Wouldn't you have loved to be a fly on the wall the first time someone pitched the idea of a farming video game? There was probably a lot of raucous laughter in the boardroom that day, replete with eye rolling and "can-you-believe-this-guy" patronising eyebrow waggles. But, like the plucky hero of every 80's teen comedy, the genre has gone on to become remarkably popular. One of the more successful titles was the original Farm Mania from Realore Studios, a time management game that starred a girl named Anna struggling to turn around her grandfather's dilapidated old farmstead. Now, Anna is back and looking to continue her successful streak in Farm Mania 2.
The game plays out across multiple levels, each one coming with its own set of challenges required to pass. Once you begin, take note of the time limit in the upper left corner, since if you fail to meet the requirements before you reach it, you'll have to start all over. The requirements themselves are displayed at the bottom of the screen and help you keep track of your progress.The in-game tutorial does a good job of walking you through new farm additions as they arrive with a series of small pop-ups that can be turned off with the click of a button if you're already an old hand at the farming biz.
Even if you're not, the gameplay is pretty simple to pick up. Clicking on an object on the farm causes the appropriate character to go and use it. Anna, for example, takes care of animals and most vegetables, while her grandfather handles drawing water, planting feed, and tending trees. Animals need to be kept fed and watered to produce things like eggs and wool, while your vegetables need watering and weeding to grow. When an object needs something, an icon with a timer will pop up above it, and you'll have a certain amount of time to tend to it. Wait too long, and the item will be wasted. If it seems harsh, just remember that we are talking about an apparently magical world where apple trees take less than a minute to grow. I think you've got it pretty good there, Junior.
Analysis: Farm Mania 2 doesn't feel much like a sequel. It's more like an expansion pack that got a facelift, but while a lot of the changes are cosmetic, all of them make the game feel much more streamlined. The gameplay remains the same, and even the bonus levels look familiar, if not identical, to its predecessor. While I can't say I'm entirely fond of the new hand-drawn artwork that lends the characters an eerie, bobble-headed appearance during cutscenes, the entire game as a whole does now look more polished and professional. The farm's layout is much cleaner, and plays a lot smoother. It feels like the game the original should have been.
This time around, you can also use the cash earned from the sweat of your brow to purchase a rather surprising number of animals, vegetables, and upgrades designed to turn you into a farming powerhouse. Not only do you have a wider amount of animals, vegetables, and farming implements to purchase, but you can also buy upgrades to each character's speed at any particular task. It can turn an otherwise viciously difficult level into a merely challenging one.
The downside is that some of the gameplay restrictions feel a little pointless. Why can't Anna pump water? Why does she have to wait for her grandfather to do it? Another annoyance is that once you meet the requirements for a particular stage, it ends immediately regardless of how much time you have on the clock. It doesn't matter if you have product ready to send or vegetables still in the ground that you could earn more money with. And while there are a lot of upgrades, the illusion of freedom vanishes once you realise you actually have very little choice regarding purchasing them. The game will tell you when you can buy certain items, and at times it won't let you proceed until you've bought the items it wants you to.
Is Farm Mania 2 fun? Certainly. If you were a fan of the original, and indeed of time management games in general, this installment offers up a very smooth and colourful experience that's about as kid-friendly as you can get without including a sock puppet to teach the ABCs. While not the most complex title out there, it's still a fun and vibrant entry into the genre that will provide all the frantic, fast-paced farming you can handle.