin, though, is being neither cozy nor wholesome.
I CHALLENGE YOU! - Gameplay
What perks my ears is the unexpected inspiration from Pokémon. See, after creating what Monster Harvest dubs Plantimals, you can utilize them in combat. The system itself is barebones and as simplistic as it gets. It’s turn-based, too. Now, I won’t lie; I was ready to lambast what I thought was lousy balance. When an adversary strikes me, even if I’m levels above, their damage output stays potent. With no healing items to speak of, that proves troublesome, mainly because the sheer force of their attacks overcomes any restoration.
Simply put, death is prevalent, no matter what I did to try and prevent it. What stops me from freeing hell is how crucial that is to the loop - you see, this here is a Roguelite. Being defeated means powering up each of your future Plantimals. It sounds compelling, but then the execution flounders.
Without exaggeration, it’s boring. With no strategy to entice you, it quickly devolves into mindless button-mashing. I assumed perhaps weaknesses would play a role, but nope, they don’t. Typing is a figment - a sheer illusion. Deviating from an average strike with one that has a perceived element does equal numbers. There’s no running away either. What’s particularly baffling to me is the inclusion of leveling. It’s nigh impossible to achieve. The experience points distributed are merely drops in the bucket. I’m convinced that this mechanic exists purely for aesthetics and not functionality. In a humorous turn of events, the enemy encounters aren’t random. It’s ironic given how terribly everything gels and feels haphazardly melded together. Because foes wander freely in the world, it’s no trouble avoiding a confrontation, and you bet your booty I frequently did that. Nothing about this mechanic is exciting or fun to me.
MIXING SLIME! - Gameplay
Monsters aren’t the only thing you’ll cross, although, by comparison, slimes are docile. None are looking to slaughter. They don’t pose a threat. Their existence is to act as the lifeblood of Plantimals. Periodically, you may find one of three colour variations on your journey - red, green, or blue. Each has a unique effect once fused with a crop. For instance, the former helps concoct a creature to use in fights, while the latter births livestock. What gets my jimmies aroused is the engagement of it. Every vegetable is closely linked to a Plantimal - to keep track of that information, there’s a nifty in-game list, and you know, it oddly ensnared me. It gave me a goal, appealing to my completionist whims. The problem is that it wasn’t as fleshed out as I hoped. In fact, within minutes, I’d exhaust all of the possibilities, leaving me goalless.
A SLIGHT SNAFU! - Gameplay
Improving your farm and enhancing the properties of your buildings are integral to the genre. This feature is also why I believe Monster Harvest requires more thought. See, as I walked on, I’d sometimes find materials used to reinforce my house, barn, and so on. A common perk of doing so bestows the automation of chores. It sounds pretty dandy because it is, especially once I’d begin tending the livestock. If I’m lucky, I will acquire special items that can be sold for a profit. If, however, I was hungry for cash, I could take all the knick-knacks they’d produce and toss them into a refiner. Here’s where the game contradicts itself. See, once I grab the ability to auto-collect, those same machines become redundant. Any products made from now on are immediately thrown into the shipping box without a chance to intercept them.
BLANK STARES! - Performance/Presentation
Perhaps this is a controversial statement, but I’d debate the importance of charm to this genre. All slice-of-life romps strive to capture the player’s imagination and immerse them into the universe. That said, it’s an utter shame Monster Harvest is devoid of charisma. Still, I did enjoy the minimalistic graphic fidelity. However, that comes with disadvantages - chief among them is, again, those pesky NPCs. They aren’t expressive, and while character portraits try to compensate with very animated faces, it still manages to crash and burn. The box they’re in is tiny. Unless you come equipped with perfect eyesight, I had to strain to discern the emotion. The setting doesn’t fare better, sporting a ridiculously drab atmosphere with zero vibrancy. Hey, at least it’s cool seeing sprites taking visual breaths. At the end of the day, everyone feels lifeless - their beady little eyes having a cold stare.
I’m afraid the stream of bad news continues flowing. Despite the desire to await updates, notable bugs persist. For one, buttons are 50/50 when it comes to responsiveness. One incident occurs on the inventory screen. As I’d move around, the ridicule would refuse to go in specific directions. It got inexplicably stuck on me. Yes, there’s a workaround to have it acknowledge your input, but it’s Goddamn specific. Having to take extra steps to use a feature that’s frequently called on is egregious - to add more salt to the wound, there are occasions that, after death, I was frozen in place. The biggest annoyance comes when placing fences. Once approached, the character instinctively jumps over it. Regrettably, this action, depending on its position, soft locks the game. Thankfully, Monster Harvest compulsively auto-saves, minimizing the progress lost due to hiccups.
AND THE HARVESTING VERDICT IS…
Monster Harvest is a very ambitious project that folds under the weight itself. Sure, there are slight flashes of fleshed-out features that catch my gaze but never to a satisfactory degree. It’s unfortunate, too, because the concepts have the potential to be a delight. Combining slimes with crops is one thing I wish was explored far more than it is. It’s evident that passion went into the development. Maple Powered Games desired to give us a stand-out adventure. It’s just, well, this game is a prime example of a step forward and three back. The ambiance is superb. It nicely replicates the sounds of nightfall. The biggest drawback, though, is, without a doubt, the outrageous reward for finishing the title. I yearned so badly to love because I saw the potential, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing but a slog to play through.
In a crowded genre full of juggernauts, I firmly believe you’re better off playing something else.
Special thanks to Evolve PR for providing the code used for this coverage on behalf of Merge Inc.