My new Nintendo Switch addiction is the $19 farming simulator that turned one guy into a millionaire

Stardew Valley/SteamThe PC version of Stardew Valley.

  • “Stardew Valley” is a farming simulation video game for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac.
  • I’ve been playing it on the Nintendo Switch and loving it: It’s the perfect game to play in the console’s portable mode.
  • The game is charming and relaxing: While it’s not action-packed, it’s extremely rewarding to cultivate your farm and get to know the townspeople.
  • The game was developed by one guy, who’s now a multimillionaire after its smash-hit success.

Look, I love “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” and all the other great flagship Nintendo Switch games as much as the next guy — probably more, in fact, given the dozens of hours I’ve sunk in.

And yet, my newest Nintendo Switch addiction is “Stardew Valley,” a $A19 independent game that came to Nintendo’s online eShop toward the end of 2017.

The pitch: You are a city-slicker who inherits his late grandfather’s dilapidated farm. It’s up to you to plant crops, break rocks, chop wood, and cut grass to restore the farm to its former glory. And as your farming prowess grows, so too will your relationship with your neighbors in the town of Stardew Valley, the game’s namesake. If you ever played the classic Super Nintendo title “Harvest Moon,” the game’s inspiration, you know what to expect.

Yeah, it’s not exactly a thrill-a-minute. Like its inspiration, “Stardew Valley” is rendered in Super Nintendo-style sprite graphics — extremely endearing and very well-executed, but not exactly state-of-the-art. So, no, it’s not for everyone. And yet, I can’t stop playing: I’m farming over my morning coffee and my evening TV-watching, every dang day.

There’s a decent chance you may have played “Stardew Valley” before. It was first released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac, and became a smash hit. By the end of 2017, “Stardew Valley” had sold 3.5 million copies, making its creator Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone a multimillionaire.

Yeah, that’s right: Everything in “Stardew Valley” — from the graphics to the music to the sound effects to the writing — was done by one guy, working all by himself for years. It’s especially impressive considering that despite its simplistic exterior, there’s an astonishing number of things you can do in this game. If you want to know more about Barone’s story, I heartily recommend the recent book “Blood, Sweat, and Pixels” by Jason Schreier.

The bulk of the game, especially early on, is planting and harvesting your crops while getting to know your new neighbors. As “Stardew Valley” progresses, though, it reveals hidden depths, gradually revealing itself as an intensely ambitious game that delivers on its promises.

Stardew Valley

Your day quickly expands to include taking care of chickens and cows, cooking new recipes, fishing, treasure-hunting, and even fighting monsters in the mysterious mine out of town. There’s even an option to romance, and eventually wed, several of the townspeople, regardless of the gender of your character.

The best way to describe the game, as a whole, is “charming.” There’s no real pressure.

While your farm’s progress theoretically gets graded at the end of your first three in-game years, the major motivating factor of the game is your own desire to do more, see more, and grow more. And the townspeople have their own personalities, making it fun to get to know them. It’s my personal digital garden, and I find it to be extremely relaxing.

Which is also why the Nintendo Switch version is so great. Part of why I skipped “Stardew Valley” when it first debuted is because I don’t have a lot of time these days to sit down on the couch and play a game. So as much as I wanted to try “Stardew Valley,” I just didn’t bother.

Stardew Valley/Steam

But because the Nintendo Switch can be played on the TV or as a portable console, it’s totally perfect for “Stardew Valley.” I can harvest some crops while I pour my morning cereal, or try to delve a little deeper into the mines before bed and put the Switch on my nightstand.

It’s a great way to play a great game, at the great price of $A19. And, at the same time, it serves as a perfect reminder of the flexibility that makes the Nintendo Switch so special. And, hey, “Stardew Valley” is expected to come to Sony’s portable PlayStation Vita this year, too, if that’s more your bag.

On a final note, here’s a relationship tip: Do not complain to your real-life partner of the difficulties of courting a “Stardew Valley” character. If my experience is anything to go by, you will not get the sympathy you seek.

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