There was lots of hubbub this week when everyone learned that Stardew Valley, one of the most successful indie games ever, was making its way to mobile devices. In a time where Nintendo is putting out gacha games, other mobile devs are settling into sub-optimal monetization schemes to keep themselves profitable, and the right games are getting increasingly hard to find on mobile storefronts, hearing that ConcernedApe's acclaimed farming game felt like glimmer of hope for the platform.
After putting some time into Stardew Valley, I've come to the conclusion that's all it is: a glimmer. To be clear, the iOS release of Stardew totally seems like a great game that brings all the same farming stuff to do to your phone or tablet, but these days that's not really all it takes to make a great mobile game. In fact, the current state of Stardew Valley on iOS feels like a compromised experience, making it probably not worth picking up unless you simply want to support the premium games market on the App Store or want to wait until it gets more support. Here's why:
The touch controls are iffy
The mobile release of Stardew Valley forgoes virtual joysticks of any kind and instead uses a touch-to-move scheme that was created specifically for this release. Playing Stardew Valley on a touch screen when it wasn't originally designed for such an interface was never going to be an ideal experience, but this new control style hardly helps things.
It's not like this control method makes Stardew Valley unplayable, but it is certainly unwieldy at times. Beyond this, there's no control customization options for folks who might want to play with virtual controls if they wanted to (which, by the way, would make playing Stardew on tablets way more comfortable).
The final straw on Stardew's controls is the fact that it utterly lacks MFi controller support. Considering it's a controller-focused game, this seems like a major oversight. Now before you hand wave that point away by saying it's absurd for people to buy controllers for their phones, I just want to say a) you're wrong and b) people buy controllers for every other non-gaming-only platform (I'm looking at you PCs), so why would it seem so unreasonable to buy a controller for the biggest gaming platform there is?
The save system is bad
Saving after each day in Stardew Valley might be a good system for a game you play on your PC or console, but having this same system on a phone or tablet experience is a bad idea. If you get a call while playing or something else comes up where you have to close the game, you may have to replay sections of the game when you re-open it.
Mobile-first developers have been aware of this reality for a long time, so most games simply auto-save constantly or are purposely designed to be played in short bursts. In the case of Stardew Valley each day takes about 20 minutes to complete. That's not a super long amount of time, but it's just long enough that opening the game only to realize you've lost that time is frustrating. The game also lacks iCloud support, which is a huge bummer for anyone who wants to play the game on multiple devices.
The idea that Stardew's control scheme was completely overhauled for touch while the save system was left untouched is probably the clearest demonstration that the makers of Stardew don't really understand mobile as a platform. Letting players be able to pick up and put down the game while on-the-go is way more important than designing an entirely new control system to sidestep virtual joysticks.
Loads can be pretty long
To compound the saving problems with Stardew on mobile, the amount of time you have to wait between days can be rather long. There was even a point when playing where I wasn't sure if the game had frozen or not because I sat starting at a black screen for almost a full minute.
Out of the issues enumerated here, this one is probably the least concerning, especially since it turned out the game had not actually crashed. In fact, Stardew Valley has run completely smoothly since I started playing, and it shows promise of getting frequent updates down the road to make it a better experience.
I don't want this whole piece to come off like I'm trying to trash Stardew Valley. Aside from the nitpicks above, the game seems like something I can (and will) sink a bunch of time into. I just see so many little things that could make the experience on mobile better that just aren't there yet, though there's hope that they will be.
The developers have already released one patch to fix some bugs and address some of the control issues, which gives me hope for the future of the game. Given the amount of support given to the original release of Stardew Valley post-release, I have faith that the experience will be getting better over time on mobile. As of this writing though, there's just enough things that aren't great about the experience that you may want to wait before buying.