Third Time is a Charm

Okay, so maybe I didn’t enjoy Farm Frenzy 3 (Out Now for $2.99; Lite) quite as much as a certain jousting game from the same publisher, but it came way closer than I’d ever admit to my macho friends. Whether you looked into Farm Frenzy 3’s earlier PC/Mac release or you’re a sim fan generally familiar with Alawar Entertainment’s Farm Frenzy franchise, you’re probably keen to know how this one turned out on iOS. First, some bad news: the comic book-style storyline appears to have been stripped out entirely. Then again, it’s not like sim fans haven’t seen a “small-time tycoon takes on big-time tycoon” plot before, so maybe it’s for the best that the player gets nothing but ample helpings of intense resource management challenge here. The good news? Just about everything else! Farm Frenzy 3’s iPhone and iPod Touch edition came out so polished, it’s clear that the iOS development effort was well informed by any flaws in previous releases.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Farm Frenzy, you might be surprised to learn that the series’ PC/Mac incarnations are listed under the “Arcade” section of Alawar’s product lineup. I went into this one expecting a mellow simulation experience, and boy, was I amazed to find the most intense time and resource management challenge this side of the Castle Defense genre! Tackling the game one level at a time, the player’s job in Farm Frenzy 3 is to take plots of land from bare patches of earth to lean, mean, baked goods assembly machines. Here’s the kicker — you get just a few minutes to do this each go-around, at least if you’re concerned about your Game Center or OpenFeint performance record!

Starting resources and production goals vary widely. Sometimes the player begins with a big wad of cash; sometimes with a watering hole, a single egg-laying bird, and an empty wallet. Whether his or her options are wide open or constricted at first, the player has to scramble to build a sustainable cash flow, whip up ingredients that can be transformed into final goods, and eliminate bottlenecks in the farm’s production process. That all-important last point hinges on real-time upgrades of storage capacity, goods transfer vehicles, and the volume of ingredients that can be fed into whatever processing plants are on hand. The need to constantly lay down grass for the farm animals is another drain on the player’s budget, placing a natural limit on the number of creatures the farm can sustain in the long run. After the nail-biting wait for that first egg or feather to pop out of some animal – mercifully, no pooper scoopers come into play – a beautiful sort of chaos reigns on the farm as production decisions are executed with frenzied touchscreen taps.

I was really glad to see that as the player progresses, there’s a concurrent inflation in the quality of processing plants he or she typically begins with. In other words, the player doesn’t always have to lay the cornerstone of that high end cake baker or egg incubator each go-around, or even make the first expansion. On the downside, this production plant inflation is enforced by an inter-level upgrade menu, where the player must purchase permanent upgrades with stars earned for cumulative performance. That’s right, Game Center and OpenFeint integration here take a backseat to the fact that performance feeds directly into gameplay — which I absolutely adore more often than not. It will prove a turnoff to less savvy players, however, forcing them to replay levels as a way of compensating for performance deficits. I will say I appreciated how this forced me to sharpen my game and find ever more effective strategies, and a good string of Silver-level finishes is usually enough to keep the player spearheading into new territory.

On top of all the complexity Farm Frenzy 3 serves up to begin with, it throws an interesting wildcard into the mix with predators that hop into the farm on occasion. When I heard the growl of an approaching lion for the first time, I was really, really hoping that cowboy hat- wearing girl from the game’s logo would grab a boomstick and treat the player to some over-the-shoulder perspective Annie Oakley action, but alas! The player just has to tap on the predators to encage them, at which point they’ll flow into inventory to be sold off, or escape if the player hasn’t adequately accounted for such an event. Still, I’m holding out hope for a Farm Frenzy 3: Zombie Apocalypse Edition.

Live tutorials complement Farm Frenzy 3’s various complexities, leaving the game feeling accessible and intuitive all around. Boasting 95 levels and more gameplay hours than you could shake an iDevice at, Farm Frenzy 3 manages to keep its presentation farm fresh by varying animal types, environments, and music tracks. Owners of second and third gen iDevices will want to hold on tight — Alawar informs us that functionality for older devices isn’t on tap at release, but updates should usher in greater compatibility.

iFanzine Verdict: Its logo may look more like a margarine carton than the cover of an addictive, arcade-style resource management game, but that’s exactly what Farm Frenzy 3 is. Behind the cuddly presentation lies a challenge that fans of logic puzzles and Castle Defense games should find more endearing than they bargained for — this one isn’t just for sim fans.

[xrr rating=4.5/5]