Bit Orchard: Animal Valley

At a glance, Bit Orchard: Animal Valley looks like a long-forgotten farming game for the Game Boy. It has a monochromatic 8-bit visual style, a chiptune soundtrack, and an oh-so-simple control style that makes it incredibly easy to just pick up and play. (I should point out that it’s not entirely monochrome, as there are touches of color here and there, which would have been impossible on the OG Game Boy.)

The game begins when your character buys an orchard and gets on a bus to visit it. When you arrive, you find a small shack and a lone apple tree in a field that’s crawling with weeds. if you’ve played anything in the vein of Stardew Valley, this setup should feel incredibly familiar.

Your options for interacting with this world, however, are trimmed back to an elegant level of simplicity. You have a tool bar, which has an icon for seeds, one for a hoe, one for a watering can, and one that’s just a hand (your general interaction option). One button changes the selected icon, the other activates it. There is also a button that lets you open your inventory, but for the most part, this game can be played with four arrow keys (or a single joystick) and two buttons.

Bit Orchard: Animal Valley

Because of these limitations, you won’t have a huge array of options for what you can plant — you’ve got apple trees, and that’s it. But distilling the farming genre down to its essentials gets rid of the tedium that can sometimes come with the territory. In Bit Orchard, your days move extremely fast, which keeps the gameplay loop moving speedily along.

The game had a huge free update in December of 2021, which expanded the game substantially. Once you’ve gotten into the rhythm of watering your trees and harvesting your apples, you can now move beyond the confines of your tiny little plot of land. There’s a fishing pond to the east of your farm, and a whole town beyond that. Once you get to town, you’ll start getting quests from villagers, and suddenly this little farming game becomes something else entirely.

On one hand, it’s kind of an odd shift, because these big ambitions don’t present themselves until relatively late in the game (I say relatively because this entire experience is still just a few hours long). On the other hand, nothing here falls outside the basic premise of a simple-as-possible farming game. You’re still interacting with the world via a (mostly) two-button control scheme, and none of the new features are anything we haven’t come to expect from games like this.

Bit Orchard: Animal Valley

But even with all the new features in the December update, this remains a tiny experience that stays well within its lane. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually really nice to be able to just cozy up with a farming game that won’t take up dozens of hours of your time.

So if you’ve been craving a farming game, but you’re hesitant to jump into your next long-term game addiction, Bit Orchard: Animal Valley hits that sweet spot. It still has that addictive quality of its brethren in the farming genre, but it’s small enough in scale that the addiction won’t last long. It’s perfect for people who love the genre but don’t necessarily have the kind of time that farming games typically require.

And really, I always have room in my heart for cozy little “evening-sized” games.

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