If you're a fan of Natsume's long-running farm sim series Harvest Moon, you really don't need to read this review of Island of Happiness for the Nintendo DS, you just need to know is it's more Harvest Moon, but better. Go. Shoo. Raise thine chickens and be happy. For those of you who have yet to drink this particular kind of Kool-Aid, let me share with you the joys of farming and quite possibly rob you of huge swaths of your free time.
As the game opens, you've taken to the sea in search of adventure and a brand new home, both of which smack you in the face when you hit rough waters and find yourself washed up on the shore of a small island. A few of your fellow passengers have landed with you, and swiftly get to making this new land their home - volunteering you to be the local rancher in the process. The upside is you get the largest parcel of land on the island - the downside is that it's your responsibility to make enough money to restore all of the roads and bridges that the island will need to attract new residents and truly thrive.
You won't have to live off coconuts and seagulls, though; the island is equipped with a dock and has a fairly regular influx of visitors who bring the supplies such as seeds, feed, and livestock that you'll need to make your farm grow. Finding the time and the stamina to turn your empty patch of land into a profitable ranch is the really tricky part. Everything you do on your farm, from shearing sheep to filling your water can, saps a bit of energy from your stamina and fullness meters. You'll pass out if either meter runs dry, forced to abandon your duties and take to your bed until the following morning.
Each year is divided into four, thirty-day seasons. Time marches forward whenever you're outdoors; a full day will probably take you 10-20 minutes of real time to complete, depending on how early you decide to go to bed. Until you have plenty of produce-creating livestock and upgraded tools, your days on the island will tend to fall into a backbreaking routine of watering, chopping, and gathering, all the while keeping a careful eye on your growing bank account. If that sounds suspiciously like grinding, that's because it is. Oh, it's hidden behind adorable baby chicks and oh-so-cute Harvest Sprites, but the bald truth is that Island of Happiness, and indeed every Harvest Moon, is a grindathon, but instead of killing countless rats to earn enough XP to reach the next level, you're harvesting corn and shearing sheep to earn enough money to pay for the next house or tool upgrade.
And yet it's more satisfying than the typical gaming grind because you can easily see the results of your many, many labors. The time you spend brushing and petting your cow to make sure it stays happy manifests as higher-quality, more valuable milk. Two weeks of watering brings in a bumper crop of profitable carrots. A season spent chopping wood saves you a bundle on the next expansion to your house.