Dinkum (Early Access): A Farming Sim as Fresh as The Outback

One of the most contradictory genres in videogames is the farming/life sim. In theory, they are wholesome sandbox games with emphasis on relaxing and getting lost in their worlds. In practice, however, they are anything but that; instead, players must juggle massive laundry lists of daily tasks and NPC relationships with a suffocatingly tight in-game day/night cycle, all with the most punishing stamina system outside of Dark Souls. Animal Crossing in particular doesn’t quite suffer from these particular grievances, but thanks to real-world time being incorporated into gameplay, players are punished for not booting up the game EVERY SINGLE DAY, turning an escapist little world into the same stressful ritual you have to do IRL. However… one farming sim would appear in 2022, and win the hearts of thousands of users. Dinkum, while only in Early Access, is already being pegged as one of the highest rated games of the year. The reviews I’ve read seem to imply one thing: that it is, in fact, a farming sim that is ACTUALLY relaxing and quaint. I just had to know if this was true, so here we are.

In Dinkum, your customizable character notices an ad to accompany an eccentric old geezer named Fletch to an untamed land. Sensing your only opportunity to escape your dystopian life in South City, you join Fletch, and fly off to this land, seeking a better life. What awaits in the Australia-inspired wilderness?

What’s immediately noticeable about Dinkum is that it does absolutely nothing new for the genre in terms of gameplay. As a hybrid of Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Stardew Valley, it has all the stuff you can expect. You gather resources, craft stuff, raise animals, plant crops, cook food, fight predators, bribe NPCs with presents, and try to fulfill a myriad of satisfying milestones as you do it all. There really isn’t much to say about these mechanics, since they’re more-or-less what you’d expect. The only novel thing are licenses, which are essentially your qualifications to buy and use various types of items. You spend Permit Points, earned through milestones and daily tasks shown in your journal, to obtain these Licenses. It sounds like an arbitrary gatekeeping mechanic, but I found them very satisfying to unlock over time. I’m looking forward to unlocking them all eventually. Keep in mind that the game has the time-honored tradition of setting yourself on fire if you touch a campsite.

What makes Dinkum so great is how all of these basic mechanics fit together. The most important aspect is how it handles the march of time. In-game days go about as fast as you can expect. However, here’s the real kicker. Similar to Garden Story, staying up past midnight FREEZES the in-game clock indefinitely, with the only penalty being a reduction in base stamina. Stamina, however, is much more tolerable. While it decreases in a manner similar to Stardew Valley, eating food will restore it, and unlike My Time at Sandrock, you have access to plenty of plants and cooking right out of the gate, so it’s no problem stockpiling a good amount of food. While it’s not recommended to do anything dangerous during the late night, it’s still a phenomenal security blanket for any last-minute tasks in town (even if your character looks miserable the whole time).

The other standout feature is its building mechanics. You decide the entire layout of the town, down to every single building and decoration. Right now, my town is a rinky-dink little splotch in the middle of nowhere, and I look forward to seeing it grow over time by my own hand. The building system is also intuitive and easy, plus you can relocate buildings and terraform the environment itself. 

As definitively amazing of a game Dinkum has been thus far, it’s actually tricky to recommend. After you recruit the first resident to the town, the game sets you free, which sounds great, but comes with the caveat of no more tutorials. This means you must learn how to do everything yourself. You pretty much need knowledge of games from three different genres; scratch that, it straight-up EXPECTS that knowledge. Fortunately, the brilliant design of the License mechanic is a great teacher. As you acquire licenses, new ones unlock in a logical order to introduce new mechanics organically. 

Unfortunately, there are still some early-game grievances. For starters, you can’t store most bugs and fish in crates (plus they don’t stack). Also, convincing visitors to move in permanently is an investment and a half. They only visit for one day, and since you can only do one favor a day, you’re not exactly going to win them over immediately, and have to wait until RNG decides their return. As per tradition, these guys can ask for items that are very rare or remote, plus they have specific food preferences that aren’t tracked in any way, shape or form, as far as I could tell.

Fortunately, these flaws actually feel justified ONLY in Dinkum. In fact, it might be programmed this way on purpose. Shops aren’t open 24/7, and they are always closed at least one day a week. Because of this, you can—and will—actually make mistakes in Dinkum; your only penalty is reduced efficiency. Because of how Dinkum is structured, you can actually take the time to learn its ins and outs (it took me over ten hours to learn how to grow trees). You have time to do things, or nothing if you really want to. Any frustration I felt from Dinkum was because the instincts from other games like it took over.

In any case, Dinkum wants you to take your time, so keep that in mind if you do gaming as a job, and are required to beat everything in a timely manner. Dinkum is straight-up not meant to be steamrolled through. Plants take a minimum of a week to grow, and those Permit Points don’t exactly grow on trees either. If you undertake this endeavor, you better prepare to enjoy a slow life of leisure! It’s actually quite the experience for me. Whenever I boot it up, I never really have a plan. Sure, there are goals to work towards in the long run, but because there’s no viable way to gun for those, I’m forced to take each in-game day as it comes. There’s something wonderful about it.

One of the objective flaws that I’m sure have been pointed out is that the NPCs are souless. They’re so unremarkable that they have the same EXACT text as one another. However, I kind of believe that’s a good thing. Romancing isn’t an option anyway, so why make NPCs likable enough in the first place? Also, again, the lack of depth in your relationships just removes another mountain of daily rituals that you would have otherwise had to do. Besides, is it even realistic in other games like this? All you do is grind up their favorite thing (which you generally need to find out through trial and error or a guide), and gift it to them over and over and over again, until—suddenly—they have enough of that same thing like Clark Griswold’s boss in Christmas Vacation to want to marry you. Platonic relationships are better!

Another caveat that I’m pretty sure is just unavoidable even for Dinkum is the inevitable emptiness from having nothing left to do. Eventually, you’ll be flush with cash that you have no use for, with crops and resources by the thousands that you don’t need to sell, and enough Licenses to fill a wardrobe. I’m pretty sure this will happen no matter what. The fun comes from progressing to reach that point more than anything, and it’s a journey I’m more than willing to make with Dinkum. Lemme tell you… it’s gonna be long. 

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 9.65/10

Dinkum is well worth the hype and price. It’s the Animal Crossing/Stardew Valley that actually manages to be what it says on the tin. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the course of its Early Access period, and I suggest you hop aboard as well, especially if you’re sick of those other games.

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