Shrugging off the edgy image they’ve effected with games such as gritty urban thriller Car Jack Streets and hip-hop, dance ’em up B-Boy Beats, for their latest Tag Games have crafted a saccharinely sweet and cutsey title that has much more in common with Nintendo’s output than Rockstar’s. Although as the hilarious Star Trek spoofing opening scene rolls, you’ll realise Tag have jettisoned none of the stellar production values or wittiness that has helped to establish them as one of the most consistently exciting and innovative iDevice developers on the planet.
Having made your choice between the game’s two squabbling siblings, you are dropped into a headache-inducingly, brightly coloured alien world with only a knap-sack containing a few essential farming tools to your name.
Thankfully the locals come in peace and the mayor of this strange place (is that a cameo by the Toy Story alien?) is on hand to take you through the fundamentals of movement, tending to and harvesting crops, and extra-terrestrial economics.
He’s even kind enough to provide you with a piece of land and some funky, Jetsons style lodgings to call your own.
Now over the course of my gaming career I’ve crash landed on a fair few alien worlds, but admittedly I’m usually packing heat not agricultural equipment, and this live-and-let-live approach to human alien relations initially left me cold. Yet as I got to grips with the Harvest Moon meets Animal Crossing mechanic, I soon warmed to Astro Ranch‘s charms, (virtual) days turned into weeks and the seasons flew by.
There’s always something to do Astro Ranch’s immersive ecosphere and beyond the central farm your way out of dodge storyline, there’s a plethora of mini-games to enjoy, from fishing to gold-panning, a huge cast of odd-ball aliens to chat with and a vast 3d planet to be explored. Not to mention upgrading your equipment, re-decorating your home and doing battle with the pests trying to munch their way through your livelihood.
The enormously compelling agrarian lifestyle you must adopt is truly the star of the show though, providing endless hours of entertainment as you rush around tending to crops, rearing bizarre livestock and playing the stock-market in order to get the best price for your produce.
The graphics and presentation, while cloyingly cutesy at times, do a bang-up job of bringing an alien world vibrantly to life, while intuitive controls mean traversing the planet and farming is a joy. Optional DLC content (new outfits etc) and some well implemented social features expand the game’s longevity further still.
So don’t be surprised when the wreckage of your rocket lies rusting, forgotten in a field, as you’ll most likely be having too much fun to ever want to go home again. In short, this is iPhone’s homegrown answer to Nintendo’s immensely popular strategy titles. And how! .
iFanzine Verdict:Astro Ranch puts a galaxies worth of fun at your fingertips! And Tag have planted the seeds for what will surely blossom into a franchise to rival the Animal Crossings, Sims and Harvest Moons of the world.