Arc System Works
I played New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers for 10 minutes on the Switch’s launch day, and decided that I would probably hate it.
As is often the case with resource management games like this, the tutorial is just a deluge of information, throwing loads of features at you under the false impression that if it walks you through performing each task once you’ll remember all the steps in the future.
I turned it off, angry, and put it aside to focus on reviewing the other Switch launch games first.
As far as first impressions go, “I’m so annoyed with you I want to play everything else first” probably isn’t the best.
The other night I finally booted it up again. You know those nights where you fall asleep in front of the TV, then you wake up and it’s late but you know you won’t be able to get back to sleep now? It was one of those nights.
Waking at 2am to find the menu of the Blu-ray I was watching looping in front of me, I turned my TV off, undocked my Switch and trudged off to bed with it.
“Let’s try this fake Farmville shite again,” I sighed. My logic was that if the game continued to be as bad as the tutorial, it would make me fall asleep. I had to get up at 8am for work so I couldn’t play something that would have me up all night.
I started a new game and played the tutorial again, still feeling none the wiser about what I was supposed to do the second time around.
If you aren’t aware of it (and, to be fair, you’d be forgiven if you aren’t), New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers is a resource management simulation game in which you have to build a colony and help it thrive over the years, improving its technology until it becomes a proper metropolis.
That’s the aim on paper, at least. When I started all I had was a single building, a campfire and some prick chopping trees, and no real clue what to do next.
Slowly, I began to figure it out for myself. That first building you get is your sort of town hall, and you use it to add more people to your village: you get to choose the gender of each villager and their abilities are identical in every way, so you could make an entire female-only colony of badass lumberjills and fisherwomen if you wanted.
As you chop trees you gather wood, which can then be used to build a sawmill. The sawmill lets you convert the wood into lumber, which you can then sell or use to construct other buildings.
As well as chopping wood you can also head out to the land surrounding your village to fish, mine, shear sheep and go hunting. Doing this helps you gather other materials like wool, meat, stone and iron, which can be used to feed your pioneers and make new buildings.
It’s actually a lot more simple than it initially seems once you get past the useless opening section, and there’s something about it that becomes oddly endearing.
At the end of each of the game’s years there’s a ‘Harvest Festival’, which essentially just means you lose a big chunk of money and food in one go. This can scupper your plans for developing your town, so you tend to get into the habit of stockpiling for the end of the year, selling some wood for spare cash and saving some wheat and fish aside.
I appreciate that sounds as dull as all almighty fuck, but there was always something to keep me going for some reason. The way that many of the new buildings create resources that let you build the next gives the whole game a logical sense of progression disguised as a free-for-all.
Whereas the likes of Rollercoaster Tycoon and Theme Hospital – two of my favourites of this genre – basically let you buy and place whatever you wanted as long as you had the money (and it had been researched), here each building has to be earned through the use of others.
Take the Laboratory, for example, which appears later in the game when you’ve evolved your little village into a city. To build this you need:
– 50 pieces of Craftwood, which you get from the Sawmill after you level it up and perform certain missions
– 100 pieces of Marble, which you can build at your Quarry after you’ve used it to process stone a number of times.
– 200 pieces of Iron, which you mine from ore in the land
– loads of money which you get from selling shit
This means it isn’t just a case of finding a sure-fire money-making technique and using it to buy everything in your catalogue, you actually have to make use of every building you buy in order to earn the others.
All of these tasks are timed too. I know, but hold on a minute.
It’s true that timers in free-to-play games have more or less ruined the resource management genre. The whole ‘this’ll take 12 hours to build, or give us money to get it right away’ shit is a vile practice, and I don’t really have time for it.
But this isn’t a free-to-play game, and these timers aren’t anywhere near as ridiculous. It’s easy to forget a time before free-to-play, but if you try really hard you’ll remember that timers still existed back in the day too.
The Sims has always had timers for almost everything you make your character do: any time you get them to make dinner, study to improve their skills or take a shite that little progress bar appears to show how long you have to wait for it.
There’s a big difference between a developer making you wait because it wants you to get impatient and fork over some cash, and making you wait because it wants you to feel the satisfaction of earning something. This does the latter.
By now you’re probably thinking I’ve lost my mind, and that’s understandable given the absolute kicking this genre has taken over the years thanks to free-to-play. So let me reassure you I’m not completely crazy by listing some of the game’s bad points, of which it has plenty.
Sometimes completely random disasters occur which are out of your control. Earthquakes weaken your buildings, sickness epidemics can drastically slow down your townsfolk and, worst of all, sometimes a herd of wild boars will attack, killing most of your people and destroying most of the village, causing you to rebuild huge parts of your infrastructure.
That’s not the only downside. Playing in TV mode is also a far inferior experience to playing in handheld mode. Controlling your cursor with the analogue stick is nowhere near as convenient as using the touchscreen instead. Even when you’re using the touchscreen, sometimes things get so busy that it’s hard to accurately tap on what you want to do.
It can also sometimes be hard to keep track of where all your people are if you have quite a few of them. Some of them disappear into buildings when you assign them and there are only minor graphical changes to denote whether they’re occupied.
The music is a hot mess too, to the extent that I played it in complete silence most of the time.
Despite all the above, something about this game kept me going. From the minute I started playing at 2am it became a series of “I’ll just” moments.
“I’ll just play through the tutorial again then I’ll go to sleep.” “Actually, I’ll just build that Mill and then I’ll save it.” “I’ll just shoot that bear that’s roaming around, then stop after that.”
Eventually, after a particularly nasty boar attack left me with only three buildings to my name again, I decided that was the best time to stop and finally get some sleep. I’d rebuild the next day.
Before I put my Switch away, I pressed the menu button to see what time it was, and how many hours of sleep I still had before I had to wake up at 8am.
I appreciate that New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers doesn’t do anything new. I appreciate that it’s hardly pushing the Switch to its limits. I appreciate that, frankly, it looks like shovelware.
But all I know is that if a game can make me lose five hours in one go and not make me realise it, there has to be something to it.
It’s no Theme Hospital or Rollercoaster Tycoon, but it’s given me some hope that free-to-play hasn’t completely ruined this genre yet.
New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers is available now on the Switch eShop, priced £8.99 / $9.99.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this, even though I appreciate it’s really hard to believe that this time.
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