Slime Rancher Review
A refreshing take on the farming genre, now with extra colorful goo
While I’ve played and enjoyed my share of job simulation games – such as bus and truck driving, street cleaning, and what have you – one relatively popular corner of the genre never appealed to me. The farming simulators, which primarily involve players toiling over crops (and sometimes animals) day in and day out, felt largely boring. It seemed very repetitive and not engaging to look after the plants every in-game day, then spend the rest of it having menial conversations with NPCs. The common presentation for the genre – a top-down 2D view, often with pixelated graphic style – also didn’t do my patience any favors. As such, I was pleasantly surprised with Slime Rancher. It has managed to draw me in, and thanks to a few unique gameplay mechanics and an entirely different approach to player perspective, I’ve sunk more hours into it than any farming game before.
The narrative is minimalistic, as in most games of this type, but it does a solid job of setting up the unique environment. Players assume the role of Beatrix LeBeau, a rancher who is sent to the 'Far, Far Range' many light years away from Earth. Here, on this strange but mostly welcoming alien planet, your objective is to create a successful farm by capturing and caring for slimes. These local creatures look like happy and squishy blobs of… well, slime, with faces on them to help assert their mood. They are also darn cute. While the game world does not have any other characters besides Beatrix, she will occasionally receive emails from Earth, helping avoid the feeling of total isolation. You’ll also come across messages from Hobson Twilligers, the previous owner of The Ranch before Beatrix arrived, that are scattered across the game world. Though there’s no dialogue, all of the text is quite amusing and light hearted. The game’s main Adventure Mode lets you play at your own pace as you grow the farm and explore the world, but there’s also a 5 Day Rush mode that’s meant to see how much money you can make within the time limit, and try to set some high scores.
Unlike most games in the genre, Slime Rancher is played from a first person perspective in a well realized 3D world. During the early weeks, Beatrix only has the Vacpack at her disposal – a special gun-like tool that can suck up resources and slimes. As you venture out and explore the planet, you’ll be able to suck in whatever slimes and resources you desire, but only up to a point. The inventory of the Vacpack is forever locked to 4 unique slots, and those slots are limited to a certain number of resources. You can, of course, use newbucks to purchase capacity upgrades for each slot. You move quite quickly and can sprint, which makes travelling back and forth from the ranch quite tolerable. Your travel options can also be upgraded with a basic jetpack, more sprint energy, and so on. This resource gathering design and its purposeful limitations present players with plenty of decisions each time they venture out – what do you bring back, and what gets left behind? It also spurs you on to return and grab that rare slime you didn’t have a slot for the first time around.
Players start off on The Ranch with a few plots of land, upon which you can build a number of different structures. Corrals are like cages with transparent walls, keeping slimes inside but letting the player pass freely; for water-based slimes you can construct a pond. Food production structures for the slimes include gardens that will grow whatever fruit/vegetable you deposit into it, and coops for breeding different types of chickens that serve as the meat option. You can also build a Silo for storage or an Incinerator for destroying items, but these two buildings are not very useful. All buildings cost newbucks (cash), and further they can be upgraded with various functionality and quality-of-life improvements. Corrals can be improved with higher walls and a roof to prevent escapes, auto-feeders and auto-plort collectors so you don’t have to do it manually, coops and gardens can be made more efficient, and so on. As with similar games, Slime Rancher very successfully taps into the desire to gradually build out your farm and upgrade the facilities for more efficient profit making.
As you capture your first few slimes and bring them back to the Ranch, you’ll realize that there’s some manual labor involved with taking care of the little guys. There are different types of slimes that each have a unique look and color, and some can even fly/live in water. You must feed them daily with their accepted food type (meat, veggie, or fruit) in order to keep them happy and also to have them produce plorts. For each item you feed them (once per day), they will produce plorts. These colored cubes are your source of income, as you collect and send them back to Earth in exchange for cash. Different slimes produce different plorts, with their own newbucks value. Further, the value of plorts changes daily on the exchange terminal, adding another layer of strategy and it is almost like checking stock prices in the morning before waiting to sell your product at the right time. Slime Rancher perfectly taps into a rewarding gameplay cycle because you get plorts as soon as you feed the slimes – there’s no waiting for your crops to sit there as you water them every day, like in other games. It’s instant gratification and you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something every day, before even leaving the farm. And it also just feels so much more engaging to be taking care of living, animated creatures that bounce around day and night, rather than a few pixelated flowers.
Slimes aren’t just passive creatures, though. Those that are out in the wild will continue to go about their business and respawn daily, consume some food and produce free plorts for you to grab, if you have the inventory to spare. Many slime types are passive, while others will damage you if you happen to come into contact, and some will aggressively attack. There’s also a mechanic whereas a slime will consume a plort from another slime and create a Largo slime. These large hybrid slimes retain the attributes and behavior of their smaller selves, meaning they will have a combined expanded food preference, and also produce two plorts (one for each of their original slime form). Their large size prevents your Vacpack from sucking them in, so you must transport them manually one at a time as needed, but they essentially double your food to plort ratio and thus are very good to have.
Unlike most farming games that tend to combine their caretaking core gameplay with social mechanics and NPC interaction, Slime Rancher is instead an exploration/adventure game in its secondary aspect. To get the most valuable plorts, you’ll need to find and bring back the rare slimes that often occupy the farthest parts of the game world. There are five different parts of the planet to explore, each locked behind a gate. To get keys for the gates, you must find special large Gordo slimes and feed them until they burst (literally) to reveal the key and perhaps other goodies. There are also vaults to find, treasure to discover, and so on. With the near-launch day update, there is now a map that helpfully displays where you are in the world, but even without it the exploration can be quite fun and the game world is designed with fun traversal in mind. Further, there’s no artificial daily time limit, and you can farm and explore for as long as you want, day or night.
There’s not much that can harm you in Slime Rancher, and it’s certainly meant to be a relaxing exploration and farming experience, but that isn’t to say there are no dangers. As mentioned, some of the slimes do hurt you, but as long as you don’t stick around too long you’re never in too much trouble. If you happen to take too much damage (or fall into the water during exploration), you’ll respawn the next day but lose your inventory. So perhaps the biggest danger is to your farm, and that comes from the Tarr slimes. These slimes are like a nasty virus – the consume everything they can, and also turn all other slimes into themselves. An outbreak of Tarr slimes on your farm can very quickly and easily devastate your entire operation (especially since they are Largos, and thus you can only grab one at a time with your Vacpack). Thankfully, even if you don’t have an incinerator, there is a cliff behind the farm that can be used to dispose of anything (or anyone) you don’t need. The Tarr slimes will appear randomly in the game world (where they can be ignored), but they can also be accidentally (or purposefully) created on the farm by putting too many different types of slimes together in the same corral.
While Slime Rancher very successfully taps into the addicting gameplay that the genre is known for, and throws in a few unique mechanics that work well, there are some hitches. For starters, even with a 7Zee Rewards Club customization system, there’s not much replay value to the whole experience once you’ve seen all that the game has to offer. It’s the same game world and location each time you start a new farm, thus leaning more into its exploration adventure genre roots than being a randomly generated farming game. As such, fans won’t find nearly the same longevity and replay value as some other titles in this genre. The game is also relatively easy – both from survival and financial perspective; there’s no reason besides personal or aesthetic to keep anyone other than the slimes that produce the most valuable plorts. You can unlock additional lots of the farm that are themed after each region in the world, but they feel just a little too far from the main farm and again there’s no reason to have so many cages unless you want to “catch them all”. There’s a daily request system where you can exchange certain items for others, but it feels needless as the rewards are rarely worth the trade. Later in the game you can unlock a science lab, where gadgets can be crafted. This is the place where rare resources can be combined to create tools such as teleporters, automatic drills and pumps for mining, defensive turrets against Tarr, jump pads, and others. While it gives you more to do, this whole crafting aspect seems very superfluous, as you don’t really need any of these gadgets to have already fully explored the world and got your farm to be extremely profitable.
Slime Rancher is different from most of the farming games I’ve played, and it’s these differences that got me to lose hours in the 'Far, Far Range'. Dealing with lively slimes makes for a much more engaging and entertaining gameplay than watching plants grow, and an instant return on your actions (feeding them food for plorts) makes the core loop more rewarding. Then there’s the exploration, which is both fun and taps into your need for discovery and pushing further into the corners of the map. The first person perspective, colorful visual art style, and nice music complete the package. Having said that, fans of more traditional farming games are bound to find some areas lacking – such as customization, randomization, and not much replay value beyond your first few times discovering this world. But for those who haven’t typically been engaged by these sorts of games, Slime Rancher is the one to try.