Even before the pandemic, comfort games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and the Sims series have held a special place in the hearts of players. If you're in the market for a cozy game, I recommend Wylde Flowers, a new farm life simulator available exclusively on Apple Arcade.
Wylde Flowers casts you as Tara, a young girl from the city who's just moved to the island of Fairhaven to help out on her grandmother's farm. She's there to tend crops, fish, craft, cook, get to know the town's residents and maybe even find love. Wylde Flowers takes the formula that was popularized by games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley knockoff and gives it a supernatural twist.
Shortly after Tara arrives in Fairhaven, she discovers that she's a witch. Her grandmother is part of a secret coven that meets in the woods. In addition to her farming duties and social life, Tara must also hone her magical abilities, brew potions and master flying on her broomstick.
In addition to including a narrative structure, Wylde Flowers shines with the inclusion of a diverse, complex and interesting population. After just a few interactions between Tara and members of Fairhaven's bustling population, I could see the thought and care that had gone into building the game.
Ahead of the game's release, I talked to Amanda Schofield, founder of the game's developer, Studio Drydock, about what makes Wylde Flowers special.
Little town, big characters
Schofield founded Studio Drydock with the goal of moving the current farming life sim genre forward by offering more opportunities to engage with other characters' stories. She also wanted to take into account the diverse audience that plays life simulation games.
"We built incredible characters that represent real people [that] you can see yourself in," Schofield told me over video chat. The developers explored deeper questions and motivations for each character, which resulted in 19 hours of voiceover dialogue in the game. There are so many conversational branches that players might not unlock them all in a single play through the entire game.
"It means that every time you stop by and have a chat with somebody, they've got a little bit of something to tell you," Schofield said. "They all have really deep story arcs that you get to know as your relationship forms with them."
Wylde Flowers requires communication with the townspeople to progress in the game – whether that means selling your crops, getting advice on the best fishing spots or continuing your magic training after sunset. Each interaction can improve your relationship with the other characters and shed light on their hopes, dreams, losses and origins.
The developers truly showcase the beauty of diversity with Fairhaven's residents, but the idyllic island isn't without its flaws. Shortly after Tara discovers her supernatural heritage, it becomes clear that not all of Fairhaven is as open-minded as her grandmother. Residents are curious, yet wary of what strange things might be happening in the woods at night. The witches wear ornate robes and masks to conceal their true identities, but Tara's grandmother thinks it's time for the coven to be able to live in the open and be authentically themselves.
Schofield told me the game's witches speak to a larger theme of discrimination and acceptance. The witchcraft in Wylde Flowers is based more in fantasy than paganism, according to Schofield, but is nevertheless integral to the game's story. The juxtaposition of Fairhaven's concern over potential ne'er-do-wells in an otherwise progressive and accepting environment, could open conversation about what discrimination looks like.
"We want people to be comfortable in their skin, but we also want to acknowledge that prejudice is something that happens and something that we should overcome, learn from, and come to terms with," Schofield said.
'Nothing bad will happen to you in Wylde Flowers'
Even before the pandemic, comfort games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and the Sims series held a special place in players' hearts. Since the onset of the pandemic, people have found numerous ways to escape daily stresses with games. Wylde Flowers fits in easily with these beloved titles.
Schofield was inspired by the world's reception of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020. The game provided a sense of connection to a world of people who were alone at home and missing their loved ones, Schofield said. The team went on to lean into what Schofield calls the "cozy game genre" to give players a safe space to escape and tend a farm – or examine important issues.
"Nothing bad will happen to you in Wylde Flowers," Schofield said. "I think letting people explore games on their own terms and [in] a way that makes them feel safe and cozy is a really powerful way for games to be entertainment, but also healing mechanisms for people in times like this."
Fairhaven gives players a unique, accepting space to explore these concepts with different genders, relationship possibilities, ethnicities and backgrounds coexisting and thriving. You'll even notice a pride flag hanging over the town's city hall building. The town's openness seems to be inspired by Schofield's own hopes for the games industry.
As a woman in tech, Schofield says she's thankful for the opportunities she's received and the colleagues who've supported her professional journey. She hopes that Studio Drydock can be a place for others to find opportunities, safety and support when getting started in the games industry.
"Anywhere that technology is used, women are using technology, and therefore women should be part of the process of developing it," Schofield said. "You really need those voices, especially those that represent the end user. Whoever you're trying to target needs to be a voice in the product that you're creating, and it's dangerous to build without that."
Wylde Flowers is available for Apple Arcade subscribers now. If you're interested in checking out Wylde Flowers, Apple Arcade costs $5 per month, or $60 annually. To try the service out, open the App Store and tap the little joystick icon at the bottom of the screen. Apple Arcade has over 235 games in its catalog with new titles and updates arriving every week.
You can get a three-month free trial of Apple Arcade when you buy a new Apple device, or one month for free if you're signing up for the first time. The Apple One subscription bundle makes it easier and more affordable to get up to six Apple subscription services, Apple Arcade included, for one price that ranges from $15 to $30 a month.
For more, check out why Apple Arcade is the best choice for casual gamers and why Apple Arcade was a CNET Editors' Choice pick for 2021.