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Review: Astro Ranch

March 1, 2010 , Posted by App-reciation Reviews at 11:29 AM

Category: Games
Price: $ 2.99
Requirements: iPhone or iPod touch, OS 2.2.1 or later
Version: 1.0

What's good: What do you get when you combine gameplay mechanics from Harvest Moon and Farmville with the design and aesthetics of My Sims or Animal Crossing? Only one of the best and most creative iPhone games ever made, we think. By now, it should be quite clear that we're talking about none other than Tag Games' most ambitious endeavor yet - a thoroughly fun simulation game in a full 3D environment that takes you on a most exciting agricultural adventure. Aptly titled Astro Ranch, you play one of two characters - Sindy or Max - whose ship crash lands on an alien planet far from home, with only a bunch of farming equipment on board. Lucky for you, the foreign city is teeming with life - rivers flow, crops flourish, and animals wander around. Quirky characters, too, are available to help you around, and the first one you'll meet is the mayor, a green three-eyed being who introduces you to the basics and sets you up with a small living space, a barn, some land, and a well. In return for his hospitality, you are required to pay him all the chips (this is the in-game currency) you have with you, leaving you with no option but to slowly earn your money back.

This marks the beginning of your long (and hopefully fruitful) farming career, which starts off with you planting simple crops like corn, pea pods, and carrots - all slightly modified versions of earth produce with correspondingly strange names, of course. In your knapsack, you'll find several tools to start you off, including a shovel to plow the land, a scythe for harvesting, and a watering can for irrigation. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out what to do next, and once your fruits and vegetables are all packed and crated, simply head off to the pod next to your barn and throw the boxes in. As the goods automatically zip off to market, you immediately get your returns in the form of chips, with the total amount varying according to stock market prices (which changes daily and can be accessed on a computer inside your house).

As you start earning money, you can consider investing in animals as well. Chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, and buffaloes don't come cheap - apart from a pen, you'll need to buy feed, a broom to tidy up their space, medicine in case they get sick, and equipment to collect their various by-products: shears to gather wool, or a pail to contain milk, for example. As the animals age, they get more valuable, bringing in more cash in case you decide to sell. At the same time, the longer you play, the higher the risk that your livestock will be attacked (sometimes in the dead of night) by sneaky predators like snakes. To prevent this, upgrade their pen enclosures to more resistant material and pound away at any nasty killers you might encounter on the ranch with your hammer.

Apart from those already mentioned above, there are still a huge variety of items you can purchase at the store. Some, like the gold-sifting pan, open you up to a new activity that will draw you to discover more of the game world, while others, like a sprinkler system or a more spacious barnyard, improve the efficiency of your production and take some work off your hands for a change.

Even after all that, there will always be more to do on this brightly colored world set in outer space. While single-handedly running a ranch is no easy task, additional opportunities to gain money or experience like short missions or even fishing trips still pop up occasionally, and they are usually so lucrative that you will simply have to learn to integrate these tasks into your ongoing ones to make the most out of the game. Controls are fairly intuitive and the complexity of your production process is always proportional to your skill level, contributing to a smooth learning curve that will facilitate a challenging yet manageable time all the way. There's really no doubt that this is one of the most fun we're ever had on an iPhone - the graphics, soundtracks, concept, and gameplay have all been well-planned and combine to make a truly excellent title. And at an introductory price of $ 2.99, we advise everyone to shoot off to the AppStore and grab this now!

Suggestions for improvement: This game would be perfect were it not for the countless bugs present. Some of the notable problems we've so far encountered: crashing and freezing issues, unresponsive controls and flawed interaction with objects, and scene repetitions. We also hope for a speedy solution to slow loading times and would really love to see more comprehensive instructions or a complete help menu accessible in-game.

Breakdown:
Graphics - 4.75/5 Creativity - 5/5 Gameplay - 4.75/5 Controls - 4.75/5
App-reciation - 4.75/5

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