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DS Fanboy Review: John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland

What do tractors, video games, and shoveling up cow poop have in common? If you guessed John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland, you probably read the title of this review. In case you haven't heard of this brand-licensed game, though, it's essentially a farming simulator that was recently released for the Nintendo "Niche Games Haven" DS.

While the brand might not mean much to gussied up city folk, Deere & Company happens to be the world's leading manufacturer of farming equipment (thanks, Wikipedia!). In fact, the John Deere brand became so popular that it incited a horrible fashion trend a few years ago that led to people who weren't truckers wearing trucker hats. But, what does this all mean for Harvest in the Heartland? Is it possible that John Deere would not only find success in agriculture and fashion, but in video games as well? Let's find out, shall we?

In Harvest in the Heartland, you begin the game as a girl or boy (player's choice). From the start, you are guided by the "Heartland Advisor," who decides to let you run his farm because you look like you'd be good at it. That pretty much sums up the game's entire story. Unlike the Harvest Moon series, which adds some story elements and social interactions to its farming sims, Harvest in the Heartland is a pure, real-time farming game. There are other characters in the town who run shops and provide services, but you don't have any interaction with them other than, "You can buy so-and-so here!" and, "What do you need?"

While a storyline and character development aren't must-haves for sim games, people who enjoy the Harvest Moon series and want to dabble in other farming titles might find this game to be a little hollow. The problem is that Harvest in the Heartland has the tendency to feel like all work and no play. Furthermore, early on in the game (when you can't afford many fields and seeds), there just isn't much to do. For example, your first few days will consist of watering the few crops you have, then going to bed for the night at 8 A.M. because you can't do anything else on your farm, and there's simply no one to talk to nor any places to explore.

As for the gameplay, that also has its fair share of problems. While it can be fulfilling at times to plant, harvest, and care for your crops, it seems like the game does everything it can to disrupt your rhythm. The biggest problem with Harvest in the Heartland, in fact, is its excessive use of the loading screen. With the amount of time you'll spend staring at it, you'd think this game would be more aptly titled Loading in the Heartland.

This is a shame, too, because the gameplay in this title is actually pretty deep. There are so many elements involved in creating a successful farm, such as using fungicides and pesticides on crops, buying irrigation systems to cut down on watering time, giving animals medicine when they're sick, tidying up your buildings, and much more. Yet, just imagine how irritating it is to till your field and then grab your seed bag -- loading -- plant your seeds and grab a watering can -- loading -- get some pesticide for your infested crops -- loading -- then grab the fungicide for the moldy ones -- loading -- and you can get a sense of how frustrating this game can be. Moreover, as your farm gets larger and larger, expect the game to lag, and don't be surprised if your tractor disappears every once and a while (yes, the game is buggy).

Cleaning up animal poop is as fun as it sounds ... which is not at all

It's also worth noting that as you get farther into the game, everyday tasks start to feel more and more repetitive. Once you get past the first four seasons, there won't be much to do that you haven't already done, which makes the game grow old fast. Completionists might feel the need to get first prize for all their crops and animals, but since first prize gets you nothing but a blue ribbon and (almost equally worthless) experience points, there won't be much to motivate you to do so. As for the wireless features of the game, they're so insignificant that they're not even worth mentioning, unless you happen to have ten friends who own Harvest in the Heartland.

In addition, the game offers four mind-numbingly easy minigames that are almost insulting to any gamer over five years old. These games can be described as "Simon but with cow udders," "keep your stylus on the pig while it runs around," "you get ten seconds to shave a sheep but it will take you less than two," and "catch these chicken eggs that are slower than your grandma after hip replacement surgery."

The basics:

Controls: Sometimes the game forces you to use the stylus when the d-pad would work better. Furthermore, while using the tractor is fun at first, it's too difficult to steer to be entertaining for long. Because the game is constantly rubbing John Deere products in your face, you might even wonder if the developers decided to make the tractor hard to control for the sake of irony.

Visuals: They're fine for a farming sim, but don't expect much. It's nice that you can change the colors of your clothes and buildings at will, even if this feature doesn't add much to the game. Yet, it's not so nice when things start to disappear from the screen because of bugs and glitches.

Sound: The music is decent at best, and the sound effects don't add much to the game. Turning the sound off is probably the better option.

Story: If you can read a book while simultaneously playing Harvest in the Heartland, you may be able to argue that the game has a story.

Difficulty: The game is extremely easy as long as you're willing to do the tedious labor. You can even grow the "seasonal" crops during any season.

Final Score: 3.0/10 -- John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland does have a lot of depth for a farming sim, which makes the game enjoyable at times, but the cumbersome loading sequences and occasional glitches make the experience more frustrating than worthwhile. With a little more polish and thought, Harvest in the Heartland could have actually been a great choice for people who enjoy simulation games. Unfortunately, though, this wasn't the case, and the game certainly suffers for it. Ultimately, Harvest in the Heartland does nothing to convince you to ignore your instincts to stay away from games based on licenses.

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