Before the likes of Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon was the original farming/life simulator. First releasing on the Super Nintendo way back in 1996, it has appeared on many consoles in the near 25 years since. All that is, except the humble Xbox. And whilst Harvest Moon: Mad Dash might not feature the core gameplay the series is known for, it somewhat taps into it. But does this diversion from the core gameplay make for a worthwhile introduction to the Microsoft family?
Mad Dash removes the relaxing and passive gameplay that the Harvest Moon franchise is known for and replaces it with frantic farming that feels more like Overcooked!. Just without the emphasis on teamwork so much; players are permitted to run around like headless chickens and still contribute.
Up to four players locally can join in the action that has you running around the playing area combining crops, hay or fish into groups of one another and then farming the resultant produce. Add to this a timer and scores to beat, and it really does turn into a mad dash.
Combining crops forces them to sprout out of the ground. Most crops require two additions before being able to harvest them, but later crops can require more combos. Once you have mastered crops, Mad Dash throws in animal husbandry. This works similar to crop harvesting; sheep, chickens and cows will wander around the area looking for hay bales that can once again be combined together. Once they’ve had their fill, they will produce wool, eggs or milk for you to collect, before taking a short nap to prepare to start the process all over again.
If you can manage two things at once, how about throwing in a spot of fishing for good measure? Small pools of water will randomly appear that can, again, be combined to make larger pools. Only pools with fish in them can be ‘fished’ but throw that into a larger chain of pools and you can collect more fish in one go.
All the levels are set against the clock, and higher scores award more stars, up to a maximum of three. Collecting stars will unlock further levels, but they also add up to increase your Helper Harvest Sprite level. Collect enough stars and you will earn a Sprite level that can be used to unlock a buff for your next attempt at a level, providing you have progressed far enough to unlock the buff. These will come in useful on the tricky fishing levels when trying to earn all three stars.
To unlock them all though, you need to have progressed past level 30 first. That feels like an awfully long time before unlocking, and indeed Mad Dash has a nasty habit of drip feeding you new features throughout. After an initial burst through the early levels of unlocking animals and fish to harvest, everything else seems to take an age to come through. It isn’t until the 25th level that you even get a change of scenery; everything before then takes place on the same map tile.
Whilst stars are nice to collect, they aren’t the ultimate goal in Mad Dash. That reward is found in the Time Seeds, and there are eight in total to collect. Along your journey through the overworld, every so often a different path will branch off. These will lead to either the Skyworld or the Underworld – a series of five bonus levels with a Time Seed awarded for completing them.
The criteria for earning stars in these areas remains the same, but they do introduce different level modifiers. The Underworld, for example, has lava dripping onto the map that will destroy any crops it touches. Once gone though, the ground is fertilised, producing bigger crops. Similarly, for the Skyworld, a snowflake will fall periodically, freezing your crops. But remove the frost and the crops will be ready for harvest, regardless of which stage they were at before.
These modifiers are welcome, but crucially missing from the main path. Occasionally here you will have a boar running across the level that destroys crops and briefly incapacitates you if hit, or coconuts dropping down, but there isn’t enough variation throughout to justify you playing through 80+ levels of very similar gameplay.
If this gameplay sounds more suited to a mobile device, it is available on the usual app stores as well. The biggest difference though is the price; on mobiles Harvest Moon: Mad Dash is around £4.69. On Xbox, it is more than three times as much at a criminal £16.74, and gameplay is identical across both versions. Touch controls may even suit Mad Dash better than a standard controller.
Even for the premium price, it isn’t without bugs. Whilst only minor, your character will sometimes glitch across the screen. Usually either at the start or when the timer displays that there are only 30 seconds remaining, your character will be whisked to another part of the screen and it takes a brief moment for you to realise.
Mad Dash has 27 achievements in total, and they are a fairly standard bunch to unlock. There are rewards at every ten levels you have completed, along with collecting Time Seeds and performing particularly large harvests. If you manage to stick it out until the end, you shouldn’t have any issues unlocking them all.
On one hand, it is an absolute joy to finally have Harvest Moon on the Xbox. But, Harvest Moon: Mad Dash on Xbox One isn’t the version that many fans will have been hoping for. Whilst it isn’t without its charm, it doesn’t represent Harvest Moon in the right way: Mad Dash is designed to be played in short, sharp bursts, whereas the real thing can easily suck days and weeks away. But with an absence of new activities coming at you regularly, Mad Dash can even feel laborious after a short while. The high price point may explain the vast number of levels, but it can’t be forgiven for not including anything other than the same gameplay loop over and over again. Mad Dash is fast and frantic, but also tedious and monotonous.