A trend you may have noticed on the App Store is developers using fresh themes and graphics to mask the fact that they are making a somewhat pedestrian game. Case in point: While the puzzle gameplay of Red Rocket Games’ Dark Harvest isn’t stale per se, it certainly isn’t the evil Harvest Moon clone or whatever other sort of game you imagine when you hear its title.
Instead, Dark Harvest is a game similar to Taito’s Bust-a-Move series. At the top of the screen is a slowly expanding cluster of multicolored balls. Using some helpful guide lines as well as some luck and your own knowledge of angles, you launch balls from the bottom of the screen. Matching three erases the group, but the objective is not to clear the screen. Instead, a certain number of the balls must be collected in order to succeed.
According to the game’s story, the chemical balls are being harvested by a dark and mischievous scarecrow in order to cause clouds to strike his evil orchard with life-giving lightning. The scarecrow and his ghoulish vegetables like Pea Diddy and Herbie are brought to life through a spooky cartoon art style, combined with music perfect for Halloween.
Bust-a-Move clones come out much less frequently than, say, Zuma clones, which is a shame because it is an entertaining formula. Dark Harvest differentiates itself through some useful power-ups, like speedballs and color clearers. The balls themselves are sticky and drawn to each other, although at times two balls that appear to be touching are not. Masses of balls move with believable physics, so skillful playing takes more thought than expected, especially when bumpers are thrown it. Ricocheting balls off of corners and having the game reward you for your hook shot can be very satisfying.
When the playing field gets too full, the game ends. The difficulty curve is uneven but fair. However, Dark Harvest did not run too well on the 2nd generation iPod Touch we played it on for this review. The game would habitually fail to boot on the first try, always requiring a second attempt.
The biggest problem, though, is when things start exploding or when there are too many bouncing balls on screen, the game begins to slow down and the touch controls become less responsive. The more balls there are on screen, the closer you are to failing and the more you need the frame rate and controls to be at their best. It does not help that the game’s definition of ‘too many balls’ is a little too low, making the whole situation that much more brutal. Red Rocket Games is aware of the problem and is promising a fix in the future.
Feature-wise, Dark Harvest is competent. There are 30 crops to harvest, each with their own artwork and level available to play in either adventure or quick play mode. There’s also Facebook connectivity if you want show off that you managed to beat the built-in high scores set by Freddy, Jason, and Jigsaw.
If you ever become so good at Dark Harvest that the mass never reaches the red zone, then you’ll probably never even experience the technical problems. For the rest of us, just know that for now, slowdown is the only obstacle between you and this otherwise enjoyable puzzle game.