Running in Crop Circles: A Comprehensive Review of Harvest Hunt Game

Villainous Games’ roguelite horror game builds enjoyable systems around a central monster with more bark than bite.

By Mark DelaneyTwitter: @markdelaneysays on May 25, 2024 at 7:53AM PDT

There’s something timelessly scary about cornfields. Their impenetrable depth and intimidating height can quickly disorient anyone who stumbles into one, leaving them desperate to find an exit path, and turning a simple field of grain into the setting of a horror story. Villainous Games leans into this universal truth as the centerpiece of its folk horror game, Harvest Hunt. Pitted against a ceaseless monster hellbent on corrupting and consuming a village, it’s the game’s interlocking systems that make it worthwhile, even when the creature leaves something to be desired.

In Harvest Hunt, you’re tasked with amassing enough ambrosia over five-night-long runs to secure your village’s immediate future. The deeper you get into a harvest season, the higher the requirements and tougher the tasks may become. The game leans into some light deck-building elements like so many similarly designed games have as of late, but these cards are varied enough–no matter if they’re beneficial or detrimental–that they remain interesting after several hours of play.

Played in first-person and showcased with stylized imagery that borrow Rare’s approach of no-straight-lines paired with a rustic yet comic-booky overlay, the setting is incredibly atmospheric. The intimidating night sky over randomly generated farmland, combined with an abundance of cornfields, eerie footbridges and ominous ponds, creates an initially captivating ensemble. This world succeeds in making you feel both unwelcome and lost, adding an intriguing sense of dread to a game with a relatively uncomplicated gameplay loop.

My only desire was for these stochastic maps to feature more variations. Aside from the cornfields and ponds, each map harbours three major landmarks like a colossal, withered tree and an eerie windmill, backlit dramatically by moonlight. Yet these landscapes lack the additional smaller, distinctive locations that could provide more diverse visuals, which over time gave me a déjà vu feeling, even as I was struggling to trace paths. It is a bewildering experience, yet familiar at the same time.

I found that Harvest Hunt echoed the sensation of Slender, the viral, straightforward horror game that scattered diary pages throughout disorientating maps, while a relentless creature stalked your every move. Harvest Hunt has a similar premise but builds on it with intriguing card mechanics. However, its essence remains the same or becomes sometimes more challenging; the creature is persistent, but unlike in Slender, it is also pretty easy to dodge.

Named the Devourer, the creature towers two or three times the player’s height, bearing a spherical, shadowy physique spotted with green blisters but not much else. Given its towering size, it is occasionally possible to spot it from a distance. Even when that was not possible, I could locate it using tools like a weathervane that indicated the beast’s position. Frequently, I could stealthily approach the Devourer without alerting it, and if it did spot me, I could hurriedly escape, easily shaking it off most of the time. The most disappointing aspect is when it catches up with you: It grabs you and immediately drains some of your health, triggering a basic button-pressing mini-game where you wiggle free to minimize damage. After managing to escape, the game seemed to offer a sort of cooldown period, where I could find a hiding spot, resetting the creature’s alertness. To sum it up, the Devourer isn’t menacing.

This loop of dodging the monster while collecting enough supplies to meet a particular quota by run’s end isn’t unlike that which you’d see in the hilarious-but-scary horror du jour, Lethal Company, but Harvest Hunt is played entirely solo and serious, and it lacks the scares to make up for that difference. The game even incentivizes you to consider harming the beast to transform fragments of their body into stockpiles of ambrosia, but they were consistently easy enough to dodge that I never saw the need. I always preferred playing stealthily and collecting the vital resource piece by piece. While the play-your-way approach is appreciable in theory, one way appears to be clearly better.

Given the heavy reliance of a horror game on scare value, I found Harvest Hunt interesting even when its monstrous mascot fails to induce fear. As a horror game, it’s atmospheric but falls short of its objectives. However, when played first and foremost as a roguelite, it performs much better. A big reason is the game’s deck-building system providing consistently worthwhile challenges and rewards. Each night of a five-night run, you receive a random new benefit and detriment, like damaging the beast with fewer hits or turning healing items into extra ambrosia when at full health, while also having to deal with setbacks like the Devourer’s stationary “fiends” detecting your location more easily, or all waters, including minor puddles, turning into toxic baths.

I found the interaction and alterations required for each night amid these benefits and drawbacks enjoyable. While the maps started to feel monotonous after the initial hours and the monster failed to invoke the intended fear, I enjoyed the increasing difficulty of completing runs, given the daunting quotas.

As you maintain a run, you accumulate temporary bonuses, known as strengths, night after night until a season concludes, as well as more enduring village defenses that essentially translate into added strengths. In contrast, the Devourer is characterized by a single, consistent feature each season, like leaving a trail of toxic gas behind them.

Choosing my strengths and defenses became increasingly challenging as I reviewed the well-designed cards, each offering to enhance a different aspect of my journey, from faster crouch-walking to boosted healing speed or increased hit points. This decision-making process compelled me to strategize around the existing challenges of the harvest season. I even found myself sometimes risking my starting health points in exchange for benefitting from the scattered tools throughout the map.

The constant overlap and accumulation of these effects ensured that after seven hours of play, my experience and exploration of the game’s environment were never the same. Often, my sole aim was to survive and secure my ambrosia, not because of the monsters but due to other imminent threats that gradually depleted my health points. These dangers lurked at every corner, ready to provoke complete collapse and loss of all progress.

While Harvest Hunt offers authentic stakes, the game fails to provide genuine scares. Despite its lacking central villain, the game creates a tension-filled atmosphere that unfortunately does not fully achieve its intended severity. However, there are redeeming qualities like its striking, unconventional art style and interlocking roguelite systems. These features make the pursuit worthwhile in the visually appealing yet terrifying folk-horror world.

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