At first glance, Wylde Flowers doesn’t stray too far from the farming life sim conventions that Harvest Moon laid out some 25 years ago. I don’t say that as a complaint: this is a genre where, more so than most, there’s comfort in familiarity. A new setting, a new group of townsfolk to befriend, and the soothing loop of growing and selling crops is really all you need. Wylde Flowers does have its own magical twist—which I’ll get to—but when the Steam Next Fest demo opened with a city kid rolling up in a rural town to help out on her grandmother’s farm, doing a quick meet-and-greet with the locals, and then settling in to sow some potato seeds, I was in my happy place.
And for the most part, the hour-ish long demo follows that path. Wake up, water your crops, harvest any that are ready, maybe plant some new ones, and then head into town to mingle, sell your wares (there’s no shipping box here), maybe help out with some odd jobs. The townsfolk are mostly sweet, sometimes endearingly odd, but always a joy to talk to—and perhaps try to spark a flame with—and there’s something to do when it comes to building up your farm. Like I said, comforting in its familiarity.
But there’s one thing that’s apparent from the moment you load up the demo that sets Wylde Flowers apart from just about every other farm sim out there: rather than a silent, player-inserted protagonist, this one revolves around a pre-defined heroine with her own personality and background. Tara is a friendly, good-natured sort who mostly gets along well with everyone, a little naive about life outside the city but with a strong sense of self.
That’s refreshing in its own right, but it also creates an interesting dynamic for the social aspects of the game: Tara has her own familial connection to Fairhaven and already knows a few people there, which puts those budding friendships in a different light. The usual player-defined character makes sense for the genre and I don’t have any problem with it, but it’s nice to see a different approach that lets you watch someone else’s story unfold. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the full game, as those bonds deepen and all the pieces come together.
The other, more overt point of difference is the one that’s all over the marketing: magic. Tara soon discovers that she, like her grandma, is a witch, and so the usual farming loop is balanced out with a bit of potion brewing, broom riding, and spells to help the crops grow. Unfortunately, the Wylde Flowers demo doesn’t offer a huge taste of this side of the game, instead opting to drop a little tease of what’s to come and then ending on a dramatic cliffhanger. It certainly works as a teaser, and makes me even more excited for the full game, but I wish I could have at least cast a spell or two!
On the other hand, the demo does a very good job of showing off the quality of Wylde Flowers‘ PC port (it came out on Apple Arcade earlier this year). It looks great, in all its vibrant, Pixar-esque glory, and runs smoothly even on a relatively low-spec five-year-old laptop. It plays nicely with either gamepad or keyboard and mouse, and even mouse-only works well enough if you need a spare hand for reading snacks or petting kittens while you play. It also sports a simple, clean interface and context-sensitive interactions to keep the UI clutter and faffing about with menus at bay—a benefit of its touchscreen origins, perhaps?
Life sim fans have been eating well lately, especially in the wake of Stardew Valley‘s runaway success. With just the right balance of comforting familiarity, fresh ideas, playful charm, and ~magic~, Studio Drydock’s Wylde Flowers is shaping up to be one of the best of them. (And if you’re reading this while Steam Next Fest is still running, the demo is a must-play.)