Developed by Plukit and published by the renowned famous bundle-store Humble Bundle, Staxel is a family-friendly, colorful and cute sandbox game, that mixes agriculture, building, fishing, mining, and plenty of customized content, in a relaxed environment.
What's the best way to start your adventure, if not by creating your avatar? Name it, and choose the configuration that most pleases you from a large variety of simple; faces, hairstyles, shoes, and other cloths. This is how you'll be, not only properly taking care of your land, but facing your friends and other players online.
Staxel is equally fun to be played either as a single oriented experience, or in a multiplayer scenario. But first things first, you should be familiarized with the game mechanics, so the single-player campaign (if you could call it that) is perfect as one can choose the micro-parameters of the world, as in how many farms desired for example.
After dropping in the voxel-based world of colors, we are introduced to several NPC’s. These characters serve as quest givers, delivering help and even sources of good info regarding the world surrounding you. The first few missions are tutorials, and you’ll immediately understand that there’s an economy at stake, one that is not harsh, but can still give you a push to increase your pace. Instead of money or gold, Petals are the in-game currency, and you increase them by selling items you produce or gather.
After the introductions, you are gifted with either a cute dog or an adorable cat, depending on what type of animal you prefer. So, it’s a great start either way. Because you love your new pet so much, you need to buy food, but to pay for it, you need as many Petals as you can get. With this, it's the start of your grand adventure.
Players start with a small farm, or up to 4 if one increases its amount at the starting settings, and there’s no limit to how much you can expand your terrain. Buying seeds and a tool to work on the lad is a good first step, but other NPC’s have other requests. Build new houses, fishing spots, build a pet-store, and a museum. The objectives are there, but not obligatory. Buy items to customize new resident’s houses, or edit the whole neighborhood.
(Matilda is a little shy, but charming nonetheless!)
In-game time presents each season as a different month. Each month has 30 days, and everytime one month passes, it’s a whole new season. This goes from Spring to Winter, which is important because it affects the overall behavior of the world. As seasons change, so do your farming possibilities. New species arrive at each season, particularly little bugs you can catch, collect or sell.
Staxel becomes really addictive, really soon, due to how much freedom there is. The game does not push players in any specific direction. Although there are quests, you can spend as much time as you want to increase your own farm. You can possibly, have the whole map-world filled with crops, without completing any quest. Contrary to farming, taking care of animals is also a profitable way of earning your way through the game. Why not build an apiary? Honey sells incredibly well. Or a few lovely cows? Why not all of them?
Obviously, the further one goes, the more items that are unlocked, but the extensive list of beginning items is extremely wide, and delivers quite the interaction. Furthermore, players can craft dozens and dozens of objects, from chicken coops, to small cabins, and all sorts of useful objects. As long as there are raw materials, everything is possible. Cosmetic items can also be tiled, constructed and built, and in some cases, players will craft frames or early objects that require further construction.
The whole sense of freedom, as addictive and creative as it can be, has a down side, which is the in-game time. You can’t build or work endlessly, your character will feel tired, and it’s time to go sleep. Each day, you need to water your crops, feed the animals, and gather the fruits of your hard labor. This does not seem like much, but once your whole terrain expands, it becomes time consuming, and after completing these tasks, you might not have much time left to explore or build new areas. This means there’s a balance between what you want, and what you need. Sure, it’s amazing to have a massive plantation of sweet-potatoes, but is it really worth it if it’s going to take you the whole day to water it?
Staxel does wonders once you realize what you want to do. Even though farming and crafting your way is a fun activity, just wait until cooking becomes a reality. Because time becomes a priority really soon, it’s almost guaranteed that players will turn their heads into a new challenge, which is the perfect way to balance your in-game time/economy. Cooking recipes, and selling new dishes for incredible sums of Petals is more lucrative than farming, as well as built objects are more profitable than raw materials. Players never feel a stagnation as long as new content is available, and with new items come new ideas. Buying or crafting, it’s guaranteed fun.
As for the Online mode, it’s a never ending festivity within a really nice community. Build a world with your friends, or join and help a farmer out. NPC’s dialogue are displayed in a text box, but a proper chat is implanted for the multiplayer. Steam Workshop is incorporated, and you can share your mods with other players. Build a world with your parameters, and move all your friends in, interact, build and explore.
Staxel moves in first-person and also third-person, and thanks to its unique engine, the game is really well optimized, even for low-tier cards, such as integrated ones. The design choices have been significantly improved over the Early Access phase, and if you’re going to underestimate its artistic choice, believe me, it’s a mistake. Through a square-puffy style, visuals will surprise you, with really nice animations, and particularly great light works.
The soundtrack is another nice side of Staxel, composed by Curtis Schweitzer, in a very smooth and simple piano notes, tangling at neo-classical waves. Not many nature sounds are present, but it’s for the best, not interrupting the sound effects of your actions.
With a surprisingly amazing developer support, Staxel is easily one of the most high potential games out there, with updates regularly being released, a supportive community, and adorable pets to have around your farm. A free-roaming, interactive game that rewards players for whatever they enjoy doing, without forcing them into any specific task. Be whatever you want to be in the game, and do it alone, or with friends. Highly recommended to play with family, especially for those who have kids.