Played on Windows.
Also Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS, and Linux.
Disclosure (Review Copy) at the end
I picked up Slime Rancher because of how it looked. You can see the title screen below and it’s a really cute and charming game with adorable art. I’m a fan of Stardew Valley and was hopeful that Slime Rancher would give me a similar experience with a focus on building and improving a ranch over time. The question is, does it live up to the look and style?
The title screen really shows off the style of this game. It’s a cute and cuddly game with a focus on slimes. The slimes have always been some of the cutest monsters from Dragon Quest and other RPGs, and the idea of a game focused on similar characters should bring a smile to the face of most gamers. Slime Rancher easily does that, as the slimes in this game are mostly adorable.
I say mostly because there are a number of aggressive and even a couple of slimes that are violent or even evil. However, everything is done with a cute aspect to the characters and I almost want to reach out and give every slime a hug.
The world around the slimes blends with the style giving the slimes a place to live that fits in with their art style. The focus is certainly on the slimes and the game can be a little empty if there is a view without them. The world is massive and just waiting for the player to explore it. The game looks good, though the world doesn’t always make it clear where the players should go and should not.
The inability to differentiate where the player should be trying to go becomes a problem with exploration, but at the same time, it’s understandable why the game doesn’t throw up a large ugly barrier when it can be avoided, preferring to use more subtle indicators, even if they don’t work as well as they could.
The story in Slime Rancher is forgettable and disjointed. The main player, Beatrix LeBeau is delivered to the Far, Far Range by the 7Zee megacorporation to generate and gather “plorts” for them for some reason. Sending plorts back to the home office earns money to be used for a variety of reasons. If that was all that was included I might not have even brought up the story.
A simple example message from Hobson.
Slime Rancher tries to create a further story with two different methods, the first is a number of glowing spots as the player explores the world with “H” characters floating above them. These are notes left by someone named “Hobson” who apparently lived on this same ranch long before you did. He has left notes in different areas where you can find his musings on different areas. There’s also Starmail from someone named Casey who appears to have been left on Earth by our main character, Beatrix, and we get random musings there of the aftermath of a relationship, but this is done without any interaction from the player. It’s possible Beatrix is sending communication back without the player seeing the response, but Casey’s writing ultimately ends up being a second type of random musing, similar to Hobson.
Both of these writings left me underwhelmed as does a lot of the communication in the game. The biggest issue I have with it is it’s just email. As a player, you have to return to the house and, choose the “Starmail option” and then sit and read Casey’s email. For Hobson, if you find his little icon, you can sit there and read it, or just move on with your life. It’s static storytelling that doesn’t even offer a video or an interactive hook or a strong connection with the character. While not every story has to be interactive, putting the game aside to sit and read a letter feels limited.
It doesn’t help that most of the Starmail from other sources also do not feel necessary, it doesn’t enhance the game or create a better environment. Rather the emails feel like it is trying to satisfy a checkbox because the game had to have “some story” for people who want it, rather than creating a story that felt organically necessary as a part of the game.
At best, the characters in the game appear as pictures on a simple quest board, but even there, I never felt an attempt or desire to create an attachment to these characters, they’re just quest-givers asking for chicken or a specific slime type. That would be fine, but the game tries to give the game a narrative backing and it feels out of place. I’ve tried twice to be engaged by the story, even reading all the e-mail a second time, and it really hasn’t worked for me.
As I said above, I wouldn’t bring it up if the game didn’t feel like it was trying very hard to give it a story element, and in hindsight, I don’t know if it’s necessary. In Stardew Valley, the story is you’re given a ranch. You meet a lot of characters and can converse with them and learn about them, but it’s up to the player to talk to non-player characters to hear some dialogue from them as desired. Here, Slime Rancher gives you an e-mail system that pops up every so often after milestones, but it does so in a passive manner.
Let’s talk about the ranch though. When you start the game you appear on a strange foreign world called the Far, Far Ranch. You are given a house and a mostly empty ranch with one corral for collecting slime in. The game gives the player the same world every game, with no randomness so the experience is always the same. The players start on the farm with a couple of expansions available, and from there he’s able to venture out into the wildness to look for slimes, and food for the slimes so they’ll produce the valuable plorts to sell.
The game feels fluid while exploring, even if it’s hard to know where to go.
It’s a rather simple beginning, but adventure is in the air and most players will quickly take to it rushing off to explore the new land in which they find themselves.
The tutorial in the game is somewhat limited, giving the player basic controls of moving, looking, and then showing them how to use their vacuum system, the VacPack, and the free corral that is already placed. The VacPack allows the player to suck up and spit out slimes, food, and more. However, it’s a very light tutorial giving the player about five different short tutorial screens and expecting them to learn from experimentation.
The good news is there is a Slimepedia in the game that will give the player far more information about almost everything in the game, whether it be information about how certain slimes require nighttime or the Rad system that radiation slimes give off, a lot of great beginner information is available in the Slimepedia.
A new player will spend most of his first couple of days exploring and experimenting. Without a firm tutorial, new players will almost certainly die a few times by falling into the water and need to learn the rules of slime ranching. While they are simple, feed slimes, gather plorts, sell plorts for money to improve the ranch, it’s a bit of a process for a while.
The early part of Slime Rancher is mostly about getting used to feeding slimes regularly and gathering them, as well as building out the initial area of the slime ranch. The player can build corrals for additional slimes, adding height and a ceiling to them when necessary, as well as building gardens to grow food locally, and coops for chicken. Once the player has created a successful starting farm, they will have to keep slimes contained so they can’t eat the food, without allowing the players around to scoop up the valuable plorts.
After a while, farming becomes somewhat routine. While not every slime operates in the same way, it’s usually a similar strategy to profit off of each one. There are special diets for some slimes, Rock Slimes might only eat Veggies, and Tabby Slimes limit themselves to meat. It’s more about procuring the right food for each of the types of slimes contained at the farm.
The plort market is a market with ever changing prices.
Once the ranching becomes routine, players become able to branch out, either by building to different areas of their ranch or exploring more of the wilderness. The starting area is decent and a great location to explore at first, but there are some limitations on it. There are a number of doors requesting “Slime Keys” from the player. This is somewhat poorly explained, and thankfully there are a number of online sources for this, but there are large Slimes based on normal slimes known as “Gordos”. Each Gordo will want a specific type of food, and when fed enough they will explode giving up a slime key and some crates of items.
These slime keys open up more areas and allow the players to discover new locations to explore. Slime keys are limited and similar to the Gordos who drop them, though slime keys do become purchasable later in the game at a high price so the player can never become fully stuck.
Exploration in the game is rather good, as each new area is unique and has new slimes to discover. There are caves, forest, and eventually a desert to be found here. Though I did find it hard to locate the Gordos and the slime keys necessary for further exploration. I ended up being forced to use online guides to find each location, as many of the areas the game wanted me to explore are poorly marked.
This is the part of the game where the graphics really affected the gameplay. Many areas are not well designed to let the player know where the game expects the player to explore. Quite a few locations feel more like an exploit using a Jetpack to get to a new area than a natural path, and a number of the Gordos are similarly hidden away.
Even the large Gordos are cute.
The areas are interesting to look at, but if you don’t know you are supposed to make a certain jump, you might miss out on a whole additional area. A few of the jumps also require exploiting hopping on geometry that doesn’t feel like it’s the intended purpose, though there doesn’t appear to be a natural path to many areas.
There are only a handful of areas in the game. There are only six areas of the game released at launch, with two more additional bonus areas for mini-games released since launch. The six areas have a lot of variety in them, but the first four feel like they are organically meshed together. The last two are found after what is known as the Ancient Gate and feel like bonus or endgame content.
As you’re playing through this mid-game part you’ll start buying upgrades, though most are useful they might even feel necessary, especially the jetpack, the player quickly will run out of upgrades to purchase.
As the player reaches the final areas of the game, the game starts to move into the end game. If the beginning of the game is seen as setting up the initial ranch, and the middle part is exploring, the end game can be summarized by collecting all the slimes for your ranch, learning how to farm them efficiently, and just repeating the process as much as the player wants to do.
The end game is the biggest problem for me in Slime Rancher. Where other farming games are similar, I never feel like the late game of Slime Rancher feels right to me. Much of the late game’s farming becomes focused more on the repetition, whether it’s taking trips out to gather slimes, feeding the slimes, or just trying to manipulate the plort market to maximize profit.
The issue I have with the end game is that there’s not much to buy after you have collected each slime at least once, and are feeding them at a regular rate. The farm only has about 20 spots that get filled up quickly. The player starts to amass a decent amount of money, but the only things to buy are upgrades to the farm for efficiency, researched upgrades which can make gadgets that can be placed or a loyalty program that appears to be there for a money sink in the end game.
None of these are very compelling and because by the end game your farm should be running well enough and you’re just paying money to make money more efficiently without a real end goal in sight. It’s the idea of a treadmill to make money to buy a treadmill that makes more money to buy a third treadmill. I ended up getting quite bored at this point, and while I had spent about fifteen to twenty hours I found it to be a bitter end to a rather enjoyable game.
The exploration and early part of building a ranch were interesting but the end game just became the repetition of already learned lessons.
There is some difficulty to the game besides just setting up your farm. There are aggressive slimes as mentioned above which will attack the player, and a special type of slimes called the “Tarr” that will attack and destroy other slimes, but unless you have a Tarr slime at your ranch, you’re are able to run away from aggressive slimes and Tarr slimes without a penalty. Even when the slimes are blocking your path, the VacPack allows you to sling slimes into the sea, never to be seen again. The game also allows you to use water to calm slimes or kill the Tarrs, but in my experience, I never really needed to use either.
Tarrs sound dangerous but they don’t normally spawn on their own. When a Slime eats another slime’s plort, they become “Largos” which just means they become Large and retain the abilities and are easier to feed. Tarrs appear when a “Largo” eats a third type of Slime’s plorts. It’s complicated sounding but once you see it happen you’ll learn quickly what to avoid, and it’s simple to avoid cross breeding slimes.
Off to the ocean with you.
That’s much of the difficulty of running a ranch. While gathering food, and keeping slimes fed is important, the slimes don’t die so the player is given near unlimited time to feed most of their ranch if they wish to, or ignore it if they prefer while they explore.
I think I’ve made it clear that my issues with the game appeared in the end game. Much of it feels like the end game isn’t as well balanced as the beginning of the game. There are more unique slimes, but they feel like they’re mostly easy to collect and more profitable. The early slimes become mostly ceremonial at a point.
A bigger problem happens in the end game. A number of improvements have been released since launch. Two bonus areas have been released, called the Wilds and the Nimble Valley, the former being a new location to explore, and the latter a race track. Both of these are areas that have mini-games, where the player can get further upgrades for their farm, but similar to most of the game focused at the end game, there’s a level of polish on both of these that are missing.
Both locations are somewhat interesting, but there’s little point to going to them except as something new to do. When the initial experience wears off, I found myself wondering if there was a further purpose to the zones, and later found out that there wasn’t.
In addition, Drones are also interesting as a way to create more automation but aren’t as useful as I thought. A Drone can only work in the placed expansion of the Ranch, of which there are five, I believe. If your Ranch isn’t laid out perfectly there is limited use to them, and rearranging a ranch is an expense I didn’t feel like I wanted to incur, nor one that was required as drones came out after I finished the game.
The drones themselves are not very clear about what issues are happening, and I had to attempt to get a drone working three times before it started operating correctly, even though I issued the same orders three times.
The scariest part of the game are if Tarrs are created in your Ranch, it’s the only thing that can ruin your progress.
The endgame becomes a make your own goal game, whether it be the clunky loyalty program mentioned above, where you pay larger and larger amounts of money for mostly color schemes, the research that creates gadgets of varying usefulness or just going for a high score.
The real problem I have with a lot of the content of Slime Rancher is that much of the game is varied and has different features, but each feature feels disconnected. There’s a marketplace that changes the price of plorts depending on what you’re selling. There’s a research center which requires various plorts and items. There’s the loyalty program that just demands more and more money. There are minigames that give you upgrades.
The issue I have is all of these systems feel like they stand on their own, and they do not play well with the other systems. It’s not that the player has to specialize, but there is no penalty for focusing only on one feature at a time. You can compare this to other games like Stardew Valley, which might have the player focus on a single goal, but often their path will allow them to tackle other quests as they go. If the player is in the dungeon to fight monsters, they might find ore which is useful for upgrading tools, they also might find artifacts, and they’ll need food grown on the farm. This allows the player to branch out to different areas of the game even while they focus on one goal. Slime Rancher has very little synergy between any of their systems in the game that they each feel like they were created in a bubble.
I’ve been critical of the end game of Slime Rancher because I feel that most of the game’s problems come into full view there. There’s a definite progression in the game but the game gets to the end of the exploration and seems to just stop being as interesting as it once was.
That’s not to say Slime Rancher is bad though, there are a good ten to fifteen hours of exploration required and I enjoyed quite a bit of it. There’s just a point where my overall enjoyment drops and it’s a sudden drop without much recovery after that point, that’s what ultimately taints the entire experience in my book, and that’s what became the disappointing take away from the game. It’s fun for a decent number of hours, but it doesn’t last forever.
I give Slime Rancher a
Final Thought: A rather fun filled with farming and exploration and very cute slimes, but there’s not much to do after you’ve seen all the zones.
Stats: 24.5 hours 45/57 achievements earned.
Disclosure. I reached out to Monomi Park in June, the developer of Slime Rancher with a desire to cover their game. They provided me a copy, for which I thank them. Due to issues unrelated to the game or experience, the review was delayed until December. I don’t believe their giving me a free copy nor the delay has had any effect on my review, the score, or my experience with the game, but I am disclosing it so you can make an informed judgment.