Slime Rancher is what the gaming community calls a farm game, but it’s a life sim in terms of genre. The concept is pretty simple, set on an alien planet far away from ours, you play as Beatrix LeBeau, a rancher, and your goal is to grow crops.
Pretty straightforward in its goals and objectives, the players are left free to collect slimes which are a sort of animal(?) on the planet feeding them is essential for the farm. So the primary gameplay loop is gathering various types of slimes and finding their favorite food; each slime has its own type.
Games like Slime Rancher or “Farm games” suffer from a severe problem of replayability. The game’s content is very limited aside from various daily quests; there’s only so much that one can discover; the world is finite after all, and so are the upgrades to the farms.
Once you’ve unlocked all possible upgrades and have your farm running at nigh 100% efficiency, there’s no goal to work towards anymore. But that’s not to say every game of this genre suffers from this, but ultimately how much replay value one finds is entirely subjective.
While the game might last for 10 hours for someone before they give up or find themselves aimless. Others could spend upwards of 100 hours, according to Steam data, just having fun collecting all types of slime.
However, I have to say the exploration is a critical factor for the game’s length and Slime Rancher, in my opinion, is very lacking in that department.
I’ll attempt to add games from similar genres to this list but provide a more enjoyable experience by having more content or defined end game objectives.
1. Grow Home
Grow Home is a title from Ubisoft that was released in 2015. It has a similar playstyle to Slime Rancher because it’s all about growing plants (specifically a plant). However, it differs in having a goal or an objective to work towards.
You play as BUD, short for Botanical Utility Droid, as you go through space searching for Star plants. Once the ship does find a viable subject, it drops you on the ground, and your mission as a robotic farmer has begun. Grow Home features a unique climbing mechanic that allows players to reach various areas in the world, adding a platformer mechanic to the mix.
Since you’re alone on this beautiful island, there is no economic system or trader to buy upgrades from instead scattered throughout the island, and its many floating rocks are crystals that can be used to upgrade BUDs jetpack, allowing the robot to reach heights higher than before.
The end objective is simple to get the plant growing, and you can leave; it’s not a complex objective, but any is better than none for farming games. To be honest, if there’s a purpose and clarity in a video game, it just works to enhance the experience.
While this game might not have a lot of content, it features similar cutesy graphics and colors, which would surely be appreciated by fans of Slime Rancher.
2. Viva Piñata
Viva Pinata is a first-person life sim that was released around the same time as Need For Speed: Most Wanted, the original one. Yeah, it’s that old, but surprisingly like MW, it still manages to hold up after all this time.
The core gameplay loop of Viva Pinata is simple, the player has to look after and care for a garden on Pinata island. Including ploughing, sowing seeds, watering said seeds, even creating ponds giving players freedom in how they wish to use the land.
Once specific requirements have been met, a Pinata (livestock animal) will appear. Pinata appears black and white first; when that happens, players must fulfil additional objectives to give Pinata a color signifying they are now residents.
The core gameplay loop revolves around getting Pinatas to come over to your garden and turn residents. Pinatas of different kinds are free to mingle and mate, resulting in baby pinata eggs. It’s as fun as it is at times weird.
There are also enemies in the game in the form of sour pinatas. They seek to enter your garden solely to wreak havoc and introduce anarchy to your otherwise harmonious ecosystem.
This game could be considered ahead of its time with its Xbox live features of trading various in-game items with friends, from eggs to pinatas.
In addition, you could help your friends progress by building your farm. Such mechanics cannot be expected these days, of course, due to the whole microtransaction thing we all love so deeply.
3. Stardew Valley
Speaking of Farm games, let’s talk about the most famous and critically acclaimed of the bunch. Stardew Valley perhaps fixes all my qualms of replayability within this niche genre. In fact, I think Stardew is replayable to a fault, and plenty of players have found their social life being mismanaged or even destroyed thanks to this game.
Players suffering from OCD will also have a great time figuring out how to maintain their maximum efficiency per day.
All kidding aside, Stardew is a really addictive title that allows players to feel a sense of progression as they get more efficient. It’s not just getting upgrades that enable improvement but understanding fundamental gameplay mechanics is necessary to move forward.
It features 2-D pixel art graphics which are charming in their own right. The game drops the player in the world with no objective. Still, the game design and NPCs allow the player to get a sense of direction of what they’re to do. Ultimately, the player is free to choose however they see fit to progress.
Players are warned there’s no end to this game; once you start, there’s no putting it back down.
4. Harvest Moon
Harvest Moon is similar to Stardew Valley but has its roots back to 1996, with the SNES seeing its first instalment. One could argue that Stardew Valley is a copy or rip off of Harvest Moon.
Still, such statements can only be genuinely made when the player hasn’t understood the depth of Stardew Valley; from afar, the games look similar. Still, I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying Harvest Moon is a more casual and kid-friendly version of Stardew Valley.
That might deter some but attract others; not everyone has the time that Stardew Valley demands to progress or the inclination to be as invested.
Therefore, Harvest Moon is primarily for those people, the more carefree among us, the ones who are not worried so much about the farm as they’re about exploring the world and the various NPCs that inhabit it.
In contrast to my previous title, here is the most chaotic “farm” game you’ll ever play. I quoted farm because it’s not your average everyday farm with fruits and vegetables.
No, this farm makes iron and copper, that iron and copper is used to create a turbine, that turbine is used to produce electricity. That electricity is used to power the factory. The factory will make it possible for our little friend who’s stranded on this hostile alien island to build a rocket ship and escape.
Factorio begins with a tutorial mission, but ultimately, players are free to skip and explore however they wish to. Still, as much as Factorio advocates exploration, it’s not the easiest thing. You see, this world is alien to you. The more your factory works, the more it pollutes the atmosphere.
In turn, the native insects of the world rebel against you in their own primitive ways. They will come for you in waves. This adds a layer of gameplay mechanics to the already fun objective of finding the most efficient way to suck all the resources of this planet so that you may escape.
Now you get to quite literally kill the planet and its species. The world is not a hunky-dory colorful place we saw in Slime Rancher or Viva Pinata; it’s a dark, dull and brooding place where survival of the fittest is the only rule.
Factorio suffers from the same issue that Stardew does; it’s too addictive to put down. But the factory must always grow.
Going back to the colorful worlds where everything is pleasant and fantastic, death is not a reality, and world peace has been achieved. Satisfactory is the first-person version of Factorio without the combat mechanics or the gloomy overarching philosophical message about finite resources and their abuse affecting every species on the planet.
Satisfactory instead starts with a nice visual of the player being ejected out of their pod onto an alien world where they have to construct a series of buildings in order to progress further; they are glorified tutorials that strengthen your understanding of the mechanics.
Once enough buildings have been constructed, players are left to their devices and creativity. While it’s not a farm game, it has all the aspects of it except for the farm; still, there are much alien flora and fauna that can be explored.
While the game has definitely taken inspiration from Factorio, the developer has outright said there are no plans to add combat or enemies to the game. That makes Satisfactory a very laid back title in comparison to Factorio or Viva Pinata.
7. Rune Factory
An RPG title that is a spin-off to the Harvest Moon series is described by its developers as “Harvest Moon, where you wield a sword.” In other words, there is combat in the game and might be appealing to those who like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley’s concept but were deterred by the lack of enemies.
However, sometimes people need a little more danger or threat in their games that extend beyond the caring and management of a farm.
The unique mechanic of this title is RP (Rune points) that are a form of stamina for the player. It is left up to the player to decide if the RP is used towards farming or combat. It is broken down further into what kind of farming tasks or combat skills the player chooses that might take more or less RP.
Additionally, players can also sacrifice HP for RP during combat. This mechanic can be used by RPG veterans, but I doubt any new player might feel comfortable in that.
That’s all I can say about it, it’s Harvest Moon, but with enemies, the farming concept stays basically the same with minor tweaks to adjust for RP.
Farm games are a breath of fresh air. When you’ve been grinding a competitive game for hours on end and just want a break, these are the kind of games I like to fall back to occasionally.
Still, I have to say with the exceptions being Stardew Valley and Factorio, the genre as a whole is very lackluster, it kind of reminds me of being in a perpetual state of beginning; imagine for a second if we were still receiving FPS titles that looked like the original Doom, not that it would lose its charm.
Still, a sense of no progression within the genre is the feeling I get when I look at farm games, they have been the same since the dawn of video games and, with a few exceptions, have done very little to innovate.