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Old 07-16-2009, 05:32 AM
Big Albie Big Albie is offline
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iPad (3rd Gen), iOS 5.x
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: San Francisco, California
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Default Review: Ranch Rush harvests good crop of time management rush

It seems like only a few days ago I was writing about Old MacDonald and a quack-quack here and a quack-quack there. Time management games are definitely an acquired taste, but when done right, they can be entertaining. What makes a good time management game? One that not only taps into a player’s creativity but doesn’t limit it either. Ranch Rush would definitely fall into this category offering a good measure of entertaining gameplay and top-notch graphics within a flexible framework.

In Ranch Rush, you play the character of Sara who has taken on the task of starting a farmer’s market to raise money in hopes of saving the nursery for which she works. She has 8 weeks to raise the money using her farm management skills from growing and harvesting to long-term planning and sales. The opening intro cartoon narrated by Sara was enough to get me instantly hooked with a good mix of dialogue and animation. By the way, Sara looks like Ariel from Disney’s Little Mermaid which certainly doesn’t hurt her farming prowess.

The objective of the game is simple: fill the orders of customers who come to the farmer’s market to earn money. Of course, the actual task at hand is a little more challenging, and involves a combination of planting and growing crops, raising and feeding animals, and using equipment to convert raw materials. Ranch Rush does a terrific job of easing you into the game so you gradually learn the necessary skills without feeling overwhelmed at least initially.

Visually, Sara almost looks 3D because when you don’t send her off on a task, she’s standing there blinking at you. It’s a little freaky in a wholesome kind of way. And when performing a task such as digging, she actually looks like she’s digging so I have to commend the devs for how this game is presented.

The game has 40 levels divided into 8 weeks, and two game modes: Casual and Expert. Expert is unlocked after the third week in Casual is completed. The game also has 20 trophies/achievements that can be earned including:

Marketing Maverick—selling $10k in a single Farmer’s Market
Hotfoot Harvester—complete an order with 60% time left after week 2
Superior Specialist—plant 15 of one crop on your ranch at the same
Harvest Hero—harvest 7,500 crates for all games played

The touch controls are responsive and moving and performing tasks are mostly done by tapping at the desired location. In the bottom right corner are additional controls including a Move function for rearranging various things on the farm, and a Shopping Cart for purchasing items. To purchase items, a variety of items from seeds and plants to animals and gear are available in a neatly organized menu/thumbnail format.

A timer is located in the bottom left corner with the money counter in the middle. On a daily basis, you’ll receive a customer order to complete along with a time limit. Along the top of the screen is a running count of those items that must be harvested and/or produced.

In the first few weeks, you learn the basics such as planting and harvesting, then onto buying and moving. The most rudimentary item is the crate since this is what will be used to harvest and deliver crops and other items. Sara can hold up to three crates at a time so plan accordingly. Watering crops is also important so keep a watch out for thirsty plants.

One of the great of things about Ranch Rush is the different attributes of items and their impact on planning. For example, vegetables grow at different rates so you need to strategize on what to plant and harvest and in what order. To provide an idea of the nuances in the game, clovers grow relatively quickly, but tomatoes take a while longer. Once you buy a cow, it becomes even more convoluted because cows need to feed on clovers to make milk, but you’ll also to meet order requirements for clovers themselves. Another one worth mentioning is honey which means buying a hive. Bees require clovers to make honey. But, keep in mind that once the honey is ready, Sara can get stung if she’s sent over to harvest the honey when bees are present. And, this is just the basics. Wait until you get to processing raw materials with equipment.

The Farmer’s Market bonus round is presented each Saturday. Here, the objective is to sell as much as possible and maximize earnings within a set time limit. It’s a nice change of pace without worrying about item counts.

What differentiates Ranch Rush from other farm management games? One aspect is the ability to plan the layout of the farm and rearrange fields and planting areas whenever you want. By activating the Move button and using drag touch controls, items can be placed and moved at will, so you’re not stuck with any pre-set formats. Another is that progress from one day rolls over to the next. For example, any extra crops leftover or dying plants from the previous day are automatically there for the next which really forces you to plan for the long term. Also as the farm grows, so does the game area which means eventually, you’ll need to pan the screen to see everything. All of these elements extend Ranch Rush from a “tap here, tap there” game to a strategic standout.

One of the shortcomings of the game which happened to me a few times is that once you set Sara in motion such as walking from one area to another, you can’t stop her. This can waste valuable time with an inadvertent tap. Dragging the screen can be an issue because on occasion I would forget I had items in a location out of my immediate sight.

While there are plenty of time management games in the iTunes store, Ranch Rush is one of the few standouts that offers compelling and entertaining gameplay that is only limited by the player’s own creativity. With terrific production values and an engaging storyline, Ranch Rush is one you’ll want to finish.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for novice and advanced time management geeks; Sara is one tough farming chick)

 

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