Thursday, 25 June 2015

Nintendo 3DS Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

When I was asked if I was interested in reviewing the latest Nintendo 3DS game Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, my body went bolt upright. I have mentioned a while ago in our Nintendo 3DS Animal Crossing: New Leaf review that Harvest Moon games are me and Abby's favourite out of all the Nintendo games. We have played at least 3 games from the Harvest Moon series, and of course would love to review the latest addition!

While I was waiting for the review copy to come, I did a little search online about the game, and was surprised by some of the comments I've read. After playing the game for 3 weeks though, I think that people who have commented at that time haven't really given the game a good try, and some have also jumped into conclusion just because a new feature of the game looked familiar. I can assure Harvest Moon fans that Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is still a Harvest Moon game, and it's not trying to be some other game. Read on for more details.


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game
Harvest Goddess and Harvest Sprites
Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley (HM:LV) is a Nintendo 3DS pegi 3 game retailed at £34.99.

As mentioned above, HM:LV is still very much Harvest Moon, where the games normally begin with your character arriving in a new place, and through farming, you help the Harvest Goddess to bring back something that went missing. You will make friends with villagers and animals, help villagers with their requests, have fun fishing and mining, attend festivals, competing in competitions etc. Eventually you'll (you don't have to of course) choose someone you like, work on your friendship level, get married and have a baby.

In HM:LV, the game begins with your character getting caught in a snowstorm up in the mountain. A voice lead you to a house, and when you woke up, you found and helped a Harvest Sprite who was buried under the snow. He told you that the 4 seasons except Winter has vanished from the valley, and your mission in the game is to help him rescue the Harvest Goddess and bring back the 4 seasons.

Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game
Left: Untamed valley before Winter sets in (Screenshot from the official trailer)
Was too caught up with the game and didn't take my own pictures!
Right: In-game 3D wide shot after rebuilding the valley
Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game
In-game 3D wide shot after rebuilding the valley - Spring
Questing

The main mission is to bring back 4 seasons, and depending on how you play the game (it's very flexible unlike other mission/ campaign games), it can take time. If you go through the days as normal (farming, landscaping, socialising and doing other fun stuff), you'll be spending quite a lot of time in Winter. If you skip days like Abby did (and still is) but do work on the main quests, you'll see Spring much sooner.

Spending a long time in Winter, even in the game, can feel gloomy. I did have a few different opinions (not really bad of course, I do love the game, just thought it could be better) about the game in the first few days I was playing too like many others. But it is part of the story after all, so the long Winter totally make sense. If you hang on, you'll see that your in-game year (at least a year of Winter depending on whether you have found Spring in time) spent in Winter will pay off. The moment I saw my valley unveil in Spring it was like, WoW! (Was this what it was like for human who rebuilt their home at the end of ice age?)


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

At the beginning, other than the tutorial on how to use things, there wasn't too many clues about what you need to do. I think that's the game giving us time to explore and slowly discover things, as well as getting used to the new controls (more about this later). It also gave me time to think about how I want to rebuild the valley (the need of staircases!), while Abby just went on and dug herself into holes she can't get out of *chuckle* (you can be rescued of course).

When more nearby villagers started visiting the valley, and more days you play, clues started coming in through requests and dreams.

What I love about HM:LV requests is that some of the clues aren't too obvious. It gets boring if everything is straight to "collect these materials for so and so" (most quests are like that, but there are at least some creativity to the quests before you get to the collect part). For example: there was one where I had to look at the image of the dream (not just reading the text) to find out the next step and I felt a sense of achievement when I finally cracked the "code" (after days in the game)!

You don't have to worry about missing a clue either as it will be repeated. Abby skipped an important day for a good whole season before she realised, but it was still there for her to complete.


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Landscaping

There isn't much advise about how you should rebuild your valley, which I wasn't very happy with at the beginning as I'm someone who like a bit of a guidance. So when I saw the vast snow covered valley full of trees, I was a bit lost and unsure where to start (do I want to chop all the trees down?!). It isn't really a bad thing as I know that there are players out there who love that kind of freedom, just a personal preference I guess.

I then discovered odd places that can be used as markers for my design, which are scattered out wide enough so that I still have plenty of freedom to design the whole land, and rebuilding the valley becomes much easier.

From the pictures above, you can see that I have a lot of staircases in my valley. Abby has been asking me why I'm all about the staircases as it takes much longer to get to where I need (instead of digging straight down to a cave right next to the door shown on the map and get rescued). I told her that I will want to go back there again, and I can't jump into the hole, so I will be wasting more time in the long run digging my way down to reach it again. Of course I could make one row staircases instead but that's not very pretty is it?


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Farming (Crops and Animals)

It is called Harvest Moon after all, so farming is definitely the main part of the game, especially growing crops (which is part of the main story line for HM:LV).

Initially I wasn't going to keep animals, because from my experience in playing other Harvest Moon games, I ended up feeling like I'm doing chores (I feel obliged to look after the animals and water the crops even though it's just a game and it won't be the end of the World if I didn't do them) and spent too much time in the game doing them. But I needed to unlock the Animal Harvest Sprite (they each look after something different in the valley) for the story to continue so I started off with one cow.

I then realised that farming has been simplified in HM:LV, making it much easier to do. I still have to till land, plant seeds, water, fertilise and harvest crops square by square (I'm hoping that I can upgrade the watering can in the near future), and feed, brush, pet, clean barn/ coop and gather materials from the animals, but I don't have to change tools anymore to do so, which sounds like nothing but it really saves a lot of time (I just have to keep clicking on the same cow until everything is done)! I have also limited the number of crops I'm growing at one time (after everything died when Spring arrived!).

So now I have all the animals on offer (they do give things that villagers will ask for), including a pet dog who helps with animal grazing and a horse I'm currently training so that it will take me to places faster to save time.

Of course, it's less realistic that you don't have to change tools to do different things, but you need the time to do other things (especially when you have to do landscaping) and it's a minor detail that I think is ok to be simplified.

HM:LV's farming system is still as impressive as ever, because details such as the location where you plant the crops (is there a good drainage system in place?), what season you are planting in and the weather of each day affects the growth and water evaporation rate directly. There are things that can help them grow better and faster too of course, including magical ones!


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Trading and Social

Because of the new landscaping feature making it difficult to set up permanent shops in the valley, some nearby trading villagers (all visitors came from somewhere else as the valley in the story was "lost" and being rebuilt) will offer trading opportunities in front of the player's house instead, unlike other Harvest Moon games. Others that offers requests and other kind of trade can be found in other areas including the Moon Valley nearby.

On non-trading days, you can find some of these villagers wandering around the valley as well, and you can talk to them during these times to increase friendship level. They can be found easily by scrolling the bottom screen map around.

I can understand the difficulty for placing permanent spots for traders inside the valley, but I do agree with many that it's quite amusing to see them wandering in front of my house. However, it is not unusual to have travelling traders walking from one place to another for trades without setting up a proper shop in the past, and I do recall seeing them in another game (World of Warcraft) too. And! It saves me so much time from running around to get trading done.

I especially like the addition of an easy to access (daily) businessman who is a businessman through and through. The prices he offered to buy out your produce is ridiculously low compared to the proper traders who only visits on certain day, so it's down to how desperate you are for money (I normally keep things inside the house for freshness before the proper traders visit). He did make me chuckle though, and he does buy and sell everything (you won't be able to sell the stones you've excavated from the valley to other traders for example).

Friendship and Marriage

Like other Harvest Moon games, players can increase (and unfortunately but logically, decrease) friendship level with all characters (including the Harvest Goddess, Harvest Sprites and wild animals that will start appearing in Spring), which in turn will change the way they interact with the player. The things villagers say to you will be different for example, and there are potential bachelors (if your character is a girl) and bachelorettes (if your character is a boy) around too that you might want to go after and have a future with (wedding and baby!), which requires high level of friendship level ("Chemistry" in the game) before things will move on.

It's not really a major part of the game I think, at least not really related to the story, but it's a great addition to a farm simulation game (more things to do = it gets less boring and the game will last longer = value for money). Besides farmers are human too so they will encounter friends and have a life other than farming just like anyone else. Hence why Harvest Moon series is so different than other similar games and why they have been so popular.

For me I'd like to focus on bringing back 4 seasons to the valley first, as socialising takes time (you have to run to them to talk frequently. Hard work!). But once the seasons are back (if that's the end of the main story), I'll be able to work on this area, and do exactly the things I did in other Harvest Moon games.


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

Other Things to Do

Fishing
- to sell, cook, create nutritious animal feed and for requests. New species and size adds to your record too

Cooking
- for eating, cooking competition, selling for better money and requests

Mining
- excavate mines and dig for valuable ores to sell, create buildings and for requests

Competitions and Festivals

Achievements
- Have over 5 animals, for example

Catch bugs?
- It is a question mark at the moment as I haven't discovered whether I can do this yet. It is a possibility as it can be done in other Harvest Moon games and there are lots of butterflies and bees flying around in my game.


Nintendo 3DS, Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, farming simulation game

The Technicals/ Game Play

Controls:

For both growing crops and landscaping, you will need to access a separate control panel by clicking on the "Y" button. The "A", "B", "Y" and "X" buttons will then be used differently. For example, "B" is normally jump, but within the landscaping control panel, "B" means dig soil or excavate stone. By digging, filling and tilling, you can create plots for growing crops, opening water paths, building staircases and paths leading to important places.

I have to admit that it took both me and Abby some time before we got used to the new control panel. I'm still occasionally pressing the wrong button after 3 weeks of playing, and it can be a hassle (though small) when you need to chop a tree down or break a rock that's in the way (you have to stop landscaping and get out of the panel first to do so, so I chop/ break them all before I started landscaping).

I do however see the need for the additional control panel, and after you got used to it, you'll find that it is very handy (opening the panel also lights up the floor tiles to show you which plot you can work on), and when you don't need it, the options won't be in your way.

Graphics:

We love the adorable 3D graphics! The buildable valley does look boxy, because every single square can be changed, but it's 3D enough for me and I don't even like retro pixels style at all (we've come a long way from that to hi-definition, surely it's not like fashion, where you can just go backwards and pretend that it's the next best thing when in truth, it's just people running out of ideas?).

You can tell that the developers have put a lot of thought in the details. Take the waterfall for example, when you dig the soil that's right next to the falling water too deep, it will create a square of water but with a little fence next to it, as logically that would have made the water spill over land without the fence.

Players can also look at their creation in wide view using binoculars, and take a screen shot of it. Again it's very realistic in terms of what the character can see when using the binoculars (height and angle), although I would have liked to see more of the valley, which can only be done by adjusting where the character is standing.

Music:

Each season will have a different background music (slower at night), and there are music for other areas too. As Winter lasted a whole year for me, I did think that it was a bit repetitive at first. Then Spring came and things have changed! I'm now looking forward to the arrival of Summer!

Camera:

Like many close up 3D games, the camera readjust itself when your character moves. It is ok when you are running around (you can always change the camera angle using the L and R buttons). But the problem appears when you need to do more detailed things like watering crops and landscaping. When I'm only moving one square at a time to water my crops for example, I don't want the camera angle to change, and I find myself constantly having to adjust the angle so I can water the crops that has gone out of sight. I guess it affects me more because I have OCD!

Data:

It is a single player game, so technically 2 data saving slots are more than enough. But because me and Abby are sharing and we each took over 1 data slot, poor Clay had to apologise to Abby after saving over her data (3 seasons of achievement gone, but she's surprisingly forgiving and even said:"it's okay, now I know what to do, it'll take me less time to do them all again". Love her so much!). We found out afterwards that you can do an additional backup and save the data inside the 3 (or 2)DS (option available on the DS' Home menu once the HM:LV icon is clicked on once)

I also love it that you can save the game any time you want, instead of saving and ending the day by going to bed, like in the other Harvest Moon games we've played. I had to remind Abby to make sure to save her game though!

In-game Time:

At the beginning of the game, when there was a lot of landscaping to do, I thought that the time in game went by too quickly (1 second of real life time is about 1 minute of in game time). It takes me about 1 minute in game time to dig a square of soil, and all the camera adjusting, walking here and there (and staircase building) means that there isn't enough time each game day to do things (I want that staircase done by 12am!). You kind of have to go to bed by 12am, because if you continue playing, your character will wake up late the next day, and stamina drops faster too, so basically it will take even longer to finish building.

However. When there was no landscaping to do, I found that I finish everything by 3pm game time, and ended up in bed by 4:30pm (so I planted more crops until Spring came and all the crops wilted).

So I guess the in game time speed is about right. Time management and consequences are important skills everyone (adults and children alike) should master, so I do welcome the challenge.


Apart from time management and consequences, the game also teaches planning (for example: when to plant crops and how to rebuilt the valley to make everywhere accessible in the long run), financial management (how to maximise profit, and whether you should sell cheap or wait for a few more days), logic (if you skip days and not look after your animals, they will die "RIP Daisy"), patience (for that fish to bite and crop to grow), science (what makes glass or how is flour made), as well as what a farmer's life is like, and the effort you need to put into friendship. Oh and not everyone can be trusted (that businessman)!

The Harvest Moon series is just brilliant and suitable for young children too, so we highly recommend it! Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley is the Harvest Moon game we have played longest so far (handheld versions are easier to access, and I didn't overwork my character this time so it's definitely more fun), and we are intending to finish the game this time (then dig out the old ones and change my way of playing)!

You can find more information about the game, the official trailer and more images at Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley's official website

Friday, 19 June 2015

LEGO Jurassic World


Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs

I love the Jurassic Park movie series and was really excited to hear that a 4th movie was going to be (and now has been) released. It's about time! However, I was a bit sad that, although kids were featured in the shows (first 3 anyway), it's a pegi 13 movie and hence our kids shouldn't be watching it (I understand why of course). It is a shame because the dialogues were funny and the scenes with the dinosaurs (especially in the first movie) were amazing. Abby has learned about dinosaurs (she recognises some and can even tell their species name!) too so it would have been a great movie to watch together.

Luckily! LEGO has launched  a LEGO Jurassic World game that covers all 4 movies' story, and it's only pegi 7 (debating whether I should get the Nintendo 3DS or Wii U version)! They've also launched a range of LEGO Jurassic World construction sets, and our favourite from the range is definitely the LEGO Jurassic World: Dilophosaurus Ambush set!


Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs

Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs

We really like the LEGO Jurassic World: Dilophosaurus set (rrp £29.99 with 248 construction pieces) because it's one of the 2 sets that comes with the gyrosphere. How awesome is the gyrosphere in the movie (trailer)? And the LEGO gyrosphere pieces will be great to add to our LEGO (transparent) pieces collection (it will make a great fish bowl!).

The set also comes with a Dilophosaurus, which was featured in one of the earlier movies too, Gray (no idea who that is yet) and ACU trooper minifigures, and a fab Jurassic World 4 x 4.


Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs

Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs

Jurassic World, LEGO Jurassic World, Dinosaurs
LEGO crowbar used to make the side of the 4 x 4 windscreen, master builders indeed!
We are so glad that we've received the set with a gyrosphere, it really is a very cool and well designed item! The dinosaur is fairly unique as well as the jaws actually snaps! We have a LEGO dragon (the big red one from the Castle range), sharks and crocodiles, but their jaws closes without a snap. The snap makes it special!

While building the 4 x 4 with Abby, we noticed how solid the base is (joining many flat LEGO pieces together). It's brilliant as Clay hasn't managed to break the 4 x 4 yet, but for those who'd like to break it apart, it might take you a bit longer to do so! We love it though. And we also had a chat about how different each LEGO vehicle designs are. You can have similar looking vehicles, but they are all built in a different way!

Overall, we are very happy with the set. Now we just need to get the LEGO Jurassic World game so the kids can enjoy more of Jurassic Park!

For those who also like LEGO and Jurassic Park, Macro LEGO universe has recreated the T-Rex breakout scene using stop motion technique. It's brilliant!



Thursday, 18 June 2015

Chill Factore Mini Moose Land - new Arctic Adventure Playground


Chill Factore Summer 2015, Mini Moose Land Arctic Adventure Playground, Summer family day out

During this time of the year, a lot of kids has started showing signs of being tired from a year full of learning, and it's only a matter of a few days before someone started to become snappy (according to the teachers in the past 2 years, there were definitely more arguments in the class weeks before the holidays). No matter how competitive the World has become and how important our children's future is, a well deserved rest is definitely needed so that they can continue learning without getting depressed or become resentful.

Summer holidays is around the corner but not here just yet. However, we can still wind the kids down gradually with some family day out fun to keep the steam from building up!

Companies seem to know the need for Summer fun to start earlier than the holidays, and many are already launching their Summer specials, such as Chill Factore's Mini Moose Land with the new theme Arctic Adventure Playground starting this Saturday! What better than cooling down from the Summer heat (it will come back!) in real snow?

Details:

Chill Factore Mini Moose Land - New Arctic Adventure Playground
Starting from Saturday 20th June, 2015
For Toddlers 4 years old or under (£5 offpeak/ £6 peak for an hour's play)

Tiddly Skis for little ones to try
Play in Mini Moose's house on the snow
Sit on one of the Inflatable Donut Rings and slide down the mini slope
NEW - Hidden tunnels under the snow
NEW - Snow Maze with surprises around each corner

We had lots of fun last time we visited, and can't wait to go again! The hidden tunnels and maze sounds like a fantastic addition to the already fun playground!

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