Some little boys want to reach the stars; others want to become stars themselves. Then there's the small section of the child populace who want nothing more than to farm. Yes, farm. Harvest Moon has been allowing these odd chaps to live out their dreams - in video game form - for nigh on 10 years. Instead of making its debut on Nintendo's plucky handheld an innovative, clever enhancement, it's just another doling of the daily chores.
The familiar orphaned boy on a familiar dilapidated family farm returns. He must save the harvest goddess the only way he knows how: grab a hoe and get to work. And we're not talking in the GTA sense. Fans of the series know how addictive tedious chores can be. The activities you can do in your 15-minute "day" are more about repetition and routine than reflex. Satisfaction comes from the fruits of your labor: the pride of watching your herd growing or your crops flourishing. It's a sense of accomplishment that's rare in video games, far surpassing the fleeting joy of passing a level.
On the DS, Harvest Moon's gameplay philosophy hasn't changed. In fact, it's too similar. The stylus and touch screen don't come into play much when planting crops or raising animals. Why not hand-feed baby chicks or pluck apples off a tree? Instead, control still depends on pushing buttons, and the DS' features are relegated to menus and fast-equipping tools - which aren't without value, but prove disappointing. It doesn't even utilize the stylus in obvious ways, like fast-forwarding the boring dialog.
In some respects, Harvest Moon DS flounders. Two things prevent the village vibe from succeeding: characters just aren't likeable or charismatic, and the buy-by-phone item approach eliminates a real need to hit up town. One DS improvement, however, is that each of the missing harvest sprites is found through completing a mystery task. This encourages you to branch out from your comfort zone and really investigate what the game has to offer.
A not-so-welcome surprise is the game's production values. These are some of the ugliest visuals seen on the DS to date, and are just a hair sharper than the three-year-old Friends of Mineral Town for GBA -- making the visual bar this game sets low enough for an earthworm to crawl over. After all, the DS has shown its capability to produce gorgeous 3D graphics. The music is lukewarm at best, hopping between elevator-esque fare or belonging on a Gummi Bear carousel.
It takes advantage of the platform's technology like a laptop bought for Windows solitaire, but Harvest Moon DS still manages to be a decent game. If players focus on what it is rather than what it could have been, there's a good chance you'll be entertained. That's easier said than done, though, and the lack of innovation may even cause current series fans to refuse to send their old version to the glue factory. But, if cutesy farming RPG makes you raise an inquisitive eyebrow rather than gag, Harvest Moon DS may be worth cultivating.