As a block-building game with farming, Staxel sounds like a good fit for fans of games like Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, and Minecraft but how does it compare with these genre standards? Grab your tools and let's find out.
Staxel is a first-person game that looks like Minecraft and has a lot of the same building capabilities but instead of exploring, you'll spend your time hanging around a village and working to improve it. As a fan of farming sims that usually have a very similar setting and premise, I was drawn to Staxel. The fact that you can actually build your own structures and have more control over shaping your world was also appealing, especially after spending dozens of hours on the awesome Dragon Quest Builders games. Unfortunately, after playing Staxel, I was mostly underwhelmed and it made me want to boot up one of the other franchises which do a few things really well instead of playing a game that generally delivers mediocrity and sometimes even frustration and tedium.
I suppose Staxel has its charm; I didn't feel rushed like I do in the average Harvest Moon game and took my time to complete tasks seeing as I didn't have to worry about any kind of stamina bar and when the night drew close, there was always the option to warp home for a few petals (the in-game currency). As a result, Staxel managed to make me feel relaxed but also stressed at the same time with how it continuously presented me with seemingly monstrous tasks in an off-the-cuff way with little to no direction for how to complete them. For example, objectives like "just place this post box and build me a house and I want all of these things in it" came up often, making me feel immediately defeated given the instructions for how to find all of the items that I needed were perplexing.
There's a huge library of building materials to collect which is one thing that Staxel does well but it's also a problem because it's not always obvious for how to find them or acquire the items to craft them with. There are a couple of big shops to explore with lots of items on display which got me excited at the start but soon after, I was confused at how there could be so much to buy but I couldn't find the basic things that I needed like a pillow and blanket for a bed.
Along with the shops, there's also a marketplace that has items which rotate daily and it can be fun picking up something unique if you can afford it. Amassing petals feels like a bit of a chore, though, because unless you keep a huge farming field constantly running, you'll soon run out and find that you're spending your whole day collecting bugs and shells in order to pay the bills instead of enjoying expanding your farm, completing quests, and hanging out with the villagers. I guess it's just as well given how frustrating completing building quests can be and the villagers don't give you much of a reason to want to spend your time with them anyway.
Another aspect that Staxel handles well is the variety of structures which means that if you have the patience, you can build something interesting and impressive. Some of the buildings in the town are quite large and complicated and I enjoyed exploring them to see what the developers had come up with. But, if the developers had to use the same menus, inventory management, and building processes that a player has to then I'm sure they would have given up before completing them.
Specifically, the menus remind me of tabbing through every element on a web page without using a mouse; in other words, they aren't fine-tuned for a controller. My inventory got full often which required me to empty it out one by one and placing a block can be quite frustrating when you just can't get the cursor to focus on the correct space to place one. The whole process is cumbersome and time-consuming but one thing I liked was the option to quickly swap out a whole row of items from your storage to be currently equipped at once which helped out on some occasions by allowing me to group my tools together and swap them in quickly.
There is a farming component in Staxel and a decent variety of plants and trees to grow so I could see more patient genre enthusiasts having a lot of fun with it. There isn't much depth, though, and I often found myself wanting to pick up the latest Story of Seasons title instead. Along with growing plants, you can also raise livestock and take care of pets then harvest items from them daily. Again, this is a pretty basic mechanic except for the beekeeping which has an interesting take as it requires you to hunt for a queen bee and amass enough worker bees to create honey then buy an empty jar to collect it.
There are other bugs to collect as well and fish to catch, too. However, one big problem that I had when looking for bugs was the lack of contrast between certain bugs and tree trunks. Specifically, I couldn't see if a bug was on a trunk unless I focused my cursor directly on it and walked around it hoping that it would show a green outline. There's no in-game option to increase contrast either.
To add to the list of downsides about Staxel, there are a few aspects that it seems to completely miss out. First, there's an intricate mining area yet nothing's there other than old mining carts and stone so basically, there's no point to it as you can find the same stone in other areas and there's no reason to dig deep because you won't find any interesting gems or loot. There's also no combat which is a system that could have kept Staxel engaging for longer. Finally, the map is quite small and once you've explored it, you'll be waiting for special events that allow you to explore additional smaller maps in the hopes of finding something different. The maps that I looked at were intriguing to explore for sure but there wasn't anything to reward me for my efforts other than new scenery.
Staxel delivers a mediocre mix of block-building, farming, and foraging without providing any substantial drive or reward for your efforts. In other words, you'll be better off picking up one of the many games that Staxel was inspired by instead.
- + Designing and building your own farm and village has its charms
- + Large library of items to find and craft
- + Some areas are enjoyable to look at
- - Lack of direction when crafting makes it tedious and frustrating
- - Menus and controls don't handle well
- - Most of the gameplay is barebones