If Stardew Valley is the equivalent to Harvest Moon, then Slime Rancher is definitely the equivalent to Viva Pinata.
I know that sounds a little weird. Obviously there are some big key differences, but I felt the same spirit in Slime Rancher that I did all those years ago playing away on my 360 with Pinata.
Slime Rancher is a game that evolves with you as you progress. It’s more than just about a ranch, it’s about exploration and creating a fun pleasant environment for you to explore.
While playing the current Early Access version of Slime Rancher, I felt the game had three major phases. These phases represented my progress and drastically altered the way I played the game at key intervals.
Phase one is the discovery phase.
By far the easiest phase to explain, where everything is new and everything is fantastical. Slime Rancher is a game that no matter how stone cold of a heart you have, its going to make you smile. The first time you see a bouncing pink slime with a huge smile on its face, you are going to laugh. Then suddenly a slime appears from out the bushes with adorable kitty ears and you repeat this process just about every time you discover something new. This is a light-hearted game first and foremost.
Despite the game being called Slime Rancher, the ranching part of it is just one part of the game. The game is really about exploring/discovering and running about the huge and varied environments of the world. All of which are so wonderful in color and design that I found myself just relaxing and enjoying the sights. Every area was a new wonderful addition with its own themes and slimes. From the deep forests, mountainous spires, to the dark caves, all of them give off a wonderful sense of adventure. “What lies beyond that next corner?” That sort of feeling.
While there is a minor tutorial, it’s really not that hard to understand the basic concepts of what you need to do. Upgrade your ranch, gather the best plorts for cash, which is gained from feeding slimes, and find slime keys. Slime keys are attained by feeding giant fat slimes their favorite food or anything that fits their diet.
The Slimepedia, which is a built in guide in the game, really does a fantastic job of spelling out what does what, and that is a life saver. Phase one while amazing and fun is rather a short phase as you quickly discover how to maximize profits and master your ranching skills.
Plorts are sold to the market for money, which allows you to buy personal upgrades/ranch upgrades. Including ranch expansions and the science center. (More on that in phase three) Essentially, everything you are doing for money is for the sake of discovering something new or fun.
Which leads to phase two, expansion!
Slimes can be combined to make a new types slimes for some rather hilarious moments in the game, they also make you a ton of cash. These combined slimes have the traits of their parent slimes. A radioactive exploding slime is as dangerous as it sounds. On the cute end, a moth slime combined with a honey slime is just dang adorable, and what I dubbed a Bee Slime. This combining of slimes is key to reaching phase three.
So you’ve found the best combinations and now its time for production. You need the food to do things right and get the most out of your slimes. This particular phase is what reminded me most of Viva Pinata. On the ranch you can grow many different types of food for the ferociously hungry slimes. Whether that be vegetables, fruit or chickens. Give ’em their favorite snack and you are rewarded with double the output. Sounds good right? It’s tricky and takes good planning.
Rancher beware though if for some reason your combined slimes get mixed up. Then you have a serious problem on your hands. Slimes are stupid, they are tricky and are constantly trying to escape. Enter The Tarr, evil slimes that want to turn everything around them into more Tarr. (Evil pinata) They are a blight on a ranch and are also seen occasionally in the wild. They can quickly turn your finely crafted slimes into one of them and spread like a plague. Water destroys The Tarr rather quickly but leaves nothing behind except a shiny explosion.
Thankfully its rather easy to not mix up your eggs. Just don’t get greedy and everything will be fine, usually. The Tarr are a constant looming threat, but again, the game is more about being able to relax and have fun, than it is about MLG no scoping black mud monsters. So don’t expect a huge threat, basically. Once you unlock all the areas, which takes quite a while, maximize your ranch, find every kind of slime, grow every fruit/vegetable and have a huge sprawling hospitable environment for all slimes. You are ready for phase three, Science!
You can’t see but I am wiggling my fingers in the air right now. The most recently added science/crafting feature is the equivalent of end game and by far possibly the most resource/time consuming out of all the phases. Unlocking a dozen new resources that can only be attained in very specific ways using the output of your slimes to craft robots that drill/pump.
This crafting system is rather robust and allows you create teleporters, basketball hoops, and all sorts of decorations. All of these resources can only be acquired through it’s own system. In a way, I found this to definitely extend the life of the game, but it also made the ranching aspects feel disregarded and pointless beyond gathering for money to help research purposes.
Obviously being the most recently added system it still might undergo some changes during Early Access. There are also the treasure pods which are scattered throughout the game. You gain the ability to unlock these finally as well and they help you find all sorts of customization and widgets.
The late game by far has the most issues, I feel, when it comes to Slime Rancher. The joy of discovery and seeing new slimes and places is what compelled me to keep moving forward and the developer Monomi Park indeed plans to add more, which is exciting. On the other hand though, like a firecracker, once that blast of color and lights fades what you got left is not enough to keep my attention. The crafting system is not exciting and ends up feeling more of a chore then it needs to be. I understand the need for longevity but I don’t know if the science system is the answer.
I enjoyed every minute I had with Slime Rancher but at the end of the day its content is delivered quickly, too quickly perhaps. Then again who knows what the developer has up their sleeves and what lies ahead for this incredible and joyous world. If you haven’t played Slime Rancher, you should. It’s an experience worth having and any fan of games like Stardew/Pinata are going to be attracted to this game.
To wrap up, Slime Rancher is a highly innovative title mixing in First-person elements with the farming/garden genre.
Slime Rancher is also a highly family friendly game as well and controls match for simplicity sake. A young child will love this game and its simple enough for anyone to pick up and play.
This is definitely a game to keep an eye on and will definitely deliver a final review once it hits full release. Check back again to B3 when that hits!