The temptation to slap a well-known license onto a puzzle game must be hard for publishers to resist. It’s an effortless way to boost a puzzler game’s profile, making it seem more exciting than it possibly is. Thankfully – and like 2007’s often forgotten Puzzle de Harvest Moon before it – this is a game built around the Harvest Moon universe, rather than simply using its name.
This is less of a puzzler, though, and more of a madcap party game. Yes, there are puzzle elements present – the whole shebang is based around connecting colour-coded tiles to create plots of colossal fruit and veg – but there are also many random surprise elements, most of which work in your favour. You won’t be needing skills acquired from playing years of Puyo Puyo and Tetris here.
It’s very hard not to gain the maximum three-star rating on a first attempt. New tiles constantly pop out of nowhere, instantly creating giant vegetable patches for you, and at least once per stage a ‘Power Mode’ activates which fills the screen with goodies ready to be collected. They even linger after this mode ends, patiently waiting to be harvested.
Before going any further, we should cover the premise. After a magical lighthouse crumbles away, a peaceful island is transformed into a wild and overgrown jungle. The only way to beat back the bush is to complete bite-sized farming challenges, each lasting 2-3 minutes, which eventually leads our fearless farmhands to a magical Time Seed. These hold the secret to gradually restoring the island, and there’s a bunch to collect.
120 stages feature in total with new ideas introduced every dozen or so. At first, you’re merely tasked with connecting coloured tiles – the bigger the patch, the bigger the crop. Once fully grown the giant foodstuff then must be pulled from the ground – requiring a few seconds of button-bashing – before they go rotten. This prevents tiles from being endlessly connected, limiting the amount of time available to create a large plot
Every successfully harvested crop boosts your score, with every stage having a target to beat.
Fishing is added next, entailing even more button bashing, while Mad Dash‘s take on animal care requires bales of hay to be placed near wandering cattle. Some stages also feature ‘K9 Challenges’ in which your trusty hound barks out bonus-bestowing shipping orders.
Adding to this, magical helpers are slowly unlocked, extending time limits and altering the ‘Power Mode’ duration.
The map screen is spread across different locations, all of which introduce new hazards. Beaches feature falling coconuts, wild boars wipe out entire rows of crops, while dripping magma in the lava caves can turn your precious crops to charcoal. Occasionally there’s a novelty stage too, such as a level containing nothing but strawberries. These ideas certainly help to maintain interest.
But while there is plenty of variety here, it’s not enough to disguise the fact that everything is rather loose and flimsy. Character movement is slippery, the random nature of tile placement often acts in your favour rather than hindering, and the overall difficulty level never rises into the realms of challenging. Quite simply, Mad Dash provides a bunch of madcap challenges to work through at your own pace and leisure; you’re more likely to grow sick of the constantly looping and irritatingly jaunty music than hitting anything resembling a difficulty curve.
It’s also peculiar that there are no additional modes or features – after pressing start on the title screen you’re transported straight to the main game’s map screen. There’s a choice of four playable characters and the ability for extra players to join in, and that’s your lot.
Although Mad Dash does hold a degree of appeal, mostly thanks to its colourful and cutesy visuals and easy-going nature, it feels geared towards a very young audience. This isn’t for Harvest Moon fans who’ve stuck with the series since its Super Nintendo debut.