I once thought, many moons ago, that farming simulators had died out with FarmVille.
Recently though, with the release of games like Stardew Valley, they seem to be rising out of the ashes of their burned-out genre once again. Plantera is a lot like the farming simulators that we’re familiar with today, but it pleasantly surprised me with its mindless but fun gameplay and adorable cast of animal characters – though that isn’t to say that it didn’t lack in a lot of places as well.
Plantera is a side-scrolling farm management simulator that starts off with one simple tree and a blue creature that I have yet to be able to assign a specific species to. They look sort of like fat blue marshmallows with packs on their backs. We’ll call them “mallows”. The mallows are in charge of picking up any fruit that falls off of your initial first tree. Doing this exchanges the fruit for coins, which transfers immediately to your wallet. You can use your coins to plant more trees, bushes, or farms which the mallow, in turn, also begins to harvest. You can plant and grow carrots, turnips and pumpkins each worth 2, 4 and 12 coins respectively. Your tree options are apple, orange, and pear and your bush options are raspberry and blueberry. The more that you expand your garden, the more mallows show up to help you harvest your ever growing collection of plants.
Another option you have, other than the wide variety of produce and trees, is to purchase and have animals on the farm. At the beginning of the game you are allowed a chicken that occasionally lays eggs. Later on, pigs are introduced and they root for things in the ground like boots and baseball gloves, and eventually you get sheep that produce wool. One problem that Plantera animal-owners might come across is predators. As soon as you place that first chicken in your garden you start getting foxes. Foxes come into the garden and can eat your chicken, but are easily shooed away if you click on them a few times. When you eventually get pigs, wolves also start hovering around but you can shoo them away with clicks too. Another way to rid your garden of these pesky predators is by buying a dog who easily scares them away.
The animals and the artwork are by far my favourite parts of Plantera. You can tell that the creators took a lot of time thinking about how to make these characters look realistic but also absolutely stinking adorable. All of them look like squished, square versions of their real animal counterparts. The art itself is like a cartoon that five year olds would be in love with but their parents wouldn’t hate watching either. It’s the charming look of the game that really pulled me in and had me itching to play it.
Despite its intense cuteness, there isn’t much strategy to Plantera. Mostly, it’s a lot of clicking. It isn’t that clicking-only games haven’t been successful – looking at you Cookie Clicker – its just that that being the only game mechanic definitely makes the game lack in more than a few ways. In the garden (I’ve affectionately named mine “Lettuce Turnip the Beet”) your plants grow almost instantly. There is a short time period between when fruit falls off the tree and when it starts growing again and so it had me going back practically right away to knock the fruit off again. The purpose of clicking fruit off of the tree is that it allows your mallows to pick them up more quickly, but this is essentially pointless since the fruit will eventually fall off on its own anyway. This is my biggest problem with Plantera. After playing it obsessively for a few hours, I’ve got to the point where I don’t feel like I’m even needed. My garden may now thrive on its own. The animals, the mallows; they have all grown independent of me and can now live their own lives without me bothering them with my incessant clicking.
I really enjoyed Plantera and was very excited to be able to play it. I loved the art design of the characters and I really enjoyed building “Lettuce Turnip the Beet.” The problem is that I’ve rather quickly reached an end point in a game that should keep going for a very long time. I loved that Plantera didn’t involve micro-transactions or advertisements like most games with a similar premise, but it didn’t have what those others games do have: a reason for me to keep going back. This is really what created the biggest problem for me and brought the rest of the game down. If you’re looking for a game with a really great concept, beautiful character design, and silly animal art, Plantera is really fun, if only for a limited amount of time before your garden becomes self-sufficient and your animals don’t need you anymore.