Puzzle de Harvest Moon tries to make a competitive puzzle game out of the sorts of farm-related activities that normally occur in the Harvest Moon role-playing games. Up to four players compete to see who can plant, nurture, and harvest crops on a small plot of land. The game is very simple in that each step takes just a second or two and requires only a couple taps of the stylus. Unfortunately, the designers took the simplicity too far. There's hardly any depth or strategy involved, so the whole thing is really just an exercise to see which player can scribble the fastest.
The puzzle board on the touch screen contains a plot of land measuring seven squares wide and five squares high. To the right of the puzzle board is an action menu that contains five randomly generated items, such as seeds, watering cans, fertilizer bags, buckets, and farm animals. When you tap one of these items and then tap a space on the game board, you perform that action on that space.
To represent the four seasons, matches last four rounds, and players score points by harvesting crops during each of those rounds. To create crops, you first have to plant seeds on one of the board squares then water and fertilize them. When you want to harvest a square, you can use a bucket item to grab the veggies automatically or rapidly scribble the stylus back and forth on the touch screen to haul in your crop. If you drop an animal on the game board, it will harass other players by eating their seeds or slowing their harvesting efforts. Players have to share the same game board and everything happens at breakneck speed in real time.
The developers made an effort to inject some strategy into the design by allowing you to claim ownership of other players' squares just by planting seeds in adjacent squares. Ownership comes into play when you're harvesting crops. When you scribble and yank up your own crops, you get full points. However, if you yank up crops belonging to someone else, you only get half the points. The problem with this setup is that the owner doesn't get points when you steal his or her crops. So, it really doesn't matter who owns the crop if you can scribble quickly. Furthermore, you needn't bother planting or watering at all because you can just sit back and scribble like mad to get points from the other players' hard work.
Even if you strive to play fair, it doesn't change the fact that there isn't much to the design apart from tapping to plant crops and scribbling to get points for them. Once you get tired of constantly moving the stylus back and forth on the touch screen, you'll lose interest. The two-on-two, quota, and survival modes shake things up a little--especially because you get more points for harvesting specific crops in the quota mode--but not to the extent that you'll feel compelled to play them any longer than you will the normal every-man-for-himself mode.
The cheap production values don't help. Visually, the game looks like it could have been made for the Game Boy Advance. There's not much detail or color evident in the dirt patch or vegetables, and the only life you'll see onscreen are the simple animations that show water droplets falling, the plants jostling, or the animals walking around. As for the audio, it consists of some cheery, nicely composed music, but the sound effects are just a repetitive collection of ticks, chimes, and animal noises.
About the only thing Natsume and Platinum Egg got right with Puzzle de Harvest moon is that you only need one cartridge to play wirelessly against one, two, or three other people. That's nice, though you probably won't feel compelled to play the game yourself, let alone subject your friends to it.