You can't help getting exited when you see a new game by Origin8. The London-based studio is behind some of the platform's most impressive games since the early days of the App Store. Remember the Sentinel series, Space Station: Frontier and MonsterKill? They have good reputation among sci-fi nerds for a reason. It's only when you hear that you its latest release is a farming game when you begin to worry and wonder if this casual leap has been too risky. Don't worry, this type of farming has nothing to do with the time grinding games you see on Facebook.
Tractor Trails is a classic puzzler where you plant trees on a field trying to obtain the maximum yield. You ride your trusty tractor Red and leave behind an impressive kind of tree that grows instantly — unfortunately blocking your way and forcing you to move only forward. This is a new take on the typical gameplay were you have to cover a maze without crossing your own path.
This premise allows for a very strategic gaming experience where you'll find yourself planning ahead, experimenting and replaying levels lured by the high score. There's a bit of memorisation involved and some swiping skill as your movements need to be extra-tight in medium and advanced levels to obtain all the rewards.
Each game finishes the moment you're stuck and plant a fast-growing tree under the tractor (with an amusing animation), complete every bit of soil available or crash your machine. Tractor Trails isn't particularly punitive and will allow you to progress to the next stage even without every star, obtained for driving over a mole, planting a set number of trees and for doing so in the required time limit.
The game comes with corn collectibles that are the soft currency of the game. These are available in every level can be spent on tractor upgrades. As you imagine, you can also buy some more corn with real money. Without being too exaggerated, I felt the game was balanced until halfway through, where getting a third star to complete the level might require investing in vehicle upgrades.
Entering the casual kingdom
For long time fans of the studio the most surprising aspect is the emphasis on a casual direction. Unlike more niche experiences like tower defense and real time strategy, this puzzler adopts the obvious elements of the 99c game generation: bite-sized gameplay, plenty of levels laid out like a sticker book, three star scoring system, different tiers of achievements. This is nothing bad per se; it's a step to find a new market for their games.
Perhaps to stress this direction Tractor Trails feels a bit infantile, cutesy and abusive of visual effects — still some miles away from Peggle, if you need a reference. My main gripe was the gestures chosen, since the game is so simple and the input method is always drag in a straight line, I wish I could swipe anywhere on the screen and not just on the truck.
I'm not sure if Tractor Trails is the new direction for this developer but I can see they've been paying attention to the market. Every element from the casual games that populate the charts is there and hopefully will help Tractor Trails to reach a wider audience than Sentinel. In addition to being fun for adults, the concepts of planning and logical thinking can also make it a great game to play with children.