This is the big one. I despise doing reviews. Mainly because I feel that giving video games a numbered rating of quality is unfair and somewhat archaic. Look at a game like Minecraft. I do not enjoy Minecraft. I would give it a low score based on my feelings on it, and based on the fact that game creator Markus “Notch” Persson is a misogynistic douche-bag on Twitter. But thanks to the work of the team currently at Mojang, the efforts of Microsoft to make the franchise widespread, and most importantly, the community’s dedication to providing new in-game content, Minecraft clearly deserves a very high rating as a cultural touchstone. So here’s how it’s gonna work. No numbers. No scores. I want to give my opinions on my time spent with the game, and a list of personal pros and cons. With that in mind. Let’s talk Slime Rancher.
For transparency: I spent 6 hours with Slime Rancher with every intention of spending much more. I received the game through Xbox’s Games with Gold program for absolutely free. This is one of the first times that this program has made me feel like a thief.
Slime Rancher is exactly what it looks like. Harvest Moon’s farming and economic mechanics are combined with the isolationist personality of survival games like Minecraft, all held together by these cute little slimes that serve as the games primary source of entertainment. You move out to a Slime Ranch, your only contact with the outside world being through letters that are sent to you and item trade requests from other ranchers, each with wildly ranging personalities. To make the ranch work you must capture slimes of different types in pens and feed them food that fits their diet descriptions. You do this by catching them in the stream of your vacuum-gun. Doing so rewards you with “plorts” small gems colored like the slimes they come from.
Once you’ve collected plorts, you can do one of two things with them. You can bring your plorts to a machine which turns them into newbucks, the in-game currency that allows you to build devices like chicken coops, incinerators, or veggie gardens on your plots and allows you to buy upgrades for your vacuum gun and ranch.
If you’re more into Pokemon than Harvest Moon however, you can feed these a plort to a slime who’s color doesn’t match to make a new slime breed called a Largo. For example, feeding a boom plort to a pink slime makes a really large, and highly damaging version of the boom slime. Be careful however, allowing a Largo slime to ingest another different plort will turn them into a tarr. These grey slimes begin to swallow down every other slime in their path, turning them into tarrs like themselves. Finding one of these on your Ranch is damning, as they can turn your entire slime supply into tarrs in seconds thanks to their massive vertical hop.
This cycle continues until you can save enough newbucks to open new areas to explore. Each area, including the starting area, contains secrets, wildlife, and of course, new slime types. The starting area features the basics, with pink slimes, carrots, and cat-like tabby slimes taking up all the real-estate. But around every corner, you can find hidden treasure pods, slime keys, or even giant slimes called Gordos that explode with loot once you’ve fed them a lot of food.
Playing this game felt like playing other farming sims for the first time, you start making lists in your head of what you want to accomplish next. This keeps you playing for a good long time without feeling bored. If you’re big into meta-game achievements like I am, the list is really varied and encourages the same behavior. They are well paced and clever, keeping grinding down to around five achievements.
The game’s real mechanical hook is the FPS gameplay that focuses on using your vacuum gun for everything. You do not pick carrots, or delicately set chickens in the coop. You suck everything you need up with the vacuum gun, and then shoot them where you need them, where they land with a cartoonish thud. It’s a satisfying feeling that I imagine transcends to reach even non farm-sim players. The obvious complaints of grinding and tedium aside, this game was a blast and at the low-low price of free for Xbox One owners, you really need to check it out!
-If you like farming sims like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley: this game has the same relaxing vibe.
-This game is cute! Finding new slimes is a charming experience and they all have very unique and distinctive characteristics.
-The in-game economy shifts if you do too much of one thing, so even the currency system pushes you to try new things.
-The FPS nature of the controls removes a lot of the cursor-dragging tedium that usually comes with games in this genre. Plus: they avoided adding an unneeded crafting system. A trap so many indies fall to today.
-If you don’t like farming games, this will likely do only a little to change your mind. While you can be “knocked-out”, combat is rare and easy thanks to the vacuum gun and you’re more likely to die trying to swim for the first time.
-Grinding is to be expected. It is unavoidable. The game may be about slimes, but it is also about ranching…which is work so sometimes, of course, it feels like work.
-Mild bugs or collision issues like the vacuum gun not being able to pull a certain piece of fruit from a tree, or a slime you were vacuuming up hitting terrain and suddenly flying miles away were rare to infrequent, but in a six hour play session they became noticeable.
-This is one of those games that…well…it breaks my heart that it has no multiplayer. The lack of in-game NPC’s also makes the world feel a bit lonely, but that’s not inherently bad? But it could alienate players more used to classic farming sims like Harvest Moon. No romancing ya’ll, sorry.
Overall though? This one gets a thumbs up from me. A big ol’ yay. I had fun playing Slime Rancher, and I think giving this title out for free is one of the strongest moves the Games with Gold program has ever made. Go try it for yourself! The game is available on Xbox One for FREE until the 30th and is currently 33% off for Steam players.