For someone as lazy and physically inactive as myself, I’m oddly drawn to games that use farming as their central theme. I’m not talking about stuff like Farming Simulator 20XX; I mean games like Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and now Slime Rancher. The farming aspect is certainly what drives these games, but it’s hardly all there is to them; often exploration, discovery, and fantastical elements play a significant role as well. Slime Rancher certainly has a few of those, not the least of which being the fact that you’re farming living slime creatures. It might still be in Early Access, but it’s already showing a lot of promise, and, at least in my opinion, probably only needs a few minor design and gameplay improvements before it’s “release ready.”
I mean look at this little guy! How could you say “no” to that… face? Does it still count as a face when it’s just all kind of face?
Like a lot of farming games, the game runs on a “clock” and splits gameplay up into a day/night cycle. For the sake of writing this First Impressions, I played for just over an in-game week. I had originally planned to only play for seven game days, but the gameplay has that certain something-something that always makes you mutter “just one more (insert whatever).” Suddenly hours have passed, and responsibilities and obligations are a distant memory. When starting out, you have but a single slime corral, a farm house, some wild slimes wandering around your ranch, a few Hen-Hen’s, and a Luigi’s Mansion-style vac-pack. The vac-pack is almost your sole method of interacting with the world around you, and I personally find it incredibly satisfying to vacuum up or fire off slimes, food, enemies, and everything in between.
I started out by corraling the few pink-slimes on my farm yard and “herded” them forcefully into the corral, which, by the way, has some kind of laser wall technology that keeps them inside. The game has a very loose narrative, in that you’re a brand new rancher named Beatrix LeBeaux on a planet some ways away from Earth called the Far, Far Range. You’ll progress by feeding slimes different kinds of food and collecting their poop, called Plort, which you sell for New Bucks. There are other characters, but, so far as I’ve seen, you never actually meet them or know what they look like, with all contact being conducted via Star Mail. You don’t even see what your own character looks like; it’s just your vac-pack, the slimes, and the wide-open lands of Far, Far Range.
Sure, you never see the other characters, but… Maybe that’s a good thing?
Once you get a handle on things, Slime Rancher isn’t all that difficult to master though it can have something of a rough start. My first attempt at ranching some slimes was somewhat chaotic and saw disaster after disaster leaving my farm in shambles. I’d go out into the wilds to forage for resources, Plort and new slimes to tame only to come back and find that all my slimes had escaped their corral, running wild on my farm and eating my Hen-Hen’s. It wasn’t until my third attempt at a new game that I finally found an approach to slime farming that worked for me. In fact, I actually didn’t bother much with the farming aspect at all until at least a few days into the playthrough. I was something of a Rancher of the Wilds, feeding wild slimes whatever I found growing around the place and collecting enough Plort to set up a decent infrastructure to support the ranching of slimes.
The biggest criticism I’d have right now is that you’re just kind of dropped into things and expected to perform, and, at first, that can seem a little overwhelming. There are tool tips that appear and are meant to be context-dependent, in that they’ll only appear when you’re performing a relevant task. They don’t switch very quickly, however, and will often stick around until you’ve completed the action it’s referring to before switching to something seemingly irrelevant. It can be kind of confusing for new players and will result in you referring to the in-game Slimepedia fairly often, which, to be fair, is useful to have even when you do get a handle on things. A smoother, guided tutorial could probably fix all of this though, and once you’re past that first barrier its really easy to get into the groove of subjugating the native fauna for profit.
I mean, at this point, “How can we make a profit from this?” is just the first question I’d assume humanity would ask when discovering new worlds.
There’s a myriad of different slimes to find and capture with your vacuum, each with their own quirks and particularities. You can even cross-breed slimes by feeding them the Plort of a different slime species (gross, when you think about it), altering their attributes and potentially increasing profits. As it should be with such activities, it’s even possible to go too far with the eugenic experimentation and create monsters called Tarrs. A Tarr is a sort of black and rainbow-rippled violent beast that will attack you and everything else around it because what else would you expect from a living crime against nature? They lash out with sludgy tentacles that literally strangle and drain the life from their victims. Neat!
When you’re not playing God and making a pig’s ear of it, the Plort gathered from slimes can be sold on the Plort market with prices that rise and fall over as the days pass by. You can also go exploring, discovering new areas, slimes, and hazards, and if you make enough money you can improve or expand the farmland that you’ve been given. The expansion of your ranch, or even just building new structures on what you have can seem pricey and time-consuming, but this may just be a perception issue on my part. Overall, between the three playthroughs, I’ve spent just six hours with the game; while the third playthrough was easily the longest, it was also the one I made the most progress on, and I’d only reached day 9.
Trial, error, and heaps of dead slimes. Like… Literal heaps. Somewhere in the Ocean behind my ranch.
The gameplay mechanics are mostly sound, and I’ve only a couple of complaints about how everything works. For one, the environment can be occasionally sticky and not because of the residue left by your potential livestock. Getting stuck on or slowed down by the environment is a problem though never a game breaking one, and general movement could do with some polish. The vac-pack also has a problem in that it’s possibly too powerful at times. When trying to suck up just a single object, it’s not uncommon for the whirly vortex to scoop up everything else around it as well, and this can be problematic for time sensitive things. Tarrs are created when a cross-bred slime tries to eat the Plort of a third species, and that can still happen in the wild. See where I’m going with this? Sloppy vac mechanics lead to slime poop monsters.
There is at least one area in which Slime Rancher already excels and that’s in its presentation. The visual design of the game is what drew me to it at first and kept my attention long enough to actually pick it up and give it a go. A consistently gorgeous, cartoony appearance gives everything in the world a really cheerful vibe, from the environments and structures to the (sometimes) adorable slimes themselves. Even the stuff that’s supposed to be dangerous or “evil” carried a cutesy look and makes for a pretty joyful experience while playing. A mostly acoustic guitar twanging soundtrack doesn’t hurt either, and this is one of those games that could easily be described as “relaxing” to play.
Until these f***ers show up, that is.
There are certainly some problems that need to be worked out, but, given it’s in Early Access, I’m rather impressed with the state that it’s currently in. Aside from some minor mechanic issues, which should be easily fixable, things are surprisingly smooth and almost feels like it could be a finished title in itself. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve at the beginning, with the tool-tips being a bit all over the place and difficult to follow, and it could use a more structured tutorial. That being said, the Slimepedia is an excellent in-game reference for information, and, much like the other issues present, should be easily solved in future updates. Once you’ve wrapped your head around how the game works, I can almost guarantee that you’ll have a grand old time in plundering a Far, Far off world, and I’m looking forward to its official release.