Staxel – Review
Follow Genre: Farming sim, sandbox, block-building game
Developer: Plukit
Publisher: Humble Games
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Staxel – Review

Site Score
6.3
Good: Zen-like gameplay experience
Bad: Lacks challenge
User Score
4.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 4.0/10 (1 vote cast)

We have to admit that we were fairly excited about Staxel’s premise. The game’s blurb offers a quaint island full of charming characters, with bugs and fish to catch, fossils to excavate and quests to complete. It’s as if someone took Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and Minecraft and threw them all in a blender. Staxel sounds like a delightful little game, but can developer Plukit deliver on what they promise?

Story

After creating your own character, you find yourself on the grounds of a derelict farm. Here you’ll meet Farm Fan, who was sent to greet you by the village’s mayor, Max. Farm Fan tasks you with restoring the farm to its former glory, but before you can do so, you’ll need to head out into the village to pick up your starter tools. Once you’ve headed out, you’ll meet different villagers and are bombarded with a slew of tasks. Given that Staxel is essentially a big sandbox once you make it past the opening stages, there isn’t a real narrative arc present here apart from the setup that takes place on the first day. Once you get past those opening moments, you are free to do what you want. That said, the way you interact with the villagers influences how they’ll perceive you later on in the game, meaning that your experience will still be different from other players, or between playthroughs, even without the presence of a story arc.

Graphics

It’s obvious from looking at the screenshots that Staxel has taken some ‘inspiration’ from Minecraft for its visuals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the blocky look works great here. The game also offers a day and night cycle and weather effects, which spice up the visuals somewhat. Additionally, you are able to customize the look -and even race- of your character, though this doesn’t really come into play, given that most of the game is presented from a first-person perspective. There are character customization options down the road -including new outfits- but overall, these feel like superficial additions that do not add anything to the gameplay experience.

Sound

When it comes to Staxel’s audio, there isn’t a whole lot to say. The soft music adds to the chill atmosphere but also feels generic and forgettable. There is no voice acting present and the game’s sound effects don’t really add anything other than that the game would be awkwardly silent without them. They’re functional but they don’t improve the overall level of immersion.

Gameplay

In essence, Staxel offers a hybrid between a farming sim and a block-building game. The game is presented from a first-person view, similar to Minecraft, but instead of going out and exploring the world, you’re tasked with making your village a nicer place to live. That’s easier said than done, of course, mainly because the game doesn’t really go out of its way to show you how things work. It can be overwhelming at first as the game dumps a bunch of tasks on you, ranging from “place a mailbox” to “build a complete house with all furnishings” but doesn’t tell you *how* you’re supposed to do all of this. Basic tutorials are present in the form of books on your shelf, but they don’t explain how and where to find certain materials or items, meaning you’ll have to set out and hope for the best. It’s often a good idea to break down your to-do list mentally and realize that there is no time limit in which to do tasks.

Once you find your footing, it’s par for the course for anyone that has ever played a farming sim. You’ll need to gather materials and petals, which are the game’s currency, and slowly but surely you’ll be able to build up your farm, where you’ll then grow more resources. You subsequently sell these at the market, where you’ll use your earnings to buy new materials in order to further expand your farm. Rinse and repeat. It’s a repetitive and somewhat tedious affair, which is common for the genre, but there is something about the zen-like nature of farming sim gameplay that keeps drawing players in and Staxel certainly delivers on that front. One of the game’s standout features is that you’re able to construct structures of your own. While this isn’t exactly impressive for a game that is essentially a Minecraft clone, it’s a feature that is typically absent from farming sims. It’s a cool idea, but in practice, building structures can feel quite clunky and takes some getting used to. Perhaps this is a feature more suited to the PC version of the game rather than the Switch Port.

Staxel isn’t all that impressive from a technical point of view, especially compared to the offerings that it takes inspiration from. However, the game does have an edge in how relaxing the atmosphere is. There are certain limitations in games like Stardew Valley, like having limited stamina, that developer Plukit simply chose not to bother with in Staxel. This means that although you’re often left to your own devices when it comes to figuring things out, you can do so at your own pace. There is no pressure to get things done as quickly as possible. Whether this approach was by design or simply because implementing certain features was too much effort, we don’t know. However, the result is a game that offers a relatively carefree take on the farming sim genre, with plenty of stuff to do, including collecting bugs and learning how to craft various items. The absence of any enemies or threats adds to this carefree atmosphere, though it might be unexciting for some players as a consequence.

As is often the case with farming sims, there is a lot to see and do, even if the core gameplay loop is rather basic and repetitive. We spent roughly 10 hours with the game and we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of certain aspects. We did feel that our gameplay was hampered -especially early on- by the limited availability of certain items and materials? This would force us to go to the town every day and talk to the same NPCs in the hope that what they had for sale that day was the stuff that we needed. It’s this loop that left a sour taste in our mouth. Having progress depend on RNG feels like a bad design choice, even if there is no time limit. To the game’s credit, it does attempt to incentivize daily town visits and it also shakes things up with events such as town festivals, to break the tedium.

That said, the majority of what Staxel had to offer turned out to be shallow and repetitive. Growing plants and trees on your farm may be essential in order to build up enough petals to keep expanding your farm, but it feels tedious rather than fun. It seems like Plukit was aware of this because the game also offers a Creative Mode alongside the Standard Mode (which is where we spent most of our time). In Creative Mode, you don’t have to worry about petals and you even gain the ability to fly around the world. While this seems like a good outlet for anyone wanting to build the farm of their dreams, it also removes the already small feeling of challenge, and it felt like there was little point in playing Creative Mode, given that there are better, more fun alternatives out there in the first place.

Conclusion

A cross between Stardew Valley and Minecraft sounds awesome in theory, and although Staxel sets out to deliver on that premise, the result feels like a showcase of mediocrity. There’s plenty to do in Staxel, and the game offers just about enough variety to prevent you from feeling like you’re doing exactly the same things over and over again, but the game also lacks a feeling of challenge. When you compare Staxel to something like Harvest Moon, Story of Seasons, or Stardew Valley, then Plukit’s game gets the short end of the stick.

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Rating: 4.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Staxel - Review, 4.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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