First, to get this out of the way, there is no actual farming in Space Farmers. There are pigs and cows lurking around, and farmer characters to select, but you will not be collecting the harvest. Put away your thoughts of hovering tractors flying through fields of off-color fruits and vegetables. Instead of the zero gravity crop simulator you might expect from Steam in 2014, Space Farmers is instead a co-op puzzle game put out by the BumpkinBrothers. It’s a game that’s full of clever hooks and the kind of great moments you can only get when playing with a friend, but it’s held back by a bizarre progression that forces you to solve the same puzzles over and over again. Combine that with a nonexistent online community, and Space Farmers becomes something to pull out at parties or with a buddy, a fleeting fancy rather than a must have experience.
The scenario is a common one. Aliens are abducting farmers from the heartlands of a Minecraft-inspired voxel world in order to test their mettle in deathtrap laden test chambers. You and a friend are supplied with tools such as jetpacks, specially tinted goggles and magnetic gloves, and you are then thrown to the wolves to figured out each maze. The levels restart whenever a player dies, but the maps are short enough that the true fun comes in stumbling through them and discovering the various ways to fail, only to comically point out your friends failures a moment later. It is undeniably a good time during your first playthrough, but one entire run through the game’s sole mode takes about fifteen to twenty minutes all told. Two or three runs through that, and even the most enthusiastic player would be ready to move on.
Space Farmers (PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux)
Publisher: KISS ltd.
Release Date: April 17th 2014
MSRP: $10 for a Two-Pack, $5 for a single copy (Desura only)
There is a bit of progression to keep you going. You collect suspiciously coin-shaped turnips as you travel throughout the levels, and those can be exchanged for either health boosts during certain puzzles or hats that can be worn during subsequent playthroughs. It also keeps some of the levels locked initially, which may be the game’s biggest downfall. During your first few sessions, Space Farmers loads up a random assortment of levels for you to tackle. The problem with that is twofold. For one, unlocking features such as level select is tied to completing different puzzles, so if the game keeps throwing you into the same rooms, you’re screwed. If that wasn’t enough, the puzzles are not nearly as fun to complete the second time out, something that anyone who’s mastered the Portal games know all too well. So instead of running through all the game’s content in a straight line and enjoying new challenges, you and your closest friends might be stuck on a hamster wheel going through the motions of puzzles you already played ten minutes ago.
Space Farmers also suffers from a lack of things to do. The bar has been significantly raised in recent years for indie games, even for a $5 product. Not being able to unlock levels on your own in a single player mode, or compare completion times on leaderboards, it undercuts everything that the game does right. Its online component is almost worthless, as I’ve never seen someone else matchmaking despite trying over several days at all hours. Even some sort of level editor and Steam Workshop support would extend the enjoyment of the title somewhat, but nothing of the sort can be found here. I understand that not every release has to be a long lasting time suck, but when I feel like I’ve accomplished everything a game has to offer in a little over an hour of playtime, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
At its core, Space Farmers does co-op puzzling in a very entertaining fashion. If this were released during the PS1/N64 days, this would be the perfect game for two friends to rent on a long summer afternoon, have some laughs, and then forget about the next day. However, it is instead the age of digital distribution, where twenty games seemingly come out every day, all vying for the attention of gamers. Space Farmers has a few good tricks, but not nearly enough to stand up among the crowd or attract an audience to its online modes. Development seems to be slowly continuing on the title despite not being on Early Access, so this could change in the future, especially with the addition of a level editor. For now though, if you have a regular co-op companion who enjoyed Trine or Portal 2, and you can get it for a discount, Space Farmers may be worth a look. For everyone else, there are plenty of other cows out to pasture.