Remember Animal Crossing? Stupid question, most likely, but did you ever want something just a little bit more from it? Maybe a touching and enjoyable narrative or an inclusive cast of characters that don’t feel like caricatures? Maybe something that maintains a sense of simplicity that won’t have you toiling away at endless objectives just to unlock a shovel, but is still compelling enough to pick up every day to find something new to use? If you’ve ever yearned for something akin to that, then let me introduce you to the Australian-made Wylde Flowers, an amalgamation of the above ideas within a colourful and enjoyable island of farming and magic.
Tara Wylde returns to the rural island of Fairhaven with a few questions. Why did her grandma ask her back here after all this time? What happened to the farm? Also, why does grandma have a secret basement with a cauldron? Tara’s trip back home doesn’t take too long to take a twist into the magical, but it sets up the story of rebuilding the farmstead and continuing the family tradition of becoming a witch, all the while learning about the history of Fairhaven and its many citizens.
I mentioned Animal Crossing because, as much as there’s a touch of Stardew Valley within Wylde Flowers’ concept, it feels more like a Nintendo game than a traditional farming sim with RPG elements. There’s a sense of welcoming from the first moment Tara arrives at the island, with all those that call it home happy to discuss everything from how to plant your first crop to where the best places to fish are. There are no dark twists or abject silliness, just an inviting place to call home and explore in your own time.
Do you know Kiki? I’m waiting on a delivery.
Within a few hours you’ll be establishing small crops of vegetables and flowers next to your home, wandering around town to introduce yourself to all of the residents before night falls and the secrets of the island begin to appear, and Tara’s future begins to take shape. It’s a simple premise that strips away some of the annoying elements of having to log in every day to progress or levelling up Tara just to unlock the next key item or story moment, instead keeping the focus squarely on enjoyable storytelling and a world brimming with people you want to be around.
Simplicity is the key here, as Wylde Flowers is clearly designed to be picked up and played by just about everyone. Most of my time was spent casually running back and forth through town, chatting to folks to create friendships or pick up an objective or two and learning about the nature of the island. Before I knew it, I had a solid business of catching and selling fish and vegetables, which helped to fund upgrades to the farm. As the sun went down, my objectives turned to magic, learning new incantations that helped my day-to-day life.
All the while, the town carries on. There’s no real rush to complete anything, though you’ll have to wait a little while for plants to grow or bees to create honey and occasionally someone will come up to you with a suggestion, gift or a narrative thread to push things forward for you. Also, taking time to visit everyone around the island will strengthen relations and perhaps create new opportunities. It’s all suitably pleasant and satisfying (as life sims should be), without that nagging grind that can sometimes bring games of this ilk down.
Got to keep everything watered
What sets Wylde Flowers apart is its cast of characters, fully voice acted and brimming with individuality that many will relate to, accompanied with a sense of honesty and culture of inclusiveness. I gravitated towards the likes of Kim, a non-binary who moved to the island to open a butcher shop that has a strained relationship with her parents, and Violet, who wants to leave behind her tragic past on the island after her mother vanishes and her father stepped aside from being mayor. The more you spend time with everyone, befriending or perhaps building a romantic relationship if you so choose, the more you’ll learn about their lives and those around them. It’s both loving and emotional, the dialogue surprising me with how deep and meaningful it can become. This is less a game for kids and more a game for, well, everyone.
There’s an energy meter you’ll have to keep an eye on during each day, though a quick bite to eat or sleeping at the end of the day will easily fill that up, but I rarely felt like I needed to use it all up all the time. It’s easy to get into a groove of working on the farm or town objectives during the day then switching over to working on new spells and potions at night, and Wylde Flowers does an excellent job of never making it feel boring or repetitive in the process.
There are a few side effects to simplifying things down, though I’d hesitate to call them bad decisions given how clear the target audience is here. I never found myself truly challenged as just about everything can be completed by pressing one button, but that’s hardly the point of the game so I’m not about to hold that against it. Having already established itself as a touch screen title on iOS, the transition to a more traditional control scheme is again super easy.
Gramma knows all
As much as the farming side of things is well established with plenty of options, you’re not going to be going as crazy with the granular design as you would in other faming games. There’s not a massive plot of land to work with and, to be fair, you’re likely going to be more interested in building up Tara’s magical skills instead. There are also very few customisation options, so don’t go in thinking you can change the farm to suit your style or give Tara a wholly unique look. In another world, maybe a Story of Seasons, I’d expect those kinds of details, but here it feels like the world has been built to tell you a story, instead of having you create your own.
Wylde Flowers is a pleasant place to exist, the kind of game you can simply relax with and appreciate its colour and let the stress of the real world slip away. Come on by for its cast of inclusive and engaging characters, stay for its simpler take on the lifestyle genre with a clever, magical spin. Some might prefer a little more detail or options to really make it your own, but it’s an island worth visiting if Tom Nook’s insistence on spending more nook miles has become an annoyance.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Studio Drydock
- Studio Drydock
- Switch / PC
- September 20, 2022