There is something enticing about farming life. The relaxing setting, the idyllic pastoral background, the animals to care about – it’s demanding yet calm at the same time. Following on the footsteps of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon, Staxel puts the player in charge of his own farm on the outskirts of a village, and adds a touch of 3D Minecraft blockiness to the procedures.
There is no end point to the game – you start on a charming, sizeable town and is quickly introduced to a dilapidated farm you have inherited. After a lot of talking, you are left to your own devices and is free to explore the surrounding area or build up your newly acquired farm as you see fit. You can also plow the land and plant things, being responsible for watering, harvesting, and selling them to keep building the farm up.
Staxel’s construction mechanic is quite similar to minecraft, consisting of block-shaped pieces that seamlessly plug into each other. The game’s art design is a bit more nuanced, adding blocks of varying sizes to create a better looking environment. While it is deliberately low resolution, it is sometimes a bit too low – emoticons and characters look particularly ugly, as the low fidelity drawings are unable to properly express emotions naturally.
The rest of the art design is quite good, with detailed buildings, beautiful vibrant grasslands, and extremely cute animals. Dogs, cows, and pigs are just a few of multiple charming animals you can have on your farm, all of which have a habit of roaming around the farmland unopposed and getting on the way of your building. Having a simpler way to make them follow you would make animal management slightly less annoying.
That is the biggest problem of Staxel: it is an extremely obtuse game. The interface is bad, the inventory is bad, even the placing and rotation controls are bad, but none of them are as bad as the blueprint and crafting systems. Those two are atrocious, consisting of non-descriptive options and complex hard to read lists that make the task of gathering resources and building a frustrating chore. Instead of providing a simple linear database of what becomes what, the game instead lists several different items separately, forcing you to cross reference lumber to fine lumber to planks to plywood planks before actually building something. It is complicated, it is boring – it is exhausting.
Aside from the issues mentioned above, loading times are exceedingly long for a game.of this caliber, which makes it difficult to jump in and out for quick play sessions. However, the game does have nice ambitions; the world map is one big island full of resources, and you can soon build outside the farm boundaries and even upgrade the town itself. This considerably opens up the game’s scope, giving it a large area to expand in the future and out of Early Access.
In the end, Staxel is a cute game with some severe interface problems, but the underlying design is quite good. What holds the game back is its technical side, which is in severe need of an extensive quality pass and frankly, a straight-up revamp. Luckily, this charming farm sandbox has all of Early Access to figure out how to fix itself.