As vast as the PC game library is, believe it or not, there are still plenty of genre voids that need filling. Enter Slime Ranchers, a new Early Access game on STEAM, where you’re job is to wrangle up bouncy balls of colored slime, breed them, and sell their poo (known as “plort”). You may have to take a leap of faith on this one, but becoming a multicolored feces salesman in an old west setting, is an experience worth partaking. I for one, won’t rest until I have corralled the elusive glowing green radioactive and mysterious gold slime balls, and formed an adequate poo production line. How else am I going to retire with millions of space coins, free to travel to exotic planets like Las Fecas, Pooparis, and New Plort?
It’s been years since I’ve played the console Viva Piñata games, but those games were much more fun than they let on. While Slime Ranchers does not feature the landscaping and habitat development of those titles, it does feature similar breeding, cross breeding, and easily accessible gameplay. There is a focus on careful exploration and whimsical experimentation (and of course treading the uncertain waters of poop salesmanship) over any serious monetary management or twitch skill based action, and it suits this game well.
After creating a new game, I found myself on a cartoon desert landscape; half expecting the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote to dart past me. Colored spirals illuminate the strange all powerful wet-dry-slime vac’ before me. Square lots are marked across the grounds of the ranch with interactive beacons marking each one of its corners. Through these stations you can convert areas into a number of useful housings or storage areas. Nearby is your ranch where you can sleep until the next morning. Adjacent to that is a poop-to-money converter, just punt the puny plorts into the port, for instant monetary reimbursement. As they say, plort makes the world go’round, and expanding your ranch and vacuuming abilities will require plenty of it.
On the surface gameplay is simple, one button suctions up colorful squealing slimes and resources, while the other end unceremoniously spats it back out. There are some challenges to raising these happy money factories. Each has a dietary requirement, some prefer fruits or vegetables, or meats only. Efficiently creating a stream of plort will mean also having lots for producing their meals. If you are curious as to what a particular slime color favors just hover your targeting icon over it and it is displayed in the upper right hand corner.
Plort economics is random, it fluctuates like ocean waves. Therefore having multiple types of plort producers is helpful to maximize each crystal’s value. Selling while a particular plort color is on the rise will help maximize profit. Early on keeping your herd in order can be challenging without some of the more expensive corral upgrades. Increasing their height, adding nets, music boxes, and autofeeders can help keep populations tame and prevent them from escaping. This becomes more necessary as you find the more rare slimes in the more remote areas.
Finding the multiple organic supplements, and multiple varieties of slime will require plenty of exploration. Here is another key area Slime Rancher holds plenty of promise. There are plenty of secret areas, hidden nooks, and other secrets layered through each other game’s landscapes. It’s quite a delight when you come across a secret cave in an area you’ve crossed over hundreds of times. There are also secrets you’ll only unlock after experimenting with various items. Discovering each can be rewarding on its own, but usually opens up another avenue or two of new content to play around with back at the ranch.
Feed a pink slime a blue plort crystal and it will morph into a large combination of the two slimes. The new creature will have traits of both varieties and feeding them will generate 2 crystals instead of 1, which is more efficient. There is a caveat however, like something out of 1984’s Gremlins, feed them too many crystals and they will mutate into blackened tar monsters. These tar monsters are a nasty nuisance. They eat everything, chickens, slimes, and even ranchers like you. These baddies can decimate a ranch in minutes if you are not careful, and can steal away valuable rare slimes out in the wild. There are other dangers present as you explore, some slimes are completely aggressive towards your unwarranted intrusions into their world, so be prepared.
It’s quite easy to see the tremendous potential in this title. It’s a simple, yet amusing, approach to poop harvesting. What will increase it’s longevity and appeal hinges on how much content will continue to be added and how it will all tie together. For instance, there are a number of fruits and vegetables available for harvest, slimes are not particular however just give it any fruit, if it likes fruit, and it will produce plort. Perhaps pairing particular tastes to each variety would provide an additional challenge for space ranchers.
Judging from the table of available plorts to sell, the options are decently varied at the moment. Half of the placards on the monetary exchange machine are blank, hinting that there could be a dozen more slime species waiting to be added. The more the better. Content will drive the longevity of this game tremendously. Each new species of slime would undoubtedly create many new breeding possibilities. Perhaps creating uniquely colored plort that is only available from certain “specialized” crossbreeds would also encourage more experimentation, versus always getting one of each of the parental lines of poopy plort as return.
Slime Rancher performs admirably, there are very few bugs and almost no crashes during my playtime. At the moment there is very little in terms of soundtracks or music, and a game as charming as this one could benefit from new slime introductory cutscenes and other cosmetic ideas to spruce up an already enjoyable experience further. There is already built in full controller support, but it’s just as fluid and stable with a trusty mouse and keyboard.
This game can be so entertaining that it’s easy to forget it’s still in Early Access (only version 0.2), if not for the multiple constructions signs on the landscapes as constant reminders. These boarded up walls denote new areas that the developers are planning, but not ready to exhibit just yet. Judging from what I’ve seen so far, these new areas will only dramatically increase the appeal of Slime Rancher. This is already one of my new PC favorites of this year (as well as my kids), so if you are on the fence, there appears to be little risk in investing in this clever and creative title as of right now. It’s been a long while since a whimsical game of this nature has taken a hold of my time, and interestingly enough this void is being filled as a PC game with infinite content expansion capabilities, this could prove to be a very popular title with sustained longevity.STEAM