Real-time strategy games are all the rage lately. The same goes for agricultural simulations. Put the two together, and you often get promising results… see Youda Farmer, Farm Mania, Alice Greenfingers 2, and so on. Unfortunately for latest genre outing Orchard – which is equal parts time management title, tactical challenge and business sim – though, unless you’ve got hours to burn, the only harvest you’ll reap here is in frustration and boredom.
Never mind the hackneyed storyline, which sees former mail clerk Ivy inherit a farm from her Granduncle Fred. Essentially, it’s just an excuse to slave away at a variety of verdant pastoral settings displayed as brightly-colored 2D swaths of rural land upon which miniaturized, animated cartoon figures roam, planting and picking crops. The goal being, as always, to meet a set number of pre-assigned objectives – hire X many workers, sell Y number of fruits, generate Z sum of cash – given limited resources.
Similarly, the action predictably revolves around first single-handedly working the soil, then slowly generating enough loot and wood to expand your holdings, hire new employees and acquire additional structures and upgrades. These added benefits grant you the workforce and supply reserves needed to build out operations during each self-contained scenario, slowly but surely progressing to complete overarching assignments.
On the bright side, unlike many rivals, you’re not alone here: Hiring a stable of workers, who’ll help chop trees, pick ripe grapes or blueberries and erect housing for additional colleagues is necessary for advancement. A wide array of financial options – players are required to stay competitive with each passing day’s market prices; process juices, jellies and pies; and take out advertising to attract more customers – also proves intriguing.
What’s more, repeatedly dedicating specific characters, each of whom boasts individual attributes, to a single task – say, tilling the earth or hauling lumber – also results in improved performance over time. Missions are additionally a lot larger, and take longer to complete, than what you’d typically encounter from a casual game offering, ensuring ample playtime is offered with purchase.
That said, however, let’s be frank. This is also one of the most plodding, and poorly implemented, outings seen in ages, with even a single tutorial level taking 30 minutes alone to complete. (We actually stepped away from the PC and washed dishes at one point while waiting for resources to amass.) Not only can pacing not be sped up, but stages are further flush with banal tasks that act as pointless filler (build a gate to open a patch of land sitting an inch away… seriously?); goals needlessly difficult (i.e. collect 500 wood at the rate of 5 new planks every 10 seconds); and the on-screen action, shall we say, less than exciting as well.
What would take mere seconds in competing tales instead takes forever here, with extra pointless steps thrown into every sequence and a user interface that makes queuing and canceling actions unnecessarily confusing. We especially dislike the way clicking on a character causes them to immediately, and permanently, stop the action they were previously performing.
What’s more, much of the “excitement” is unpredictable, e.g. knowing how or when shoppers will drive by your general store to pick up goods, boost your coffers and acquire items that desperately need selling. (Or how much of your wares they’ll actually buy…) Such quirkiness further extends to the game’s general layout (pressing escape asks you to quit the program instead of bringing up an options menu) and presentation (switch to full-screen and the floppy-disk-era hand-drawn graphics instantly go blurry and low-res). In short, it’s not that there’s a bad game to be found here, per se – just one that’s in need of serious streamlining; distilling into smaller, more bite-sized parts; and crying out for basic navigational improvement.
Bearing this in mind, Orchard comes somewhat hard to recommend. While green-thumbed gamers may appreciate its soothing country soundtrack, complex set of featured economic interrelationships and extended length, realize. Most will simply be bored to tears, and quickly fire up the tractor and head for greener pastures instead.