In the future, it appears that some of the career paths available to us may be a little grim. Beatrix LeBeau, the hero of Slime Rancher, has one of those jobs.
Waking up on a distant planet, we are tasked with becoming a Slime Rancher, transforming a hostile planet into a cosy homestead. But instead of sitting pretty with horses and cattle on the ranch, we have to collect and corral Slimes. After preparing a pen for the Slimes, we have to go out into the wilderness, track down various different types, collect them using our cool vacuum gun and then transport them to the prepared pen – inserting them into it by reversing the vacuum gun from “suck” to “blow”.
So far, so good. However, now comes the grimness. When the Slimes are in the pen, they need to be fed and each type has a preferred food. Some are vegetarian, some are carnivorous, some don’t really care what they eat. But once they’ve been fed, they produce “plorts”, and it is these that are the goal of the game. Yes, we have flown to the other end of the galaxy to collect poo from small, bouncing Slimes. Intergalactic guano, if you will. Assuming this unusual premise to the game hasn’t put you off, let’s see what the rest of the game has to offer!
Slime Rancher has been in the Xbox Preview program for quite some time, but has only now been released as a full title. The time spent in the Preview program seems to have done it some good, as the game feels solid and runs smoothly. Indeed, Monomi Park, the developers, are to be congratulated for creating a world that seems so plausible and believable, if you’ll just ignore that whole “transported through space to a distant planet” stuff. Oh, and that you’re left dealing with Slimes and their poo.
At its core then, this game is comparable to titles like Farmville, in that we are tasked with preparing and maintaining what is, in effect, a farm. Sure, there’s more space travel and Slimes, but at its base, that’s all that this game is. Gather resources, whether that’s food, Slimes or wild plorts, return to the farm, organise and sell the results. Then plough that money back into expanding the farm or opening up new areas before rinsing and repeating. The big difference is obviously that the game is played out in a first person perspective, with the Vacpack (as Beatrix’s weapon is known) front and centre just like any good FPS.
Many types of Slimes will be found on your expeditions out into the wilderness. The commonest by far is the Pink Slime, which teem in their millions everywhere you look. These are the easiest Slime by far to farm, as they have no preferred food and will pretty much eat anything you throw in their pen; whether that be carrots, berries or baby chickens. Their ease of keeping and ubiquity does however mean that their plorts are worth the least of all the Slimes. There are also Tabby Slimes, which are adorable looking cat-like Slimes, grey and striped with cute cat ears. These Slimes are out and out predators, and will only eat meat, in the form of either chickens or their babies. As they are harder to keep than the Pinks, their plorts are worth more. Rock Slimes are more dangerous, as they are able to defend themselves by rolling up and flinging themselves at you, which really smarts if you are surrounded. Don’t get into a corral with Rock Slimes is my advice! These are vegetarian Slimes, but this time they have a favourite food – the Heart Beet – which produces more plorts if they are fed it. The last type of Slime is the hardest of all the ones I’ve found to farm, as they are strictly nocturnal. The Phosphor Slimes need collecting at night, making things much more dangerous than normal due to the presence of wild Feral Slimes. In a nice touch, the wild Feral Slimes only attack you because they are hungry, so if you have a supply of food in your Vacpack, feeding them is a good tactic to avoid a confrontation, and can give you valuable plorts as well.
Going back to the Phosphors though and the problem with keeping them is that they disappear if they are exposed to direct sunlight, so you either have to keep an eye on the time of day and suck them back up into the Vacpack, or alternatively build a subterranean corral in one of the expanded areas of the Far, Far Range. The sensitivity to sunlight is also shared by their plorts, and they will disappear if exposed for too long. There are many other types to find, catch and corral too, and helpfully the in game “Slimeopedia” will give you all the details of Slimes that you catch.
So as we have seen out on The Far, Far Range, as the world we are on is known, there are many different types of Slimes, and to make the situation even more confusing, there are cross breeds available too. Oddly, and rather disgustingly, the way to hybridise Slimes is to feed a Slime a plort from a different species. So feeding a Pink Slime a Tabby plort will make it grow cat ears, and then when it is fed it will produce both Pink and Tabby plorts, making them more valuable to farm. These new Slimes are known as Largos. However, they also grow a lot, allowing for less to fit into a corral, and they are also harder to keep in, as they can jump higher.
There are a lot of upgrades that can be purchased to make your corrals more secure, including Air Nets to keep Slimes in, Solar Shields that will help keep the Phosphor Slimes alive, and even plort collectors to protect you from Rock Slimes.
So, more plorts equals more potential money, right? Well, yes and no. Feeding plorts to Slimes evolves them, to borrow a term from Pokémon, but if you feed them too many, the Slimes will turn into highly dangerous Tarrs. Tarrs happen when a Slime has been given more than two types of plort, or when a Largo eats a plort that is not one of the two that it produces. Tarrs are basically black with swirling rainbow colours shot through, kind of like an oil slick brought to life. The worst trait that they have however is that they can infect any other Slime with their disease, and so can spread like wildfire. In a wild area this can cause a massive outbreak and can lead to very dangerous situation. Even the in-game Slimeopedia states “Alternatively, many ranchers recommend running away with their arms waving, screaming”. Tarrs do have one weakness however, and that is fresh water. A splash of water will stop the Tarr from replicating, and repeated splashes will kill it. So to be on the safe side, one of the things that can be constructed on the farm is a pond.
Speaking of the farm, there are many things that can be constructed to help you keep your Slimes in good condition and producing plorts. There are farm plots that can be built, which allow you to replicate whatever is placed into them. So if a farm plot is constructed and then a carrot is placed in it, the plot will grow a supply of carrots, for instance. Therefore the more plots you have and the more fruit and vegetables you collect from the wild, the more food you’ll have available to feed your Slimes and you’ll soon be knee deep in plorts.
However, just to make things that little more difficult, the Slimes do have a mind of their own. A hungry slime will do its best to get out of its pen, and will then make a beeline for the food that is being grown, proceeding to cause havoc by eating everything that they can get hold of. This then has a knock on effect for the Slimes that were being earmarked for the food that has gone, leading to a catastrophic chain reaction being triggered. The game in many ways is like watching a man running around trying to keep a bunch of plates spinning, with disaster only a mistimed step away!
This then is the whole premise of Slime Rancher in a nutshell: catch Slimes, feed them, collect their droppings and sell them. Use the money to buy other corrals or areas, then catch more Slimes and so on and so forth. It’s a testament to the design and the amount of work that has gone into the world and its inhabitants that this, essentially repetitive game, doesn’t feel like a grind. There’s always something to see, a new Slime to catch or a new area to open up, so boredom doesn’t ever set in.
Even the design of the Slimes is perfect, and the Tabbies in particular never fail to put a smile on my face whenever I load my farm up. The colourful look of the world, almost cartoon-like in quality, and the sound of bouncing Slimes is all very well done, setting the scene and immersing you into your mission. There are other people to interact with, and there are also daily missions to be completed, largely revolving around collecting the correct type of plort to fulfil a special order.
Slime Rancher can quite easily be mentioned in the same breath as Minecraft, as the gameplay has a similar open ended quality, and Farmville, as the basic idea is that you have to make a success of a farm. There’s also an element of the Pokémon games in there, as the different Slimes have to be hunted down and captured. The charm of the world, and in particular the cuteness of the Slimes, makes the game a pleasure to play, and there is a surprising amount of depth in the title with the breeding/evolving mechanic.
This is a game that can be enjoyed by kids, as it is colourful and peaceful, with no blood and gore to be seen – the worst that happens is that Beatrix will faint and wake up 24 in-game hours later. For the more mature gamer, like me, the lure of trying to catch them all and breed all the different combinations of Largos is a hook that keeps pulling me in.