Harvest Moon DS

The Harvest Moon series has graced its way onto almost every platform since it was first introduced on the Super NES back in 1997 (although the Xbox was sadly left out), so it's really no surprise it's making the move to the Nintendo DS under the unimaginative name Harvest Moon DS. Natsume, the development team behind the game, is hoping to move in on Animal Crossing's turf (and success for that matter) with the franchise's open-ended, simulation-style gameplay.

For all of you who ever wanted to be a farmer, but you know... avoid all the heavy labor, picking up animal feces, and long work days, then Harvest Moon is for you. If you're unfamiliar with the franchise, it's basically a farm management sim. You'll grow crops, take care of animals, and try and make a living; you'll also be able to head into town to commune with the locals, buy some supplies and even woo the eligible ladies. It's a tough job, but someone's got a do it.

Harvest Moon DS takes place in Forget-Me-Not Valley, the same village featured in the GameCube adaptation Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, so a few of you might find the town and people somewhat familiar. That isn't to saying there's nothing new however. There are plenty of new buildings to explore and new characters to interact with. One of those new characters introduced is the "Witch Princess" who plays a major role in the development of the story line. Originally planning to play a prank on the town, she accidentally casts the wrong spell and lets loose 101 "Harvest Sprites" and it's up to you to find them. Cheesy? Yes. But then again Harvest Moon has never really been about plot development.

To take advantage of the Nintendo DS' two screens, the game will feature action and in-game movement on the top screen, and your inventory and stat menu on the bottom screen for easy tool swapping and info (something Animal Crossing should have done, in my opinion). While interacting with other characters within the town, the dialogue,will appear on the bottom of the screen as well. You'll also be able to play touch-enhanced minigames on the bottom screen, such as poker.

With the use of the touch screen, interacting with your farm animals has been brought to a whole new level. You'll be able to go one on one with each animal and use the stylus to do a variety of things, depending on the animal. You can pet your dog by rubbing the stylus back and forth over it, similar to the design in Nintendogs. Some animal activites play out as minigames - while fleecing a sheep you'll be timed on how fast you can do it, and the quicker you pull it off the more points you'll be rewarded with. While a neat idea, I shudder at the thought of stroking the stylus up and down to milk a cow.

Sadly, Natsume decided to opt out of an online mode, or even local Wi-Fi for that matter. Still, I'm not too sure how fun it would end up being to visit someone else's town that looks exactly like and contains the exact same people as mine does. The appeal of Animal Crossing's multiplayer was meeting other people's unique villagers.

Another drawback of Harvest Moon DS is the graphical direction - it's nearly the exact same as what we saw on the Game Boy Advance title Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town. It's been nearly three years since then and Natsume is now working with much more powerful hardware. But if the game play can follow in the footsteps of it's handheld forefathers then it should be in good shape.

One neat addition is that Harvest Moon DS is one of the few games to actually take advantage of the duel-cartridge DS option. When either Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town or Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town is in the Game Boy Advance slot you'll unlock extra goodies such as a newspaper tracking your progress in the Game Boy title.

The Harvest Moon series is acknowledged for being incredibly deep, and from the looks of things Harvest Moon DS seems to be in good shape. Hopefully the lack of graphical improvement will be overshadowed by its game play. We'll give you the full rundown when the game releases in August.