A new Harvest Moon game is out! Oh, wait; it's just a puzzler but let's at least see if it's a good puzzle game. Phew, here we go!
When our resident Harvest Moon fan Mary declined my offer for her to review Harvest Moon: Mad Dash, I knew something was fishy. So, I watched a trailer and what do you know? It's a puzzle game! I like puzzle games a great deal but I'm not necessarily the biggest Harvest Moon fan even though I am very familiar with the franchise so I decided to give this thing a try and wow, is it disappointing.
Considering I'm not a huge Harvest Moon fan, I imagine that Harvest Moon: Mad Dash must be doubly devastating for series veterans because not only is it a disappointing puzzler, it also dares to bear the name Harvest Moon which as far as I know, has been massively disappointing ever since Natsume took the reins while Marvelous continued with the franchise yet under its true name: Story of Seasons. Well, that's a lot to take in but don't worry, I'm going to judge Mad Dash for what it is: a goofy puzzle game spin-off.
Harvest Moon: Mad Dash is set up in traditional mobile game fashion in that you try and achieve 3 stars in each of its stages before moving onto the next. Your ultimate goal is to work through the linear campaign of stages while taking the odd detour to acquire some sort of seeds. Anyway, the basic gameplay essentially has you running around stages while picking up tiles then smacking them down again in order to group similar tiles then harvest their sweet rewards. Tiles can be crops which grow larger fruit when matched, water which contains fish, or bales of hay which can be fed to cows and sheep. Obviously, picking up a group of matching tiles only to rotate it and set it down wherever you wish makes for a simplistic formula but there are some hazards and complexities to keep in mind.
Namely, you can't match crops too many times or they'll wither, fish don't stay in their tiles for long, cows and sheep can get in the way, wild boars can trample you and your tiles, coconuts can fall on your head, magma drips down in underworld stages, and snow can freeze objects. On the other hand, there are plenty of aspects that can help such as Power Mode which is triggered via a gauge that slowly fills, bonus points from K9 Challenges, a basket that you can place unwanted tiles in, and Helper Harvest Sprites that can add time and boost your Power Gauge. With all of that in mind, you don't ever have to do any of it because Harvest Moon: Mad Dash is a mindlessly easy game to master. In fact, you can literally just run around and make whatever matches you want as quickly as possible without much strategy and easily obtain 3 stars on every single stage. Heck, I got about 10 times the 3-star score threshold once.
To be fair, the overworld is pretty cute as it represents an island that's been transformed into a jungle and as you complete stages, it clears the greenery away and populates the space with charming houses, animals, and farms. Other than that, the graphics are extremely dated and feel like they belong in a PlayStation 2 game. Also, the music may be delightful but it's extremely repetitive and gets annoying after a while. It's a real shame, especially because the recent Story of Seasons games all look and sound great.
Before wrapping up this review, allow me to discuss some odds and ends. One thing that's pretty cool is that you can play through stages with up to 4 local players but that'll make them even easier and less satisfying, I'm sure. Something that I find odd is that there are no additional modes or content as all you do is work through the stage-based campaign and that's it. I mean, it's quite a long campaign considering it features dozens of levels but this is a puzzle game; there couldn't be any more than just a story mode?
In the end, Harvest Moon: Mad Dash disappoints as a Harvest Moon game and as a puzzler. It definitely has some redeeming qualities but they're so minor when compared to the super-easy and humdrum gameplay that I simply can't recommend playing this silly spin-off.
- + Fairly lengthy campaign
- + Overworld is kind of cute
- + You can play with up to 4 players
- - Almost complete lack of challenge makes mastering stages feel hollow
- - Dated visuals and repetitive music
- - No additional modes or content