Run and grow your very own farm!
John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland is a veritable and bountiful crop. The DS has seen its failures and successes in simulation and strategy games, but John Deere is definitely one of its successes.
The premise of the game is to build and manage a farm using John Deere equipment. The farm is located below a town providing everything you need to grow your farm and flourish. It’s rough going at first, as you do everything by hand to make enough money to buy John Deere equipment and make a proper farm that grows and grows. Once you accumulate land and a John Deere tractor, you can be the land baron you always wanted to be.
As you build your farm from the ground up, the gameplay is unique and compelling enough to make the game addictive, especially if you're predisposed to simulation/strategy games. It's tiresome the first several in-game days, since you’re harvesting your first crop by hand and deciding what to do next. Heartland town, just north of your farm, provides many options. The first stop you should make is the Spades & Sprouts General Store. Ginger (looking a lot like The Food Network’s Paula Deen) provides you with all the hand tools, seeds and chemicals you need to get started. Once you accumulate some cash, you can visit Heartland's John Deere Store - with its spiky-haired, Boy Scout-looking dealer Scott - to buy tractors and other farm equipment.
The challenges you face are authentic and require strategy to overcome. For example, you should be careful not to buy more equipment than you need before fulfilling the requirements of the land you already have. Sometimes it's good to go to bed early, other times you will work into the dark. The game runs on a calendar system located on the top screen of the DS. The seasons and time of day play into running an efficient and prosperous farm. You start with a small plot of land, but you can also buy adjacent property by doing business with Deb at the Real Estate office. After working a few harvests, it might be time to buy livestock. So visit Jim the roughneck who owns Heartland Stockyard. You can buy cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. I don't recommend buying chickens - the eggs aren't worth much, and scooping them up is utterly boring. Overall, the game provides an accessible world for making farming dreams come true.
Controls are straightforward and intuitive. Once your tractor is in gear, it's a cinch tilling, planting seeds and harvesting crops. You build irrigation systems with the help of the Heartland Construction Company, saving loads of time by not watering crops by hand. "A" is the action button, for farming, tending to animals, and confirming menu choices. "B" cancels menu choices. You can use the stylus for hand tools, which makes things easier once you get used to the movements. The touch-screen also acts as a venue for absurd farming games like milking cows, catching eggs, and shaving lambs, all with a reward of money.
Harvest’s graphics are surprisingly crisp and charming. Animation is fairly standard but suitable for the farming activities, but the static, text-based interaction with Heartland's shop-owners eventually grows stale. The character drawings seem condescending and caricatured; however, this graphical presentation does maintain a certain levity throughout the game. Whether you're dealing with Dennis the Construction Guy for a chicken coop or bullying roughneck Jake out of extra chickens, the creepy denizens of Heartland provide plenty of comic relief.
There are definite load time issues when you change your usable item, travel between the farm and town, go to sleep, or enter any building. Farming is long and arduous work; perhaps the developers wanted to reflect this in John Deere with excruciatingly long and arduous loading. While the game is very enjoyable, with load times from the Stone Age you have far too much time to reflect on what you're doing with your spare time.
John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland remains an addictive game because of its creative graphics, intuitive controls, and gameplay variety. However, the load times really drag things down, which is a shame. Still, fans of this type of game may enjoy it if they want a change of pace.