Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers
Developed By: Chris Chau
Published By: CIRCLE Ent.
Released: March, 9, 2017
Available On: 3DS and Nintendo Switch
Genre: Strategy, simulation
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: Single Player Only
Price: $5.99 on eShop
Thank you Circle Entertainment for sending us this game to review!
Chores: they are often called hard, laborious, or boring. Few people even remotely like doing them, but regardless of one's attitude, everyone knows chores are fundamental to a functioning society. So how is it that games like Sims, Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or Story of Seasons made activities like farming, weeding, and errands fun? Frankly, it's because they remove the 'work' part, leaving only the satisfaction of a completed job. No one doubts these simulation games' success, so now Chris Chau, CEO of Circle Entertainment, decided to lead his team with their approach to this curious genre. Theirs is a little ditty known as Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers.
With a name like Frontier Days, what needs explaining? Lead your band of pioneers to settle in an untamed wilderness. Well, I wouldn't call it 'wild' per se, due to the hordes of sheep everywhere. (Because of all the feral creatures I can list, woolly quadrupeds that go 'baa' isn't one of them.) Anyway, there's no real story here to drive the game. Survive and thrive is the motto. This means you're responsible to make sure the pantries are well stocked, your buildings are protected, and there's enough money for all your expenses. Pretty straightforward. There's still a catch though. Your goal hinges on the clock. Each in-game year cycle takes about ten minutes in real time, and within that short span you've got to gather enough food and money for a Harvest Festival. Your men must be fed, and your taxes are due by then. If you go bankrupt two years in a row, it's game over. This quite the intelligent setup if you ask me. One thing most simulation games overlook is that colonizing no-man's land doesn't mean you're cut off from societal norms. To my genuine surprise, Frontier Days does understand that.
As you can see, grub and wealth are above all else. How much you need will depend on the number of buildings and people you have. More buildings mean more taxes. More men means more bread. However, that also means having a bigger workforce and better money-making options, so I guess you must accept the good with the bad. Over time, your town can be upgraded. You start with a rustic village and can eventually transform it into a proper city. This unlocks more efficient means of income and lets you hire more recruits. However, it will also increase your tax rates. Again, gain a little lose a little. Same goes for your population. I should also mention that if you don't get enough food for everyone, your savings will be used to compensate. So there's that too.
Strong Points: Cute; Good Mechanics; Great Possible Learning Tool
Weak Points: Flawed Upgrade System; Lacks True Difficulty; Needs More Soundtracks
Moral Warnings: None
Frontier Days is very easy to pick up and play. For one thing, you're provided a chart on the top screen to help keep track of your resources. What's better is that it can also calculate what's needed to build your next establishment and how many more materials you'll need to finish it, which is quite nifty. For active play, the circle pad directs the camera, but Frontier Days' controls are mostly 'touch' based. Choosing the tree to cut, the field to farm, or the grass plot to stand on is as easy as a couple taps. Just select the pioneer, then the place/task, and watch them go - inch by inch. Okay, okay. So they're not Olympic track runners, but personally I'm not gonna complain about their slowpoke legs. Jobs really do cost resources and time, so simulating the gradualness of it makes sense in context. As I've said earlier, you've only got so long between festivals. The waiting mechanic provides an uncomplicated yet deep strategic system. You must weigh out what's necessary, who's available, how long it will take, and if you have what's needed to complete the task. Organize and prioritize.
So that's it right? Shoot some sheep. Plant some wheat. Sell materials. Upgrade to bigger and better things. Instant success. Well, hold your horses. This game is smart enough to know real life isn't easy street. Frontier Days simulates this truth with their invention card mechanic. These random pop up stir ups are here to help or hurt your agenda. They drop in, and crops may fail. Earthquakes could damage your buildings, or you might land a surplus of pre-cut planks. Sometimes these conditions even last a whole year's cycle like a plague (literally). A card's effects happen in an instant, but there are some cards that you yourself can activate to meet your needs at anytime. The way I see it, the creators were wise to come up with these shakeups. This easy game would have been predictably boring, otherwise. Well done, Circle Entertainment. Well done.
However, there is one major gameplay flaw that kinda messed with my experience. In order to upgrade houses, businesses, or the town as a whole, you have to have certain resources plus rare diamonds and/or emeralds. Emeralds you can buy at the marketplace, albeit if you've built one. Diamonds on the other hand are earned by upgrading town hall. Why is this a problem? Sometimes the item in question is something you hadn't had before. This could mean needing to upgrade other establishments, just so you can create said item. What Frontier Days doesn't do is label their icons, barring me from knowing what I'm even trying to get. As a result, I'm left shooting in the dark, using up my limited diamond supply, hoping I'm investing properly. Because if I don't, I'll run out of diamonds, which means I can't upgrade the town. In other words, not at all. It's for that very reason I couldn't reach the city age in time for this review. If it just specified what their icons represented, offered an easy to find manual, or at least allowed a second way to acquire diamonds, I wouldn't have this problem - this one annoying problem. But I do.
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)
Game Score - 62%
Gameplay - 12/20
Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 4/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5
Morality Score - 100%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
If you're deadline panic prone, there are options to ease your phobia. Easy Mode renders misfortunes into trifles, and Tutorial Mode will even grant you perks like a free kitchen. I didn't even have to bother with helpful invention cards for either of these modes. Plus, there's Free Mode, which completely throws out 'Game Overs', so you can be free to do willy nilly without consequence. As for you hardcore survivalists, I'm sorry, but you got the short end of the stick. Hard Mode isn't that big of a challenge. Just hang on to those invention cards, and you're good. Super Hard Mode, where the sheep and boar attack your houses every other year, isn't that harrowing either if you know what you're doing. The game's trials just doesn't pull the stops to test you. If anything, the stricter demands make progression take longer, which hurts the game's pacing. It is a bit of a shame when difficulty equals boredom.
For presentation, the terrain you're taming isn't exotic or all that unique. It honestly reminded me of RollerCoaster Tycoon's empty starting lots. It's bare and flat, which is technically appropriate for its build-a-town structure. However, the random generated layouts still managed to look the same, despite rearranging the trees, rocks and rivers. I've only mentioned two animals so far so yeah. There's low show for the animal kingdom. Now, there are some decorative options for your village to help spruce up, but it doesn't liven things up much. As for your men, everyone's a carbon copy of his neighbor. They do look like tiny cute dolls though. Come to think of it, 'cute' sums up the visuals nicely. They're plain but adorable and does its job. I also didn't find any glitches other than a few misplaced animal sprites and a few frame rate drops. As for the music, it's for the most part lighthearted and welcoming. Problem is, it's repetitious. I can only hear the same guitar riffs so many times. I won't say it's unpleasant, but a bit more variety would have been appreciated.
Morality-wise, Frontier Days is as clean as it gets. I did hear that you can establish a church down the road, which sounds nice. I just don't know if it's supposed to be decorative or serves a function. Still, I can't imagine this game doing anything unsavory. There's next to no dialogue to go crude with nor suggestive theming. It's just you. You're the leader in the sky and captain of this ship. The only 'bad' that happens here is what you bring yourself.
My memories of Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers are relaxed ones. It's as harsh as a featherbed. Thus, it's very welcoming to gamers and non-gamers alike. In all honesty, this game can't compete with simulation kings like Animal Crossing or Minecraft, but it humbly offers its own insight that turned out to be more realistic than its bigger cousins. This to me amounts to a promising idea that hadn't fully matured. It has its oversights, but Frontier Days's approach might be worth checking out. I also don't think Christians have anything to fear here. It might even be a great learning tool for kids on leadership. As of right now, Circle Entertainment has re-released Frontier Days on Nintendo Switch. I may not know the differences between the two versions, but I do know this: The developers did find a yet to be polished gem. I'm sure the newer rendition will be better, but to the 3DS' credit, it has little to be ashamed of.