Agricultural simulations have been so inexplicably popular lately that perhaps this holiday season, Santa should be shouting “Hoe hoe hoe!” instead. Thankfully, Farm Mania provides one of the catchiest and most playable takes on barnyard life yet.

Between dozens of stages, numerous animals to interact with, a lively presentation and well-balanced action, it’s a welcome choice even for those who are sick to death of rakes and straw hats.

Plot-wise, expect no great revelations here. A series of comic strip panels simply follows young girl Anna’s exploits as she attempts to save her grandfather’s ailing farm. (Is it just us, or does every similarly-minded title start this way?) Thankfully, it’s in actual execution where the tale stands out, as evidenced by a colorful, eye-catching presentation whose jaunty musical soundtrack nicely complements the on-screen excitement. From lovingly-animated characters to lively backdrops (fields, forests, lakes… even the wooded areas where sheep must be located in bonus scavenger hunt stages), you can tell its creators gave the title the red carpet treatment.

Likewise, play itself is a subtle blend of simplicity and elegance. Cribbing from the typical genre playbook, each stage is essentially a circular grassland upon which pens, fields, buildings, troughs and watering bowls are set. Given a limited timeframe, you’re asked to complete certain goals – make X number of dollars, produce Y amount of pumpkins and eggs, raise Z number of chickens or sheep – before a ticking clock runs out. (Unless enjoying the untimed Casual Mode, that is…) But to do so, you’ll have to effectively juggle a number of different tasks in sequence first, strategically planning ahead to queue up actions so that you’re delivering feed or eliminating weeds at the most opportune time.

Where the title really impresses is in the variety of challenges one must face. Progress far enough on a gorgeous campaign map, and you won’t just have to seed the earth, water crops, hoe soil, pick produce and then put it on a bike for delivery and eventual payout. You’ll also have to water and feed multiple animals (cows, goats, geese, etc.); manage limited stocks of hay, wheat and clover; and churn out cheese, honey and bread in rapid order.

Mercifully, a wide range of upgrades which you can purchase between levels lets you improve your speed, harvest more efficiently, ship out more goods or add to your livestock. Be thankful too. Even with the ability to hold multiple buckets, bales and jugs, as well as a pig that doubles as a trash can, the action can get pretty frantic. Let’s just you’ll need all the help you can get.

What starts out a simple, routine time management outing quickly evolves into a singular and snappy spin on the typical “run here, grab this, go there, retrieve that” equation, and offers plenty of incentive to keep coming back. So while it’s not always easy in the heat of the moment to click on the correct hotspot (good luck avoiding accidentally highlighting the empty delivery area by the mill instead of building itself); it’s a pain in the butt waiting for previously-spotted pests to scurry to or land in the right spot before you’re allowed to shoo them off; and the story itself isn’t exactly a real page-turner? Not to worry – we’re confident you’ll have plenty of fun nonetheless.

Albeit no major advancement for the pitchfork- and overall-themed canon, realize: Farm Mania comes correct where it counts – in terms of sheer playability. As such, you’ll have a blast watching gramps, grandma and co. scurry about on screen, supporting your efforts, and frantically clicking to scare off the crows and rabbits determined to snarf down your stocks. To wit, just when we thought the genre had gone fallow, well… consider this proof positive there’s still fertile ground to be tapped.