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Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Stardew Valley - Now on Android


Developed by ConcernedApe and published by Chucklefish, Stardew Valley was originally released for Windows in February 2016.  3 years later, the game is now available to play on every major platform with OSX, Linux, PS4, XBONE, Switch, iOS, and, most recently, Android ports of the game being available.  Following a change in the business relationship between the developer and publisher, with Chucklefish now only having rights to Switch, iOS and Android versions, the Android port was completed by The Secret Police and released on March 14th.  This is the version we're primarily looking at in this article.

Humble beginnings with a small crop and ongoing construction of a coop
If you've never played or heard of Stardew Valley, first where have you been, and second its an RPG game where you must make a profitable farm.  For people who have played the older Harvest Moon games or Animal Crossing, you will see familiar elements throughout the gameplay.  As is the trope for these sorts of games, having being gifted an old, derelict farm by your grandfather, you are new in the Valley and nearby Pelican Town.  As you arrive in town you are greeted by the mayor and shown to your new home.  You start out with a small, one room house and a plot of land littered with trees, rocks, weeds and general detritus.  Thankfully, these items will be of use to you by providing some of the raw resources you need to build up your farm.

As you clear your farm area actions, such as chopping, digging and breaking rocks, will cause you to expend energy.  The easiest way to regain this is by sleeping.  Provided you remember to return to your bed before you pass out, you will wake in the morning with fully regenerated energy.  Having a late night, between midnight and 2am, will result in a penalty to your energy the next day.  If you pass out at 2am outside your home, there is an additional financial penalty to pay for your return to your home by the person who found you.  Energy, and health, can also be regained through eating food.  Food can be either farmed or foraged and eaten raw, or cooked in your kitchen once you have upgraded your house.

Cave diving leading to a growing collection in the museum
To start your farming career you are given a small number number of parsnip seeds.  Planting crops is as simple as using your hoe to prepare the soil, planting the seed and watering it daily until it produces the chosen item.  There is a wide variety of crops which can be purchased from the local shop ranging from parsnips and potatoes, to beans and even fruit trees.  Each of these will only bear produce in certain seasons so you need to make sure you time any planting to allow you to harvest the crop before it spoils.  You may also find some seeds whilst clearing weeds which will allow you to grow a random crop for the season.  Farming also isn't restricted to crops.  After you have managed to purchase/construct some farm buildings such as a coop or a barn, you will be able to purchase animals such as chickens, pigs and cows.  If you care for them well they will produce items such as milk and eggs to increase your profits further.  On your farm you may want to refine some of your products to make them more profitable, such as pickling vegetables, making fruit into jams or even keeping a hive or two of bees to produce honey.

In addition to farming there are many other activities which you can use to fill your time.  You can gather wood and replant trees in your farm, go fishing in the river or sea, or, my personal favourite, head into the local mines to gather stone, ores and coal.  If venturing into the caves it's advisable to make sure you take something to protect yourself from the creatures who live there and a supply of food to regain health and stamina, or even explosives to help gathering items.  Whilst mining you may come across various items such as quartz and topaz, or even some rare geodes.  You can ask the local blacksmith to crack these geodes open to discover what is inside them, and along with the rarer gems found in the mine, donate many of these items to the town museum and learn more about them.

The Community Centre
During the course of the game you will come across a semi-destroyed community centre.  To save spoilers too much I'll glance over this and simply say that it will be worth your time to visit the community centre and follow through the "storyline" in there as this will allow you to increase your funds, provides you with various items and also helps to unlock new areas of the Valley.  Note that there is an action which you can do during the game which changes how the process of these unlocks, such as repairing the bus or broken bus, works.  There are also a number of citizens to befriend and build relationships with, even leading to marriage, and a number of events on the town calendar throughout the year to break up the daily activities.

Onto the Android version now, and how it plays.  Ever since I first played Stardew I've been waiting for a portable version to become available so that I could play on the go.  The Android version contains all of the same content as the PC version, including having 5 different farm maps to choose from, each playing better to different styles (for example fishing, mining or conventional farming), however it lacks the multiplayer functionality (which is coming soon to PS4 and XBONE versions).

Reading through the reviews on the Play Store there are a lot of people complaining about the controls, however I've found them to be very intuitive.  The game comes with a variety of control options, and controller support, but I've found the default control set to work very well.  For moving around the map it's a simple tap to the location you want to walk to.  What I had been concerned about was the hotbar and tools.  In the PC version you have a 10 item hotbar and switch tools using the number keys.  On a mobile game that could get very repetitive and boring having to select a new tool constantly by tapping on it.  Thankfully they have made it so that the game will know, in most cases, what tool you want to use and will automatically switch between the scythe, axe and pickaxe.  The have also replaced the 10 item hotbar with a scrolling bar on the left of the screen.  This includes every item in your backpack, and again as a QoL feature saves having to tap in and out, although I did 'lose' one of my tools for a while when I didn't realise it scrolled.

Fishing minigame - keep the fish within the green bar to catch it
I played the game on a Huawei MediaPad M5 10 inch tablet and have to say that I experienced no issues in terms of the performance of the game, or how the game played and it is refreshing to play a fully featured game on a mobile device rather than the usual freemium fodder and swap-3 clones.  They have also added a nice feature to the game which means the PC and Android save files are compatible.  This means that rather than having to have two separate farms on the go you can keep working on your 'main' save whilst out and about.  This does have a slight drawback however, in that you need to remember to plug in your device and drag the saves back and forth, or back them up to a cloud sharing service.  What would have been nice to see would have been integration with Google Play Games and cloud saving which would have allowed me to sync progress across my phone and tablet.

My overall verdict for the game is that at £7.99 it is an amazing game.  For being feature complete and not containing any in-app purchases or adverts I also think it's a very fair price (the PC version costs £10.99) considering that it is the mobile market place - why is it that we're not prepared to pay the same price for a fully featured mobile port of a PC game? - and it is a worthy addition the the library of any device.  It's a game where you can get totally lost in the world and what you are doing, suffering very much from a 'one more day' kind of experience, where you can sink a lot of time into it and not even realise.  Most definitely a buy it now game! 






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