Farming is more fun with friends.
Farming games have proven tremendously successful on Facebook, yet few developers have had the courage to try and bring that experience to the iPhone. With the exception of Zombie Farm, I can’t think of a single game that’s tried to put the FarmVille formula in our pockets. At first Farm Story seemed as though it could have been the iPhone farmer we’ve all been waiting for, but a lack of social elements keeps it from being the handheld answer to our farm-frenzied ways.
The basic gameplay in Farm Story will be instantly familiar to any Facebook farming fan out there. You’ll plow a square of land, plant some seeds, and wait a few hours for your crops to grow. Later you’ll harvest them, replow the land, and plant again – all the while earning cash and experience. This simple mechanic is where Farm Story shines. In our first few minutes with the game all we could think was “when FarmVille finally goes mobile, this is the game they need to emulate.” Simple taps on plots of land bring up seed options, plowing, and harvesting. It’s natural, it’s quick, and it’s easy – these are three words you always want to describe the mechanics of your iPhone game, and in this TeamLava has had a huge success.
The iTunes page describes this as a game where you can “visit real neighbours and watch their crops grow,” which would imply to any normal gamer that Farm Story offers up some sort of social gameplay – but it doesn’t. In fact there isn’t a single way to add your friends to the game. No Facebook Connect, no email search, nothing. The “real neighbours” you’ll be visiting? They’re total strangers. And when you visit, don’t expect to help them out any. There’s zero social gameplay here. For the FarmVille farming crowd that this game is aimed at, that simply will not do.
We were also disappointed by the lack of push notifications. When we first installed the game, it asked us if it was ok to send push notifications. We said yes, assuming we’d get a notice when our crops were ready (like in We Rule). Instead we never received a single push. It’s this sort of “not quite there” implementation that defines this release. It’s an issue for the social aspects, and it’s clearly an issue for any push-related plans.
Shopping isn’t without its problems, either. If you want to purchase more gems or coins through a micro-transaction, all you have to do is click “Add” next to the desired currency while in the shop. …or at least that should be all you have to do. Like many things in Farm Story, this element just isn’t working as it should. Clicking “add,” would likely bring you to a transaction page if it worked, but since it doesn’t you’ll simply be greeted with a clicking noise. (Editor’s Note: After awhile, the game synced up with the server and allowed us to purchase currency).
At best, Farm Story is a gorgeous mess. The visuals are top notch for a farming game, offering up a number of different images for each crop during different stages of growth. The music, too, is really satisfying. But the lack of promised social elements, push notifications, and inability to purchase currency – it all adds up to a broken package that simply isn’t that much fun.
After we reached level 20, a bug prevented our farm from appearing, and instead we were presented with an unmanageable field of grass. And since our game was saved on their servers, re-installing the app didn’t allow us to restart. It’s almost like the game said “Seriously? You haven’t deleted me yet? Here, let me help you see the light.” A few hours later we tried again and were told we had somehow fallen out of sync with their server, so it brought us back to where we should have been – only all of our crops had died in the process. On the bright side, it was at this point that the in-game purchases starting working (and some new crops had appeared in the store.)
Farm Story offers up all the evidence we need that a game like FarmVille could easily make the transition to the iPhone. Unfortunately everything that FarmVille is, and that Farm Story promised to be, simply isn’t there. With non-existant social gameplay, push notifications that never work, and a flaky game server, Farm Story fails to be the game that Facebook farmers have been waiting for.