By Henry Badilla / January 30th, 2018
As a reader one of the things I hate the most is when a writer describes a game as “the Dark Souls of something,” or, “like Mario Kart but with waifus” (for the developers at home, feel free to use that concept, it’s on the house). But when I have to sit down and write a review I can see why this is usually the best way to explain a game to the reader in terms that are easy to understand. That being said, Staxel is the love child between Minecraft and Harvest Moon; and Stardew Valley was probably the babysitter at some point.
Now that you’re thinking of cubic cows, let me explain this idea in more detail. Staxel is a farming simulator with voxel-based graphics along with exploration and building. While there is not a real story to get things in motion, the idea is that you’re new in town and will be taking care of the old farm. A NPC named Farmer Fan greets you and shows you the ropes of life on the farm.
At first everything is quite similar to Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley but in a first-person perspective. Use the hoe to prepare the land, buy seeds, plant them and then water the plants. After a couple of days they will grow so you can sell them and repeat the cycle. The major difference to other farming games comes from the building aspect. If you want to build a barn to raise animals, you have to literally build it. You will get a sign that is put on the floor which will show you the area of construction and the requirements for the building as well. In the example of the barn it needs to have a roof and two troughs for the animal’s food. Then you have to build the walls, floor and roof using square blocks like in Minecraft.
Since I have never played Minecraft this was a bit weird at first: I was expecting the building to be finished once the requirements were met. But it’s kind of fun to get more invested in the building part, unlike other games where you just pay and wait for someone else to build it for you. However, I feel that the game didn’t explain this properly in the tutorial so it’s something that definitely needs more work.
But that’s not the only concept that is similar to Minecraft. In order to get the wood blocks to build, you first need to cut trees, and process the wood through a saw that you can use on a table in town. On this section I have mixed feelings. I appreciate the attempt at realism, that in order to build things you have to use different tools. For some furniture, for instance, you may need to buy glue, combine it with the wood using a table that’s designed for it, then use a different table to carve into it with additional ingredients. This really emulates the difficulty of building things in real life, unlike most games where you just combine things in mid-air to build a rocket engine.
The problem with this is that it is slow: just sawing several pieces of wood at the same time can take half a day in game. Also, building things can be complicated at first. You have to gather different materials, some that are not available to buy and you don’t know where to get them, which can feel overwhelming.
Something to note is that the game just launched on Early Access on Steam, but it has been in beta for quite some time through their own website. So while I did experience a couple of things that I feel were problematic, these may go away as more work is put into it.
An example of this is the economy of the game. Seeds feel expensive since you buy them individually and there’s not much return on the investment. Food for animals, materials, and pretty much everything else is also quite expensive considering how hard is to make money at the start of the game. But the developers apparently are working on balancing this in the future.
In regards to content, while the basic mechanics are solid and in place, there’s nothing much to do. The tutorial basically shows you how to grow plants and make buildings but that’s the only thing. There are a few quests involving the construction of buildings, and collecting bugs like in Animal Crossing, but nothing story related similar to the Community Center in Stardew Valley. From what I gather on the forums this is something that will be added, but take it into account if you’re like me and you prefer to have an end goal from the beginning.
The game takes place on an island that is not very big and there is only a forest, sand, and a mountain made of stone at the moment. While the map is randomly generated there’s not much randomness to it. And unlike Minecraft there is no combat at all, again something to keep in mind so you don’t go in with the wrong expectations.
In addition to the single player mode there’s also a multiplayer mode which is, well technically the same but with other people, but I can see the appeal of farming with someone else. Currently the way that it works is that one player will set up the server and everybody else will connect to his/her PC as clients. While I couldn’t test it with anybody I saw several videos on Youtube of people playing like this, so it seems to be working properly.
And finally there’s a Creative mode in which you can buy any item for free and items are unlimited. While this clearly kills the fun of building your farm from nothing it’s for the people who just want to create unique buildings, towns from scrap and overall customize the world as they like. My experience with Minecraft comes from watching my niece play it and I can confirm that she loves to sit down and build things, so this feature will have a lot of appeal.
Graphically the game is very colorful and shiny. I feel it’s maybe a bit oversaturated, but that could be only me. Just keep in mind that this is a voxel-based game so if you’re not a big fan of 3D pixels you may want to look away. While testing the game and creating a lot of blocks on the map I noticed that it’s possible for the game not to load the textures properly, but the game never got stuck and was able to load everything after a while. For a randomly generated game this shows that things are well optimized. The music is what you might expect, simple relaxing tunes. While it’s not remarkable it works well.
So, at the end this is still a game in early access which is far from complete. But the foundation of the game is solid, and I feel that there’s a lot of potential in the game. I spent six hours with the game experiencing what it has to offer, but if this is your thing I imagine a person can spend hundreds of hours building their perfect town, which will determine if the $20 entry fee is fair to you. So if you’re into Minecraft and farming and want to see the game grow then go right ahead. If not, keep it in your watch list as I feel that there’s a lot of potential for a really fun game once it exits early access.
farming simulationHarvest MoonHumble BundleMinecraftPlukitstardew valleyStaxel