Why is Stardew Valley Such a Hit on the Nintendo Switch?

Talking about a cozy game on a cozy system and its continued appeal for a worried generation.

Opinion by Nadia Oxford, .

Stardew Valley, Chucklefish's Harvest Moon-inspired farming game, is the most downloaded game on the Nintendo Switch. That's because they're a perfect fit for one another. Best buds. Soul mates.

Stardew Valley's success on the Switch is good news, but it's also not very surprising. "Stardew Valley, but portable" isn't a hard sell. In fact, I found myself pining for a portable version of the game almost exactly a year ago. I caught a terrible flu, and my fever was just high enough to make me feel miserable without losing my grip on reality. I wasn't allowed to slip into a vague haze of delirium; I was lucid, and I was bored. So I downloaded Stardew Valley for the PlayStation 4 and played it through my idiot tears of pain.

I really should have been in bed. With my Switch. Alas, the Switch and its port of Stardew Valley was miles away. But looking back, it strikes me the Switch is a "cozy" system and Stardew Valley is a very "cozy" game that is perfectly suited for handhelds, even though it was born on Steam.

"Thanks, Gramps! My first act is to rename this farm 'WEED_VEGETA'S BALLIN' HOOKAH LOUNGE'"

Portable Stardew Valley is a dream many fans nursed as far back as when the Nintendo Switch was still the mysterious "NX." I remember Kat and I tossing around the possibility of a Nintendo 3DS port during some segment of Axe of the Blood God; no doubt the handheld could've handled the game. But Chucklefish is a small publisher, and its effort was evidently spent porting Stardew Valley to Nintendo's versatile system. Stardew Valley is a visually busy game, and a high-def interface is preferable to a 400 x 240 display.

It was a long journey, but Stardew Valley is exactly where it belongs. And even though the game's very nearly two years old, people have yet to tire of it. Its Switch launch has even blessed it with an incredible spike in popularity. Why?

Again: Cozy game, cozy system. As I relayed above, when I was sick last year, I would've summoned a pagan agriculture demon to my living room if I thought doing so would give me a chance to play Stardew Valley in bed. But the meat of the game itself is packed with easy wish-fulfillment that makes you feel warm and good. That's important in a world filled with Millennials who are uncertain about their future, and for good reason.

Stardew Valley lets you fight back against an encroaching corporation, and yeah, that's kind of relatable.

You start off as a corporate schlub who's gifted with their dead grandfather's farm. There it is from the start: The rare chance to abandon our immediate responsibilities and "leave it all behind." Sure, the farm is overgrown, but it's nothing a little elbow-grease can't cure-and what feels better than a breaking good sweat (even a digital sweat?).

Once you've cleared a nice bit of land, you can tend to a patch of vegetables and add your income to selling whatever you find on the beach. Then you can use your first profits to build your way up to growing better crops and animals that provide wool and milk. There's a satisfying sense of progression in Stardew Valley that's coveted in a society where young people who pour hours of their lives into tasks, but don't always get to behold the fruits of their labors. They're regarded as cogs, and treated as such.

The Harvest Moon series has always commanded a dedicated fanbase because it's also a comforting game, but if Harvest Moon is a warm sweater, Stardew Valley is a great big gentle hug from a bear. Stardew Valley feels looser and freer than most Harvest Moon games because there are so many ways to make a living beyond raising crops, chickens, and cows. You can grow fruit, and make jams and wines.

Get crunk off the fruits of your labors (or just build a living altar to Orwell)

You can become a foraging expert. You can raise different milk-bearing animals to make different kinds of cheeses. You can become a master fisherperson. You can arm yourself and plumb the depths of a deadly dungeon for rich rewards. You can own property, a faraway dream for most Millennials if there ever was one.

From hour one, Stardew Valley makes you feel like you're doing something that matters. And once you get sucked into the potential relationship-building, you're a goner. Your potential mates draw you in with harmless facades that make them easy to like unconditionally ("Ohh I'm gonna marry the sad goth boy!"), then unload their problems and stories on you as you become closer. Alex has major abandonment issues; Harvey's forced to walk every day on the shards of his shattered dreams; Leah's being stalked by her crazy ex; Shane struggles with alcoholism; and even though it's his lifelong ambition, Elliot can't write a book to save his life.

Every career writer knows at least one Elliot, and probably wants to beat them with a sock full of soap bars.

Sure, the narrative behind most of Stardew Valley's relationships wouldn't support a 90-minute Lifetime movie, but there's just enough there to let you believe finding and living with a lifelong companion is as easy as helping them overcome a hurdle they keep stumbling over. Finding a spouse in Stardew Valley is as simple and satisfying as making land fertile by swinging your hoe once, or as making cheese by throwing some milk into a cheese-making machine.

The world demands hard work, often for little reward. Stardew Valley continues to dole out big rewards for small tasks. Now that it's portable and multiplayer is coming, I expect we're going to continue pumping hundreds of carefree hours into our cool little farms. My farm is named "Efrafa." I expect great things from it.

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for mattcom26 #1 mattcom26 8 months ago
    Naturally, the article's picture is of the fishing... cause Nadia.
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  • Avatar for gekiganwing #2 gekiganwing 8 months ago
    I might buy the Vita port of Stardew Valley. Until then, I'm still playing the PSN edition Harvest Moon: Back to Nature every few weeks or months.

    During the 2000s, I became increasingly cynical about video game fandom. In my opinion, it seemed like there was a ton of hugely successful games which emphasized a relentless grimdark tone, or violence intended to shock and horrify fans. I have sometimes used these words to describe games such as Diablo 2, the God of War series, and the Mass Effect franchise. That said... that's why I am not sure what to make of Stardew. Would it sell millions more copies if it had excessive gore? I don't know.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #3 nadiaoxford 8 months ago
    @mattcom26 What do you call a fish without an eye?

    A fsh
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #4 Godots17thCup 8 months ago
    After spending roughly 170 hours playing through two profiles on PC, I wasn't sure if the Switch version of Stardew Valley would be able to get its hooks into me the same way, but sure enough, I've managed to put in 15 hours over the last five days. Turns out that, when I no longer have to be tethered to either a television or a computer, I may actually just keep playing Stardew Valley until I die of starvation.

    The positive feedback loop of SDV's first two and a half years, where you're constantly getting rewarded for all the effort you put in, is an almost dangerously perfect fit with handheld gaming.
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  • Avatar for nilcam #5 nilcam 8 months ago
    This looks cool but I cannot stand Harvest Moon. I want to try it but I am hesitant for that reason.
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  • Avatar for LunarFlame17 #6 LunarFlame17 8 months ago
    @nilcam Stardew Valley is better than Harvest Moon. I don’t know what you don’t like about Harvest Moon, but I’ve played Harvest Moon games before and found them clunky and dull. Stardew Valley, on the other hand, I poured at least 70 hours into and I fully intend to play more someday.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #7 Vonlenska 8 months ago
    I agree that Stardew Valley is better than Harvest Moon. It builds on the same foundation, but manages to be less bare bones and formulaic. There's a lot to do and never any real stress to do well, so you're free to just tinker until you suddenly realize you're the best fisher ever, you've got a major smelting operation and your farm is raking in six digits daily.

    Storywise, I like that some of the townspeople's stories include real issues like depression, alcoholism and PTSD. I like that none of them are every fully resolved forever; they're treated more as aspects of life that can make things more difficult, but come and go enough that life is still worthwhile. I like that there's a sense of mystery - what's with the shrines? what's with the ghostly noises on rainy days? what's that huge geode in front of the mines? what's going on with the Gotoro empire. I like that a lot of this stuff is left implied, instead of directly addressed in an overarching plot.

    The music and graphics are like a dream of an SNES game. The atmosphere is warm and familiar but tinged with melancholy and mystery. It's just a soul-soothing game.
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  • Avatar for Megamoppy #8 Megamoppy 8 months ago
    Love this game! After recommending it to my sister (due to the buzz around) my sister, her bf and myself have put 70 hours into it at least. I think the only problem is there not being much to motivate you playing it late game. The 2mil stick is not much of a motivator as by the time you can afford it you pretty much have no need for it.

    But it's a brilliant game and for £12 it's fantastic!
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  • Avatar for nilcam #9 nilcam 8 months ago
    @LunarFlame17 I find HM to be more work than fun. I've put hours into the game only to realize that it isn't for me. I prefer more structured games, like older Zelda games.
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  • Avatar for Outrider #10 Outrider 8 months ago
    I managed to accidentally buy Stardew Valley for Switch this weekend. (I wanted to buy Golf Story and I didn't have my wallet on me so I did a search for it on Amazon to buy a digital code and I was half paying attention while talking to my wife and only realized I accidentally bought a Stardew Valley code... whoops.) Anyway, I was kinda bummed because I already had it on Steam and I was planning on trying it there, but, uh... I wound up playing pretty much all night Saturday and Sunday and now I'm a little obsessed. Boy, people weren't kidding about how charming this game is, huh?
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