Games don’t need to be high octane thrill fests all the time. You can have something nice, quiet and chill and still have a good time. Animal Crossing (review) was the right game at the right time. Giving people a chance to relax at a very stressful time. Wylde Flowers on Apple Arcade takes the same approach of offering players a relaxing, care-free experience. Upon first look, Wylde Flowers seems to take a lot of inspiration from games like Animal Crossing, as well as farming sims like Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon. But as a mobile game, can it compete?
Story and audio
The story of Wylde Flowers is pretty straightforward. You play as Tara Wyle, who just came to the island town of Fairhaven to take care of her ageing grandmother, Hazel Wylde. As part of your duties, you’ll be tasked with helping her with her farm and whatnot. However, the twist here is that Hazel is a witch who is part of a secret coven of witches on the island and Tara is a witch as well. Players are expected to help out with multiple farming activities, while also building relationships with the townsfolk. Over time, players learn more about Tara, her grandmother as well as other townsfolk. The game features strong themes of inclusivity and openness. There also seems to be a lot of work put into creating a deep backstory of all characters which can only be revealed through dialogue. Which is admirable.
As far as audio goes, the developer, Studio Dry Dock, has done an admirable job. All characters in the game are fully voiced, which adds a great deal of charm to the game. Not only that, but the sound effects are quite well done too. From the music to the diner, to the sounds of grass crunching under your feet. It all sounds quite nice.
Mobile games usually have limited control options due to their very nature and Wyle Flowers is no different. On the left, you get the joystick to control Tara Wylde. Since the camera is fixed, there is no need for a right stick. Instead, you get a single button that changes use based on context. So this includes talking, planting, fishing and so forth. On top, you get three buttons. One to access the inventory, one to check out active quests and another to check out the map.
Like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, the main gameplay loop in Wylde Flowers consists of talking to townsfolk and helping them with their daily lives. As you progress, you unlock new additions and options. There is also a relationship mechanic where in talking to people increases your relationship with them, leading to more options. While you start by farming basic crops, you will eventually unlock the ability to rear farm animals, and so forth. Each part of farmwork has dedicated areas. For example, when farming, you get a small area that lets you plant crop beds, compost heaps and so forth. You can’t plant anything beyond that area. It should be noted that everything you do in Wylde Flowers uses stamina. You can replenish that by eating food. You can also simply go to sleep and you will wake up replenished.
After a while, you finally are introduced to the magical aspect of the game. As a witch, you get access to spells, potions and incantations. These let you create incantations, create potions and so forth. These can let you do anything from changing the weather to improving your harvest. They require a separate magic bar, which is replenished by making offerings.
Speaking of which, the game has a day/night cycle, complete with a 7-day week. Certain shops will be open at certain hours during the day. On certain days, they will remain closed. Players are also encouraged to sleep after a certain time. If they don’t, Tara will pass out and wake up in the doctor’s office and her stamina will not be replenished. Funnily enough, this bit reminded me of Rockstar’s The Bully, a game that is probably the polar opposite of Wylde Flowers.
It should be noted that while all this is fine, I felt quite disconnected from the whole process. Initially, I thought that the quests in Wylde Flowers were just busywork. But that is not the case. These quests offer a good way to explore the island of Fairhaven and interact with all of its residents. I think it’s the missing personalisation and urgency that causes the disconnect. For example, unlike Animal Crossing: New Horizon, the townsfolk of Fairhaven seem to be doing just fine without me. I’m not in charge of placing any buildings, lamps or any pathway. Aside from this, the gameplay loop seems pretty straightforward and simple enough for anyone to play, regardless of age.
Another issue I had was with the map and paths. The map in Wylde Flowers is quite detailed and straightforward, but it doesn’t mark any of the locations. The game expects the player to memorise locations and homes. That is a bit of a problem as the various buildings are indistinguishable from one another. Ideally, the map should mark locations with icons and provide a legend, or allow players to at least tap on any building to see what it is or who it belongs to.
As far as paths go, it’s sometimes unclear where Tara can go or where she cannot. For example, when going off the path, there will be some places where tara can go to. But there will be other places that are cordoned off with an invisible wall, even though it seems large enough for her to fit through. The same holds true with fences. Tara can jump over some fences, not all.
Graphics and animation
The graphics of the game seem pretty simple, with cartoon-like characters that seem inviting enough for folks of all ages. I personally found them to dip into that uncanny valley with their large heads, huge eyes and tiny bodies, but that’s just me. I understand that looks can be subjective and as a whole, I wouldn’t call it ugly.
As far as animations go, things are pretty much ok. The walking and running cycles seem perfectly fine. The same holds true for actions such as watering plants, fishing and so forth. But there were two actions that seemed off. The first is the jumping animation. When Tara jumps over a fence, she does an over-the-top hop like Mario which seems off when most other movement animations aim to be grounded in reality. Another thing is the wood chopping animation. Tara manages to chop trees and logs with just one hand. With arm strength like that, I don’t think she needs the help of any magic.
Wylde Flowers is a decent enough game that seems apt for casual gamers or those looking to relax a bit. The fact that the game is free for Apple Arcade subscribers means that players can play the game without facing adverts. The graphics are also ok, even with the whole ‘uncanny valley’ feel.
The lack of any real challenge may put off the hardcore audience, but that’s fine. However, this can drag on overtime as there is very little to do otherwise and makes the core gameplay feel a little shallow. However, the main pull of the game seems to be the backstories all characters have.
Overall, I think a quality-of-life update can definitely improve the game. Maybe something that lets players have more options to customize Tara, as well as the town in general. It could also improve the map, improve the animation or just give the player roller skates to travel a bit faster.
As a farming/lifestyle sim, Wylde Flowers is perfectly fine. However, if you want something deeper gameplay-wise, then you may want to consider Stardew Valley. But do note that you’ll have to pay for that game.
Developer: Studio Drydock
Publisher: Studio Drydock
Review platform: iOS
Price: Free for Apple Arcade subscribers