As a kid that played with Legos, I had a certain disdain towards Megablocks. The reason was simple: if LEGO already exists, what does Megablocks do that it doesn’t? Similarly, in a world where Minecraft was and is still a sensation, what does a game with such obvious similarities as Staxel offer to differentiate itself? I am glad to say that even though it may look like a lesser clone of a more popular product, Staxel indeed attempts to be its own game, and is successful so far.
In Staxel, it is your job to take over the run-down farm of a small town. That premise alone makes the world feel populated in a way that Minecraft simply isn’t. After you’ve created a character, your introduction to Staxel is in the form of friendly villagers to interact with. They act as shopkeepers, mission givers, and general local color. Each of the important villagers is visually distinct. At no point was I ever left wondering who I should talk to for any given task.
Speaking of visuals, I find Staxel a delight to simply look at. Its light, pastel palette of colors lend an almost fairy-tale feel to the game. Even the interface is surprisingly pleasant, and the soundtrack is soothing to listen to. Overall the presentation of this game does a lot to win me over.
Beyond the village there is a wide, procedurally generated world to explore and gather resources from. This is where the game definitely has the most similarity to Minecraft. Using tools like an ax or shovel you gather materials; bringing these raw materials back to the village you can refine them into useful parts for building. As of the current build, there are no hostile forces or hazards present in the game. This lends to an added easygoing feel to the game. I don’t ever have to worry about dying and losing everything.
As for farming, that goes about as you would expect. You clear the land, till the soil, plant the seeds, and water them every day until they’re ready to be harvested. The process sounds tedious, I’ll admit. As someone who was never a fan of simulation games, I thought I’d hate it. But waking up every in-game morning to find those sprouts I planted just a little bit bigger does create some sense of satisfaction. I actually find the process calming when combined with Staxel‘s cute and simple aesthetic. And since the game offers multiplayer, I could always invite my friends to my little village to help me on the farm if it ever got too repetitive. At the very least, I think that would be preferable to another Farmville invite.
There is also the option to build and improve not only your own farm but also the small village itself. In order to create specific buildings, you have to obtain a sign that when placed designates a specific area for building. Once placed, it also provides a list of required objects for the building. For instance, a barn needed a solid roof and two troughs. Apart from this, you’re free to design the building as you like; as one of those odd kids who actually followed the instructions for the LEGO kits his parents bought him, I actually appreciate the combination of freedom and structure this provided.
As a game still in development, there are a few quirks to Staxel. Trees fall when you chop them, but you can gather water with a shovel which leaves holes in lakes and even the ocean. That’s something that is easily excused as part of the game being in development. But it that isn’t the only criticism I have. While it is an enjoyably relaxing farm simulator, Staxel isn’t something that held me for long periods of time. After about half an hour of starting the game up and enjoying the atmosphere, I invariably found myself wondering why I should keep playing. For the most part, the only reward the game offers for doing anything is more in-game currency: petals. The game doesn’t seem all too interested in incentivizing any further progress towards its supposed goal.
In fact, I was quickly informed that if I wanted, I could ignore the farm, go on to see the big wide world out there! While many gamers are sure to appreciate this, I feel that it’s a misstep. Remove the farm and the village, the core parts of this game’s identity, and you have a Minecraft clone with no enemies. All the polish in the world wouldn’t change that. The developers would still just be playing catch-up to something already done very well by someone else.
Staxel really shines when it focuses on what sets it apart: its village and farm that invite the player to live a simple but fulfilling life in another world for a few minutes at a time. My hope for the future of this game is that the developers continue to focus on and refine this aspect by giving me more incentives to stick around and do my supposed farming job. Perhaps offering special blueprints not easily available otherwise for improving my farm to sell enough of a certain crop would be enough of an achievement to keep me engaged for a little while longer. For now though, Staxel remains an enjoyable way to de-stress for about half an hour, and little more.