Country Friends is a whimsical farming game from Gameloft that plays it safe with familiar interface layouts, tasks to complete, and aesthetics. Graphically, I believe that Country Friends is quite nice in comparison to its contemporaries, but pleasing visuals can only carry a game so far before things start to unravel. The question in my mind, as I plotted out my fields and ordered my first cow was: how long am I going to be able to keep playing Country Friends before I’m ready to fly the coop?
A sweet little helper girl popped up at the start and ushered me through the basics of the game. She showed me how to plant things, how to make food for my animals, how to feed those animals, and then how to collect the resources those animals make. Then suddenly she was gone. Well, technically she was still there, walking aimlessly around the farm, waving back whenever I’d poke her hoping that she’d come back and talk to me. But as far as being helpful went, she had checked out.
Now I was left to run my farm alone.
This was problematic to maintaining my interests in the game. It showed me that the experience I was about to have was so common that the game doesn’t need to guide me any more. Almost like the game was telling me “Hey, you played Farmville 2 and Farm Story 2? Oh yeah, you’re good to go.” Then the game drops all guidance and you’re left to procure produce to sell in an effort to level up your farm and unlock more ingredients to then sell and level up again. That is the gameplay cycle of Country Friends.
Minutes after being abandoned, I found myself dutifully maintaining my crops. These types of games appeal to people who like to micromanage things. I look at these games as little puzzles; I know I have X-amount of space left to store items, but I need to bake this pie which takes Y-amount of ingredients, so now I have to sell this and that, feed all this to the cows, and then as long as I leave the finished food in the mill, I will have enough storage space to collect what I need to make that pie.
Unfortunately for Country Friends, that is exactly what I did in Farm Story 2 and Farmville 2 before that. I’m sure if I had experienced more of these farm management games, I could also see them mirrored in Country Friends.
What kept me playing in Country Friends was the superb graphical presentation. The little farm scenes are rendered in full 3D, so when the camera zooms down to face something (like the mailbox order station) you can see it in a first-person point of view. The animals are all rendered nicely, probably the best of the recent farm games I have played, and I liked the little touch that hungry animals will actually look up at you with sad eyes. If anything galvanized my interest to keep playing Country Friends, it was the fact that I hated seeing my animals looking so sad and malnourished.
Country Friends offers players much the same sort of experience they could find elsewhere in other farm management games. You plant, harvest, feed, collect, sell, and repeat. These are the ABC’s of the genre. Where Country Friends stands out is with its visuals, and how well it appeals to player’s emotions by pasting real emotion on the faces of the critters they’ll manage.