"I think you might like this," I said to my wife, when she got home from work on Friday night.
"Looks like a chore game," she replied.
"Yeah, but I think this is a good chore game."
She christened them chore games a few years ago while knee-deep in Stardew Valley
's agricultural fields… or maybe it was while shaking down a fruit tree in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
. The precise etymology may be unclear, but it's stuck throughout her diligent endeavors maintaining graveyards and farms and tropical islands and rural villages, all the while methodically working through the rolling checklists of tasks assigned by the line managers of these games.
Of late, however, she's been less inclined to stick with them, bailing after a few hours or even dismissing them wholly without play. Burnout? Perhaps. A lull in quality for the genre? Possibly. A post-COVID return to office work relieving the urge to find routine in an otherwise nebulous existence? I probably won't raise that with her, unless she's reading this. Regardless, since she drifted away from Animal Crossing sometime last year, she's not found a chore game able to scratch the itch like they used to.
A couple hours into Wylde Flowers, I felt confident enough in its qualities to buy a second copy for her to play (she's on Switch while I'm on Steam). By the end of the weekend she was dozens of hours in, surpassing my progress with ease. She'd offered to cat-sit for a neighbour one evening and took the Switch with her, returning only when the batteries had run out. I think it's fair to say the chore game is back in her life.
"It's very much one of these games, if you know what I mean. It's just a really good one of these games...”
It's not that Wylde Flowers is a wild departure from the genre's norms. But it has thoroughly impressed me – and utterly rejuvenated my wife's interest in virtual chores – in the way it delivers on every standard genre tropes with a high degree of polish, generous design and considerable charm. It's very much one of these games, if you know what I mean. It's just a really good one of these games.
Tara Wylde arrives on the small island town of Fairhaven to care for her elderly and frail grandmother. While reconnecting with her gran is a large part of why she returns to her childhood home, Tara's also seeking to reset her life after the twin blows of losing her job and splitting from her fiancé. Getting her hands dirty around the family farm while running errands for her gran seems like a much-needed break.
From here you end up doing a lot of the things you typically do in a chore game like this. You gather wood and stone to build some early workbenches and farm upgrades. You plant seeds in the garden beds to grow crops to cook into food or to simply sell in town. You'll open up the old abandoned mine and start digging up iron and copper and other minerals to forge better tools at the blacksmith or cut precious stones at the jeweller. You'll renovate a ranch for livestock, construct a coop for chickens, expand your garden into a whole orchard, distil beer, press paper, weave linen, make candles, cook, fish, and, of course, fall in love.
"Talking to people, foraging items, cooking and other less strenuous actions don't require energy...”
Wylde Flowers gets so many things right. Certain tasks must be performed daily–watering your crops, feeding your animals–but it doesn't burden you with a hunger meter requiring you to eat constantly. You have an energy bar that depletes over the course of the day, but only through demanding actions like chopping down a tree; talking to people, foraging items, cooking and other less strenuous actions don't require energy, alleviating much of the anxiety these game can induce when trying to maximise your efforts for the day.
Interacting with Fairhaven's colourful cast of characters isn't just enjoyable thanks to the upbeat yet consistently witty writing, it's also where another design convenience shines through. Approach an NPC and you'll see a dynamic icon above their head, letting you know in advance what to expect from the conversation–tipping you off that they have a quest to give, or if you're on a quest for them whether or not you can complete it now, or maybe just indicating that you don't need to talk to them right now because their "I have new things to say" icon is greyed out. This icon is super helpful and means you don't waste time checking in with NPCs just to hear the same lines of dialogue again.
There are also hints aplenty in every aspect of the user-interface. Trying to catch a certain type of fish for someone? Open your to-do list and select the fish icon, it'll let you know where that specific fish is typically found. Carting around too many of a particular item in your pockets? Open the inventory, go to the item and it'll tell you which NPC will buy it off you. Even major story quests come with their own hint system in case you find yourself unsure of what to do next.
"Sometimes you'll have to shuffle Tara back and forth a bit until the interaction you want is highlighted...”
I also especially like how every action is context-sensitive. When you're out and about chopping down trees and picking stone, you never need to swap between tools -– you just hit the same button and Tara knows which tool is required for the job. She never has to stop when foraging either, you can run from one end of the island to the other, picking up weeds and stones and mushrooms as you go, without breaking stride.
One slight criticism here is that occasionally the context-sensitive action isn't the one you wanted. This happens when standing near several things you can interact with and the game is trying to decide which one has caught your attention. Sometimes you'll have to shuffle Tara back and forth a bit until the interaction you want is highlighted. A button that cycles between multiple interactions in these moments would be appreciated.
Special mention must go to the game's commitment to diversity. It's not specified where Fairhaven is located, but it's obviously a place that welcomes people of all cultural backgrounds, genders and sexual orientation. Although you can't create your own character to play as -– this is very much Tara's story -– you can colour in details, such as deciding the gender of her ex-fiancé and indeed any future romantic interests. But it's not just in the people, it's in the food, too. Tara's kitchen plays host to the preparation of cuisine from all over the world, not just the Western standards with a few Asian dishes mixed in. I was whipping up bobotie, empanadas, haupia… and that was just for breakfast. Consider yourself warned: Don't play this game when hungry.
I haven't even mentioned THE TWIST. It's probably not a huge deal since it's right there on the Steam Store
description, but Tara's story involves her learning how to become a witch. I won't reveal anything other than to say it's beautifully told, offering just the right notes of weirdness and mystery to the island while, eventually, delivering a slew of fun and helpful tools for interacting with the townsfolk and improving the family farm.
It was perhaps around the time I found myself feeding mulberry leaves to my silkworms so they could produce the silk I need to run through my loom in order to make the fabric required to produce the parachutes the island's meteorologist had requested for her research balloons… somewhere in that long chain of intertwined chores, anyway… that I realised Wylde Flowers was indeed a very good chore game. And by this point my wife was very much in agreement.