Slime Rancher is a popular new Steam game where you adventure around, vacuum up smiley little slime creatures, plop them in a cage and harvest their, um, poop. All the while, you try to stop them from growing miserable. It kills me to see them frown.
A well-crafted start screen, I think, can provide a perfect window into a game’s soul. Here is Slime Rancher‘s start screen:
It is, as you might have noticed, obscenely cute. Look at all those different kinds of slimes! You’ve got pink slimes, green slimes, spiky blue slimes, explodey slimes and of course cat slimes. They’re all bouncing and smiling and making noises that are just baby-like enough to be cute, but not so baby-like that I get dark, angry thoughts about hurling something out of an aeroplane window.
But it’s not so cute as to be irritating or distracting. I believe it was the Borderlands series that coined the term “joypuke”. This is Joypuke: The Video Game. I just threw up all over my living room. It was great. Or it would have been, if I could afford to have a living room.
OK, OK, let me explain it a little better: Slime Rancher is sandbox game in which you ranch slimes. It works like this:
You adventure around, find slimes, vacuum them up, put them in a pen that ends up resembling a colourful ball pit, collect/grow food, feed your slimes and, of course, harvest their poop for money and missions. It’s super relaxing! Mostly. If they’re not fed often enough, slimes grow displeased (their little smiles turn into little frowns; it’s heartbreaking) and attempt to mutiny by standing on top of each other until some of them fall out of the pen. Slimes are not, strictly speaking, very intelligent, but when they band together, they are almost vaguely competent. Inspiring stuff.
Another thing I learned the hard way (and I appreciate that Slime Rancher teaches you the basics and then lets you learn everything else the hard way) is that slime breeds evolve when exposed to one another’s poop crystals. So if a pink slime comes into contact with a spiky slime’s spiky leavings, it will grow large, prickly and aggressive while retaining some of its original characteristics (colour, desire to devour all things). What this means is, it’s not often a good idea to house different kinds of slimes in a single pen — at least, if you want to harvest their precious, precious excrement without it being slurped up and used for evolution fuel by other slimes.
Have I mentioned that Slime Rancher is kind of a strange game?
It is, however, beneficial to do controlled experimentation in other pens and create new types of slime. So basically, Slime Rancher is a game where you are, at times, a mad scientist, a daring adventurer and an honest farmhand who harvests shit for a living.
It’s fun, albeit with some caveats: 1) it’s in Early Access and — while more enjoyable and polished than most — is a little light on longevity, and 2) it becomes grindy and repetitive pretty quickly. Also, it’s kinda annoying when you want to vacuum up slime poop, but you instead get a great gob-full of slimes. Being able to specify what you want to vacuum would be nice.
Still, Slime Rancher is ultra cute (haha hey I puked again) and pretty damn novel. Is it worth its current $US20 ($29) asking price? Depends on how much you think you can get out of incrementally collecting slimes and/or sussing out optimal ranch builds (“OPTIMAL RANCH BUILDS” – video games, 2016).
Or heck, you could even try a fully free range farm. Theoretically if you array a bunch of fruit and veggie plants consistently, slimes might stick around and produce some quality poops without being jammed together in a phonebooth-tight hell. I think the game’s AI is sophisticated enough for that, and it would certainly alleviate some of my guilt.
In short, your mileage may vary. Maybe wait until it’s got a few content updates under its belt? This one’s got a pretty big upside; expanding it with new slime types and new areas seems like a no-brainer. Here’s hoping it grows into the strange, wonderful thing it has the potential to be.