Human beings are funny critters. They work all day and then spend their leisure time playing games like Farming Simulator, which emulates one of the most backbreaking, labor-and-machinery-intensive occupations on the planet. Of course, it's much easier to plow a little digital field than sitting atop a tractor in sweltering heat, and would-be farm tycoons in Farming Simulator don't have to worry about pesky PETA operatives snooping around their cattle pens, protesters destroying genetically modified crops, the impact of border walls or labor disputes. Farming Simulator has come to the Nintendo Switch and is really as much of an economic sim and tycoon game as it is a heavy-machinery playground.
The basics of Farming Simulator --which first appeared in 2008 -- are similar to most tycoon games: grow your farming empire from a simple, do-it-yourself operation to an outsized, town-engulfing megafarm with a large labor force and the latest branded machines. Turning a profit is the ultimate goal and doing so means being wise in the ways of the land. Planting, fertilizing, harvesting a wider-than-ever variety of crops and livestock with a very large number of machines means there is always a job to do. While it's true that there is a spare, Zen-like experience about spending minutes or hours driving a little digital tractor over a little digital field, I was happy to get to the point where my hired hands could take over some of the mundane tasks.
There is a great deal of realism built into Farming Simulator, at least in terms of the fundamental ways in which farmers need to deal with growing and harvesting, replanting and balancing growth and risk with proven techniques. This is a game that has always appealed to those who have a fetish for gear, enjoy the slow pace of the farming cycle, or like tycoon games that have a pretty limited set of options. Every iteration has added new crops, new and recognizable machines, or special features like a playable radio. For those unfamiliar with the series, there are turtorials aplenty but novices may still be confounded at any moment by what should come next.
I live in an area where fruit farming is the primary economic driver and I see firsthand the sometimes devastating emotional and financial cycles that growers experience from year to year. Farming Simulator exists in an alternative universe where buying the next shiny tractor is the goal and winning means being the biggest operation that makes the most money. Maybe the next iteration will include sustainable family farms, and cannabis in the rotation of available crops.
Farming Simulator has always tried to model the machinery as realistically as possible, at least from a visual standpoint. It's less successful when it comes to simulating the handling of some of the trucks, tractors, combines and other machines. At least on the Switch, the controls aren't always logical or comfortable, and some of the time, vehicle physics are floaty and imprecise. Text on the Switch handheld can be extremely small and difficult to read.
As is often the case with games ported to the Switch, Farming Simulator looks decent on the handheld screen but looks far less appealing on the big screen. This seems to be a common theme. Just like with Doom or Skyrim, games look good but don't control comfortably on the Switch itself. On the TV with a Pro controller, they handle well but don't look great. It makes spending a protracted time difficult in either mode. Then there is limitation of the subject matter: crops are generally large swaths of green, yellow and brown, no matter how high or low the resolution.
Farming Simulator on the Switch doesn't add any new content or special modes or new machines that aren't included in versions on other systems, but it does competently bring a well-liked sim to the new generation of Nintendo handhelds and gives Switch owners another decent, full-featured game in the sim genre. This isn't Stardew Valley, another farming-heavy title ported to the Switch, but a tycoon game that spends as much time with facts and stats as it does behind the wheel of a tractor.