Movie Sleuth Gaming: Slime Rancher Reviewed

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In spite of my inability to keep up with even the simplest lawn maintenance and plant care, I have discovered within myself a passion for digital farming. What I thought may have been another fluke of nature last year with my deep-dive into Stardew Valley has continued this year with Slime Rancher as it has exited early access.

Slime Rancher continues the decades-old gaming trope of lovable, but dangerous, sentient slimes like the Dragon Warrior days of old. The new spin here is that in lieu of slashing them with swords in exchange for gold and experience points, you are capturing them and exploiting them for resources, like any good capitalist would.

I kid, but I am not incorrect. There is a cheerful aesthetic to the game: the slimes smile and emote cutely, the colors are bright, and the landscapes are beautiful. Not trying to get too political here, it was just an interesting bit of dissonance when I thought about that in contrast to what I am actually doing as the player. I am capturing these slimes in the wild, putting them in overcrowded pens, and feeding them with machinery on a strict schedule, all under the guise of profits and ‘slime science’.  I won't dwell on it further, but it was something I didn't think about until many hours into the game and it colored my thoughts on the game more and more as I progressed into the later hours of my gameplay experience.

Cute? Check. Terrible? Check. It's just like real farming!

The gameplay loop itself is intuitive and fun. It does a little bit of tutorialization, but doesn't overstay its welcome or baby the player. Once you know the basics, you are turned out into the ranch and can do as your please. A vast, explorable open world was not something I was expecting coming from the world of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon, and I was initially nervous. Exploration is something that can be overwhelming and it's only rare occasions where it really hooks me in in modern games. Slime Rancher combats this intelligently with its world design and gated early areas of the game. Initially you only have access to a handful of areas in a semi-linear layout, and it does so in a way that feels neither limiting nor overwhelming. As I slowly unlocked different mobility upgrades and got access to other areas, it felt like a cool reward for exploration and wonder, not the content overload I was concerned about.

Maybe it has to do with my only relatively recent enjoyment of most game stories, but I was really off-put by how the story was handled in Slime Rancher. Perhaps it is just immature of me, but when I come to a game like this reading walls of text is not what I am looking for. Doubly so when those walls of text come from characters that I am provided little to no context about, and that I seemingly will never meet in person. Maybe it is a product of it being early access and bottom-up design with mechanics put first, but the adventures of Beatrix LeBeau (side note- just a fantastic character name) felt completely tacked-on.

After the first half-dozen emails from people I am assumed to know and jokes that fell flat, I basically stopped interacting with the email system. Fortunately, in addition to emails there are story nodes around the world from the old ranch owner telling of his past experiences. This system had its moments. I stopped to think about what mysteries could still remain, and seeing what someone else thought when discovering something new, but they were fleeting. These were the high points of the story, but having them tied to physical locations and not something I could bring up as notes was frustrating, especially considering the depth of information in the menus.

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Beatrix, I love ya, but I can't 
help but think I barely know ya

The amount of in-game information at the hands of the player was actually one of the best features of Slime Rancher. I often refer to games like this as ‘Wiki games’ because of the amount of systematic depth involved often requires consulting Wikis and subreddits to make heads or tails of mechanics. Slime Rancher cleverly combats this by understanding its place in the genre and short-cutting the process but putting a ‘Slimepedia’ right into the game itself. Somewhere between wiki and pokedex, the slimepedia not only offers helpful information about slimes, locations, and resources, it also succeeds in adding its fair share of flavor to what could otherwise be a very dry, system-driven experience.

It comes to a relatively satisfying conclusion, but I still can't help but think there will be more updates left to come. I discovered some late game areas and technology that I don't seem to be able to use, and while I think this game is more than ready to come out of early access, I am hoping it has more updates ahead of it. I feel as if I ‘solved’ this game quickly, though I don't think it took away from my experience as a whole. If you want charming townsfolk and friend-making, this isn’t the game for you, but if you crave the lonely exploration of a rancher on the slime frontier, there are dozens of hours of enjoyment here; with even more to look ahead to. (you know, if you enjoy subjugating intelligent creatures for your own amusement, you monster!)


-Justin Wicker