“I can’t wait to get back to the ranch and go back to easy living.”
“The following is a guest post by The Sincere Scholar Mage.”
In January of 2016, a little game was released onto Steam Early Access. Like exceptional indie games before it, it gained a lot of attention for a few days before slowly disappearing down the list of best sellers. Slime Rancher, developed by Monomi Park, gained a lot of attention early on for a couple of different reasons. It was cute, unique and most importantly fun to play. Tasked with running a ranch for Slimes, your goal is to gather them, raise them and harvest the “plorts” they pop out when you feed them. On August 1st of 2017, the game released out of Early Access and I had a chance to go back and see what exactly had changed. A lot as it turns out.
Beatrix Lebeau, a young girl and the player character, has traveled a thousand light years from Earth to the Far, Far Range to sate her wanderlust and try her hand at becoming a Slime Rancher. Armed with a small round hut to live in, a marketplace to sell her wares and a piece of equipment known as the Vac-Gun she is taking the place of another Rancher who has seemingly given up the life to do something else. Not much in the starting area seems to have changed.
Small square plots of dirt litter the ground around the canyon that is now your home. An electronic console sits at the corner of each and interacting with them gives you various options for what you can build on them. Corrals to hold Slimes is of course there, but so are farmlands, ponds and coops for raising chickens. To the left and right, paths lead to different areas you can unlock, affording you more plots and different resources. But unlocking them costs money. Better get to ranching.
As the tutorial rolls it teaches you the basics of Ranching. Different Slimes have different needs. Pink Slimes are docile, not needing much more than some walls and food. Blue Slimes like to roll around and hit you with the spikes on their head, and keeping your distance is a good idea. Tabby Slimes, little grey balls with cat ears and a tail, are rambunctious and like to jump around. You’ll need higher walls to hold them in. On top of all of that each slime eats a different diet, some being vegetarians, others preferring meat and some subsisting solely on fruit. Then you get into combining Slimes to get different combinations, needing to cater to some that don’t like direct sunlight and the game shows the kind of depth its hiding behind its cute exterior. And it is cute.
Slimes all have faces, and they seem designed to be as charming as possible. They smile when they are fed and happy and look tired and drool when they are hungry. It’s an effective way to know how well you’re doing; a well fed slime means profit for you.
To the side of your house is the Plort Marketplace. When you feed a slime it will gobble up the food you send it, smile, bounce a few times and then pop out what the game calls “plorts”. Little diamond shaped crystals, these are what the game is all about. The marketplace shows what each plort from each slime is worth that day and it changes daily. A honey plort may be worth 30 Newbucks, the currency of the game, one day and only worth 28 the next. Though I’ve never felt that playing the market was too essential to progress, it adds a little something extra for all the min-maxers out there.
The valuable plorts come from Slimes that take more effort to get to though, and for that you need to head out into the world. Slime Rancher’s map is large and expansive. Though teleporters and gadgets like the jetpack make it easier to get around later on, at the beginning you are reduced to running everywhere. Multiple paths offer shortcuts and hidden secrets and a map gives you a general sense of where you are going, but the game doesn’t hold your hand here.
Multiple zones with different biomes and different Slimes offer you numerous places to go, and finding the time before the sun sets to visit all the ones you want to quickly becomes a limiting factor. Do you take time to harvest more plorts, make sure you have enough farmed food to feed them? Or do you go out and explore for new areas and new Slimes? It’s a nice way to slowly introduce people to the map; you can only go so far before you need to head back, but it does soon feel restrictive. Planning out your day becomes imperative, and the work becomes more frantic and meticulous.
That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. Where similar farming simulation games like Stardew Valley offer you things just to kill the time as you wait for crops, most stuff in Slime Rancher is instantaneous. Upgrades you build on farm plots or corrals build as soon as you pay for them, Slimes pop out plorts as soon as they eat and there are even upgrades that do the feeding and collecting for you.
Instead of the slow approach, Slime Rancher goes for frantic. There’s a ton of stuff to do and not enough time to do it. You want to make money, but need to hold some in reserve for different plots, different areas and upgrades to your equipment. A console near the exit of your ranch has a trade machine where other ranchers ask for items and offer rewards in return. A lab you can unlock offers up machines to drill for resources, collect from insects and blueprints to build special gadgets and machines. It’s overwhelming, but in the best of ways.
The downfall of these types of games is that you often see everything it is that they have to offer. In Stardew Valley you’ll have seen most of the game’s map just by playing through an in-game year. Slime Rancher slows this down by gating things with money and keys. Large stone doors block off the new areas of the map and getting through them requires something known as a Slime key.
The only way to go about getting one of these is to find special overly-large Slimes in the world called Gordos and feeding them until they pop. Each Gordo wants a different food and providing them with enough will cause them to pop, showering you with crates filled with money and special foods and sometimes giving you a key to unlock the next area. The fear that I’ve reached near the end of game play for Slime Rancher has been at the back of my mind since I started the game, but the slow drip of features that you didn’t know existed keeps it fresh.
Along with needing to explore for new areas is the Slime Tech. The lab near the back of your ranch has machines for collecting resources, selling blueprints and building machines. Drills, Pumps, Apiaries, Teleporters and extra Marketplace interfaces are only some of the things you can build. It’s a game inside a game. You’ll need pumps, apiaries and drills to collect resources to build the other machines, but to build those you need plorts from your slimes. Suddenly you prioritize between making money and expanding or pursuing the Slime Tech.
At the core of game play though is your main tool in the game. The Vac-Gun is a piece of technology that allows you to suck up and carry everything but the largest of slimes. Right click will shoot out a stream of air to vacuum up anything you are looking at and left clicking shoots them out dramatically in the same fashion. A quick bar accessed by your numpad or the scroll wheel on your mouse represents the different tanks your gun is carrying.
Going out to capture new slimes is made easy, carrying food back and forth between your farm and pens becomes a breeze. The only limiting factor is, well, the limit on how much you can carry. Luckily the game offers upgrades to that as well, meaning you can venture further and pick up more as you go about your business. As a vacuum it feels responsive and powerful and as a gun it’s very fun to shoot things and see how far you can get them. Doing trick shots towards the marketplace has become a fun way to pass the time in an otherwise mundane task.
Demanding and frantic yet casual and easygoing is the best way to describe Slime Rancher in a nutshell. To be the best you have to try the hardest, but the game doesn’t force you to. Layered on top of everything else is a thin yet comfortable story you can pursue on your own time. Beatrix (your character) left behind people who cared about her, and they now communicate via email. Your hut offers you a few different options, one being to read the messages that appear during the day. Some ranchers message you to welcome you to the range, someone back home reminisces about your past days on Earth. Outside small glowing icons litter the different areas, messages from the former owner of this ranch that talk about his past, wax poetic about our place in the universe and discuss what his life was like and why he felt the urge to suddenly leave.
It’s a cozy way to add some character and story to a game that doesn’t need to be burdened down by logic or a heavy story. These are the people you knew, the people you know and someone else that left messages to try and help you stumble your way around the world. Beatrix may be alone out here, but it never really feels like it. Monomi Park has gone to great pains to craft a comfortable atmosphere around their cute, cuddly game and it shows. With inventive game play, enjoyable sights and sounds and plenty of areas to explore and run around in, Slime Rancher is yet another in a long line of farming simulators that can easily suck up way too many hours of your time.
The 8-bit Review
Slime Rancher is bright and colorful and that charm oozes from every part of the game world. Slimes come in different sizes and colors, and combining them gives you a different look depending on what two you put together. Each area is different from the last, offering lush greens, dark blues and everything else in between. The only complaint I can come up with is the red dirt of the starting canyon begins to look a little plain against the different areas you come across, but that’s not much worth mentioning.
Calming beats, happy noises from Slimes. Satisfying plops and pings. Every noise in this game seems to be designed to make you feel comfortable and calm, and it works. With so many things demanding your time it would be easy to think you’d feel a little bit of stress, rushing to get everything you want done before the day ends. Instead, every day feels like a chance to chip away at your work list, to do a little more and see something new. Encouraging and stress relieving noises and music make the game a joy to play rather than a chore.
Moving around the game is fun and easy, but a stamina meter in the bottom left corner of the screen exists solely to ruin my fun. Add to the fact that the jetpack also runs off of this meter, and you can quickly run out of energy and have to stop and wait for it to recharge. Luckily for the game the rest of the mechanics more than make up for this. Using the Vac-Gun is a joy, building and unlocking pens, technology and upgrades is satisfying.
Performance is also very solid. FPS stayed a constant 60fps throughout all my gameplay and no stuttering or slowdown ever occurred on my machine. Though I have a moderately powerful PC, the game’s graphics are tame enough to run on just about anything, reflected in the store page system requirements. Windows XP, a dual core processor and 4GB of RAM are all that’s needed at its minimum, along with only 512MB of virtual RAM on your graphics card. The game itself only requires 1GB of download space. Basically, if you own a computer made after 2002 you should be more than able to run this game.
Family Friendliness: 10/10
There are complex systems in the game to give you more should you get bored of the base gameplay, but none are inherently difficult to understand or figure out and each new system comes with a tutorial with step by step instructions showing you how to do it. The base gameplay is simple and fun, the Slimes are colorful and cute and kids and adults alike can lose time playing this simple, charming game. While some games struggle to find that even middle ground, Slime Rancher excels at it, offering complex but simple mechanics while holding your hand through the most confusing parts.
The only reason to bring this down a bit is the complex systems in the game. While they aren’t required to progress, they make things much simpler and the fear is that it will get lost on some people who aren’t paying much attention. That aside though, nothing in the base game is difficult to understand or get a good grasp on. Every upgrade for a plot is explained in detail what exactly it does, there is a rich encyclopedia explaining every item you encounter and a small tooltip pops up every time you find something new, giving you a little bit of information about that item to send you on your way. If you barely pay any attention at all to the game you’ll still be in a good spot.
This may be the cynic in me, but I know how these games generally end. There’s only so much you can do and show in a farming game before you have seen it all. More than 20 hours in now, I have not hit that wall for Slime Rancher. Yet. But the fear that it is coming ever rises. It may be par for the course in these types of games, but when that time comes it will be a shame nonetheless.
If another game has come along to tackle the farming simulator this way, I’m not aware of it. Monomi Park took a well established formula and changed it to fit their vision. Veterans of farming games will feel at home, and the addictive feeling of other games in this line will suck in people like me who are very prone to it. Adding Slimes to the mix and changing the way the economy, building and exploration work make everything feel new though.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Slime Rancher was a game that showed a lot of promise when I first played it in Early Access and the stuff they’ve added only makes me love it even more. Inventive game play and technology, cute Slimes and different combinations to make out of them. Exploring is fun and satisfying, ranching gives you a sense of accomplishment and striking a balance between building up your Ranch and splurging on fancy new upgrades makes you feel like you are really accomplishing something. At only $19.99 the game is a steal compared to similar indie darlings, and well worth every penny.
Aggregated Score: 8.2
The Sincere Scholar Mage is an aspiring writer that is Majoring in Professional writing at Michigan State University. When he is not on Twitter, he spends his time playing and writing about video games at Support Role and getting emotionally attached to little digital people.
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