E3 2008: Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness Hands-On Impressions
Few people realize that the DS is actually a farming implement.
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When we first heard that Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness grew out of an unfortunate shipwreck, we imagined a seaworthy farm filled with plants and adorable animals running aground on some remote island, tomatoes spilling everywhere. The truth is slightly less insane, but Island of Happiness brings back the fan-favorite farming formula and tucks it into your Nintendo DS handheld. We checked in at Natsume's E3 booth to put this new agricultural installment through its paces.
Despite the fact that you start off as a castaway on an island, Island of Happiness follows the traditional Harvest Moon setting in many ways. You'll begin with yourself and four others and have to build up your town (and farm, of course) from scratch. The old axiom goes, "If you build it, they will come," and it holds true in this case. As the town gradually grows, you'll attract increasing numbers of settlers and eventually end up with a bustling burg by the sea. As in previous Harvest Moon games, you'll be able to pursue a mate from among six available maidens or suitors, depending on whether or not you chose a boy or girl character.
You'll use the stylus to guide your character around the island using the touch screen. The directional pad on the DS is mapped to shortcuts for certain actions, so you can press up on the D pad to bring out your watering can, or press down to jump between locations. You can tap on the townsfolk to chat about fashion, fishing, or whatever's your fancy. The farming gameplay is still intact, which we noticed when we spent some time carefully clearing rocks, sticks, and weeds from a neglected field. You can collect items in the game called wonderful stones that can then be used on your farm tools to increase their size and capabilities. For example, you could increase the size of your watering can to water more plants, or increase the size of a milk bottle to store more milk.
The action takes place on the bottom screen of the DS, while on the top screen you'll see a map of your town along with little sprites that show your townsfolk as they mill around in different areas. It's handy if you need to find a particular person while they're out doing their errands. The character models are rendered in simple 3D as they wander through a brightly colored world, and though the visuals aren't very flashy, they do the job just fine.
Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness will be coming to the Nintendo DS in late August, so keep your eyes peeled for more info as this little farming adventure fully ripens on the vine.