If you grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s, you remember a simpler time for video games with less complicated graphics and gameplay. This simplicity makes Bit Orchard: Animal Valley a great fit for the Nintendo Switch, after debuting as simply Bit Orchard on Steam last year. The Switch version includes the DLC, which just came out a few months ago, giving you a complete game. If you enjoy easy-going games with a little bit of adventure, mystery, and farming, Bit Orchard: Animal Valley is something you may want to pick up.
In Bit Orchard, you are tasked with bringing a forgotten orchard back to life. Plant, harvest, and sell up to three apple varieties — regular, big, and golden — and help out various exciting characters that you meet along the way. Your orchard starts out extremely small, but eventually, you can expand it to be quite large. From the get-go, the game’s overall style is highly similar to the classic Game Boy-era style of games. The choice to port it to the Nintendo Switch was perfect, as the game feels as if it is meant to be played on the go.
The gameplay is straightforward, but some control limitations hinder certain aspects of the game. Time passes very quickly: as soon as you wake up each day, you need to decide what to focus on. Being stuck at one control speed for your character can be frustrating, especially when trying to complete as much as you can in a single cycle. Thankfully, the game does not penalize you for staying up too late. No health or funds decrease; you are simply warped back to your bed. This lack of punishment somewhat makes up for the lack of movement speed. Early on, you will want to grow as many trees as your tiny orchard allows. The on-screen task list crosses itself out upon completion, making the start of the game a piece of cake.
Later on, things get very confusing when introduced to tasks such as attempting to catch a frog, and then having to catch it 100 more times. The controls do not make it easy to catch the frog, and the area in which it spawns is vast. Thankfully, however, skipping the frog-catching does not hinder you from progressing further in the game. Another issue with the minimal controls is that it can be far too easy to accidentally purchase or sell something you need for a task. On the other hand, once you unlock fishing, the mechanics are easy to master and simple to understand. Bit Orchard‘s fishing mini-game utilizes the same style bar as Stardew Valley and guides you when it is time to reel in your catch.
Although the point of Bit Orchard: Animal Valley is to be very retro, it could do with some minor quality of life features such as a speed boost and better menu navigation.
Visually, the game is exactly as advertised: a retro 8-bit farming sim that pays homage to styles seen in Harvest Moon and even Pokémon Red & Blue. Most of the game is in black and white, but once you water or harvest apples, you see splashes of color. The contrast is quite nice compared to the background, and when you have an entire orchard of apples ready to pick, it brightens up your screen. A few customization options for your interior and your character open up early on via the mail-order store on your telephone. Once you unlock the village, you can purchase even more, but they aren’t that special or exciting.
Bit Orchard: Animal Valley prides itself on the classic chiptune soundtrack, further invoking a truly retro feel to the whole experience without being overbearing. It fits well with the overall theme and is a true bob to listen to while growing your orchard and exploring.
Because Bit Orchard‘s storyline is not as intense as other farming sims, you can easily take breaks in-between sessions. Its simple nature evokes a calming, zen-like atmosphere that you can get into whenever you wish, especially if you are feeling stressed. The game does not penalize you for taking time away; your orchard does not become overgrown with weeds, nor do your apple crops die.
The repetitive nature of planting, growing, and harvesting can get tedious very fast, so once you can unlock the village and fishing, I recommend you do so. I found I had more fun fishing than I did growing apples. But, of course, the whole point of the game is to grow apples. But once you can escape from the orchard, you can do whatever you want, unless apples are needed for a task or as currency.
Overall, Bit Orchard: Animal Valley is cute and charming. With such a low price point, it is worth it for those looking for something a little different. Sure, some aspects could be better, but for retro fans, it is a worthwhile journey. But don’t try to catch frogs; trust me, your sanity will thank you later.