Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ghost's Arcade: Slime Rancher

Ghost's Arcade Announcement

I've noticed that a large number of my video game reviews are quite random and extremely lengthy.  This is mostly due to the fact that video games are extremely varied in format and genre.  The way I would review a Pokemon game would not be the same as a Battlefield game.  I also love gaming and can talk for a very long time about subjects I love.  In an effort to make these things shorter and as uniform as I possibly can so that people may want to actually read them and get to the point, I will be tailoring my true video game reviews to be more like my movie reviews.  There will be a section on both plot and gameplay that will be mostly informative with a few jokes here and there.  Then I will have a section for praises and a section for complaining.  If there is anything else of interest I'll include an additional section after that.  Obviously if it's not a standard game review and more of a discussion about gaming or a concept then this wouldn't apply.  This will be the first game review under the new format.  Hope you enjoy.

Ghost here, thanks for joining!

I have covered many things when talking about video games over the last five years such as role playing games, action adventure games, life simulator games, the stagnation of first person shooters, how to make franchises better, the positives and negatives of online interaction, as well as a few humorous lists.  However, there is one particular aspect of gaming I generally shy away from in both discussion and practice; that aspect would be Early Access gaming.

For those of you not aware of this practice, early access is a funding model in the gaming industry where a consumer will purchase a game (generally at a discounted rate) that is playable but incomplete so that the developer can obtain more funds to continue working on the game utilizing feedback from the customers.  While this may sound good on paper, and I'm certain some game developers wouldn't get their game to market without the availability of this practice, the lazy and devious nature of some game developers have made Early Access a toxic cesspool.  Those of us who follow PC gaming in any aspect, are familiar with Steam, or follow internet reviewers are fully aware of the Early Access dangers.

Many games are put up for early access which should have never been available in the first place due to the numerous bugs or the inability to even play the game at all.  Not to mention that many of these titles turn out to have false promises, are inferior products, and many of the don't even get finished.  In fact, only around 25% of the games placed in Early Access on Steam are ever finished completely.  Even big businesses are starting to follow suit such as Street Fighter V being available for $60 with many of the game's modes not even released yet at the time of release; your opinion may differ on if this is a good or bad thing.  With such overwhelming odds against Early Access, I generally haven't bothered.

That changed on January 15th, 2016 when I saw that Jim Sterling has placed up a new video of a game called Slime Rancher (for those of you unfamiliar with Jim's work I feel I should warn you about the language present).  It seemed to be one of the few competent Early Access games to come out and honestly seemed like something I would enjoy as long as I did a tiny bit of reading on the Slime Rancher wiki instead of bungling it up like Jim accidentally did on his first go through.  He saw a lot of potential in it, and for the first time ever, so did I.  Let's talk about Slime Rancher!

The Plort Plot

Beatrix LeBeau is a young slime rancher who has come to the planet of "Far Far Range" in order to begin her own ranch.  The universe has started a wide trade in plorts which are essentially the excrement of slime creatures after they eat.  Yes there is an entire society based on slime poop.  Beatrix, armed with her trusty vacpack, will go around the world collecting slimes, food, and plorts in order to make a fully functioning and massively profitable ranch. You will set up corrals for the slimes, gardens for the food, and coops for the chickens, while avoiding the evil and nasty Tarr slimes who eat and destroy everything.

That's honestly it as far as plot is concerned.  It's mostly just a backdrop to explain why you are doing what you are doing.  It's kind of weird to have an entire society that uses slime excrement as a viable substance for various uses (all of which can be read about in the internal Slimepedia).  But, I've seen weirder concepts before.  This is more about the gameplay than it is the plot.

The Gameplay

You control Beatrix in the first person view with her Vacpack in clear sight.  The Vacpack can suck up and shoot out items with the left and right mouse buttons respectively.  However it can only hold four different types of items at a single time, and can initially only hold around 20 of each item in question.  This means that you will need to be selective when you go out adventuring into the wild as you can only bring back four particular types of items or slimes per journey out.  Luckily once you have enough money, there are upgrades for your equipment.  These include an extended capacity up to 50 of each item at a time, a super sprint, and a jet pack to fly all around the world.  With these upgrades you can explore every inch of the world possible.

While exploration and bringing items back to your ranch is a central mechanic of the game, the core concern is, of course, your ranch.  To start off with you have one pre-built corral for slimes and seven additional empty locations for you to build additional corrals, gardens, chicken coops etc for you to feed and house your slimes.  All of these are essential as you need a corral for the slimes so they don't run away.  You need food to feed the slimes so they produce plorts, and you need plorts so you can buy your personal upgrades as well as additional corrals, gardens, and other plots of land.  Once you get enough money in-hand you can expand your ranch twice to include a more free-range area for slimes as well as a cave.

Your personal items aren't the only things that can upgrade.  Each and every segment you build can be upgraded multiple times.  The corrals can be twice as high, have nets along the top, play soothing music for the slimes, have a sun resistant barrier for any slimes who don't like sunlight such as the phosphor slimes, auto-feed them, and auto-collect their plorts!  The gardens can have scare slimes to keep hungry free-roaming slimes away as well as enriched soil and automatic watering to increase output..  The coops can enrich your chickens to make them grow faster and keep them within the coop.  You can also build a silo to hold any additional objects you can't keep on you and once fully upgraded, you can have 100 of four separate items stored there.  There are many upgrades that make your life easier if you have the coin.

Why would you put the plorts in the silo?  Well that just depends on how you want to play the game.  To the right of your house is the plort exchange machine which gives you money based on how much the market value of that plort is.  The more of a particular plort you hand over in exchange for cash, the less valuable it will be the next day.  This kind of ensures that early on in the game you can't get rich quick.  Generally in your first few in-game days you will only have three types of plorts and without the variety the prices will be very low.  One way to make sure you get top dollar for your plort is to hoard them in the silo for a few days and eventually the scarcity of that plort will drive the values up and you can make bank!  I didn't do this as I has so many plorts coming out constantly I didn't need high market value personally but it's your own choice how to play the market game.

If you happened to watch Jim Sterling's video that I linked you to, you will notice something very bad happened.  Suddenly Tarr creatures started appearing all over his ranch and completely decimated everything he had done.  If the game informs you of how to avoid this, I personally missed it when I first started the game.  I found this out on the Slime Rancher wiki.  Tarr is a black slime that is extremely aggressive and devours everything in its path including you! You can use the vacpack to attach the Tarr to the end of your nozzle and shoot him off into the horizon to get rid of him.  These creatures don't show up naturally in your ranch,, they have to be made by carelessness.  This game allows for the cross-breeding of slimes.  If a slime of one variety eats the plort of another slime, it mutates into a larger version of both varieties together known as a Largo Slime.  This can create for some amusing combinations such as a honey rock, or an exploding cat.  As long as you only allow these largos to come in contact with the plorts produced by either of it's halves it's fine.  If a largo ingests the plort of a third variety of creature, they turn into a tarr and murder everything.  So, at ALL times make sure no more than two types of slime can be in contact with each other or you're in for a bad day. 

There are a couple of other things here and there such as making sure you feed the Gordo Slimes (VERY large slimes who sit in one place and give prizes once full) which will allow you access to new areas.  Considering that there are still several areas and aspects of the game not yet released as of the writing of this post, this is about all I can say about the gameplay.

What's Good About It?

I absolutely love the art style of this game.  It's a very colorful and fun looking world.  It's kind of reminding me of the sort of a mixture between Legend of Zelda Wind Waker and Team Fortress 2 with its cartoony realism.  It's cute but not in an obnoxious way.  Even the darker and gloomier aspects of what I've seen are still very enjoyable. It's just the kind of look that makes you feel happy.  That's not even talking about the slimes themselves.  While the tarr may be an ugly abomination of hatred, the actual slimes themselves are absolutely adorable and I want to make sure to capture each and every one to fill my ranch up with such adorable creatures.
How could you not love all of these little guys

Jet packs are awesome!  I seriously don't know anyone who wouldn't love to have a jet pack or at least utilize one in a video game.  There are several places you can go exploring once you get the fully upgraded jet pack and I find myself using it more than I actually just walk around.  It makes for traversing the world and the ranch an absolute joy!  Why don't more games feature jet packs?!  Get the jetpack as soon as you can in this game; you won't regret it.

One thing I really enjoy about this is the laid back atmosphere that it has (unless you are running away from tarrs.)  While action packed games are great and I certainly love them, sometimes you just want to play something that's low key and laid back.  As long as you don't create tarr or try to grow your ranch too fast you're in for a pleasant and fairly laid back experience that can often be just what you need.  If you want some time to just play something laid back that's still very interesting and allows you to explore, then you would enjoy this too.

Lastly I have to mention the updates.  As this is an Early Access game I was reluctant to purchase it based on the fact that so many games go unfinished.  However the promise I saw in the video was enough to get me to bite as this is a well put together game even though it's unfinished.  I bought this two months ago and since then there have been at least three updates to the game.  While these updates were mostly things like bug fixes and small tweaks here and there, there is still active work being put out.  The developers have also stated that they intend to release more content and have given us the intended release number to go with this planned content.  There is an actual plan going forward.  People who have hacked into the game's coding have already seen some of the upcoming work coded into the game in one manner or another.  So, unless something happens to change the direction, I feel confident that this will continue to provide us with more updates and more content until it is finished.  We know of three entire areas at minimum that haven't been released to us yet.  Who knows what else may be in store!

What's Bad About It?
I'm going to preface this by saying that I do fully realize that a game still in development can easily be altered.  There's a chance that most if not all of this will be modified or addressed in a future update.  While nothing about this game is "bad", there are a few inconveniences and minor annoyances that I either know will be corrected or hope can be tweaked.

Being the pokemon player that I am, I just gotta catch em all.  I like collecting things and being able to show off my collection.  That being said, there doesn't really seem to be an adequate amount of places to not only grow food but store every single variety of slime at the same time.  I currently have every variety in their own little corral, and I have one open spot left and no slimes in the free-range area.  There are three varieties of slime that we know are coming in future updates. I can place one in my open spot and the other two in the free-range area but what if we end up getting more slimes? What if the golden slimes can eventually be captured?  This is a massive nitpick as I feel we are supposed to be creating Largos (2 slimes in 1) to consolidate space but I like having all of my little guys.  Perhaps they can add an additional area behind our house for more spots.  Maybe they could code it to where slimes that we have placed in the free-range area don't eat plorts (highly unlikely).  But something to give us more spots to ranch would be welcome!

While I started off wanting to complain that we could only have 4 types of items in our vacpack, the more I thought about it the more I didn't care.  It would be kinda silly and ruin the point of the game if we walked around with Mary Poppins' TARDIS bag and could hold as much as humanly possible.  My problem, however is when other items not in our vacpack are present.  You walk into an area and see some chickens that you wish to pick up so you can feed your tabby slimes.  Unfortunately in the same area are some pogofruit and carrots.  You have no open spots to utilize either of these foods.  What happens next is absolute annoyance as you begin sucking up the chickens, the pogofruits and carrots come too.  When they reach the end of your vacpack since they have nowhere to go they just pop off the end and fall to the ground.  This not only causes a really annoying sound as they are constantly being sucked back up and popping off the end, but this also briefly stops the airflow and massively extends the time spent trying to simply pick up a certain item.  I realize why this exists so we can move Largos and Tarrs around, but I wish there was a button that we could toggle the vacpack to either work on everything or work only on items present inside the vacpack just as a convenience to the player.  Not sure how that could be coded but it would be a wonderful thing.

Lastly is the one thing that I know is going to change.  There's just not quite enough content currently.  While there is still plenty of content to play around for a few days, I honestly had gotten a TON of money (close to $82,000) and had a self-sustaining ranch after about 4 evenings of playing the game.  Since then it's just been me piddling around and waiting on new content to be given.  Again, at least three new areas and three different types of slimes are coming our way and I look forward to getting those new regions, but until that point there's just not a lot to do once you reach a sustainable point.


Slime Rancher really is a load of semi-laid back fun!  Up until I reached the point where I'm just waiting on new content, I was enjoying every minute of this game between keeping the adorable little slimes happy and production plorts, to exploring all of the little caves, nooks, and crannies.  It's something that sounds really silly on paper, but if you actually see it and play it, it's brilliant!  If the idea of catching, raising, and cross breeding cute little creatures for profit while exploring the world with a jetpack and a modified version of Luigi's Poltergust sounds fun to you then you should seriously give it a try!  It's only $19.99 bought directly from the website (with steam code included) or bought through Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux!  I already feel as though I've gotten most of my money's worth just from what I was able to do, and feel as though the value is only going to rise as this game inches closer to completion.

While I haven't yet seen a big update with new content, it so far seems that the guys at Monomi Park know what they are doing and are utilizing Early Access properly.  This is actually their first game and their website only lists three people working on it!  That's very impressive and unless something massively unforseen happens with them, I look forward to what their next project is!

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

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