Coral Island is a lot like Stardew and makes farming a little bit easier.
Coral Island calls itself a "reimagining of farming games," but if we're being honest, it's not really that different from Stardew Valley. The main island and your overgrown plot of farmland look almost exactly like Stardew Valley, and the tasks you do, like growing stuff, keeping animals, making friends with locals, exploring a mine five levels at a time, and making local spirits happy by giving them bundles of different crops, will also be very familiar to DewHeads.
That doesn't mean Coral Island is bad. For one thing, it's all in beautiful, bouncy 3D, and the island setting, which affects the plants, animals, and buildings in general, made everything feel less like work. Coral Island is a little bit easier than Stardew Valley, and it has a theme of caring for the environment. Together, these things make you feel like you're making more progress in less time. This is the game for you if you liked the feel of ConcernedApe's smash hit but didn't want to write your own almanac.
You show up in dungarees and ready to work to take over a farm plot that hasn't been used. You can move around and work on your list of things to do every day. It starts with basic ideas (meet 20 people! Plant five seeds!) but can become as different as you want over time. You might need to catch more insects. You might like to go fishing. You might want to battle blobs in the mines. Your schedule might include things like getting seasonal seeds from the local store, ore from the blacksmith, and food from the rancher. You can't become an unstoppable turnip-growing machine like Terminator because, first, most of the things you do use up some of your limited energy bar and, second, you pass out if you stay up past midnight.
I don't think I ever had a farm in Stardew Valley that I was proud of. I never got my regular income high enough, I never had enough energy to do useful dungeon runs, I never had enough resources to make the things I needed, and so on. I already feel like I know what to do on Coral Island. I have put a lot of money into growing hot peppers. I always make more money than I spend. I feel like I've done something every day, and not just kept the farm going. That doesn't mean you can't learn more about how seeds grow, find the best places and times to fish, and set up production lines for picking seaweed. But none of that is necessary to make progress. Changes to Coral Island make things a little better for you.
Even though they aren't huge on the scales, they do make a difference. You level up pretty quickly in the activities you do, like in Skyrim, and can unlock things like a chance that your crops will grow faster, that the soil will stay wet overnight, or that harvesting will give you twice as many resources. Coral Island has a magical fast travel system that grows as you do more. This creates a feedback loop where you can make more progress every day. And when you're exploring the mine dungeons, using your sword to fight spiders and blobs doesn't use up your energy. This means you can go deeper and mine more ore.
The last one might be a bug, though. Coral Island is starting early access, even though it feels like it has a lot of content. There are some signs, ranging from "eh" to "that's annoying." Sometimes, your character won't be able to turn until you stop walking and sort of start over. So far, all of the special chests I've found have been empty, and some of the items I've found have a placeholder image. My four hens have never laid an egg, so they are just pets that make the farm feel more like a farm. Sometimes the keys that let you quickly switch between rows of your inventory in the HUD don't work, so you have to go into the menus and move them around by hand. I also can't move the anchor point when I go diving, so every time I have to walk across a huge area of the seabed.
I kind of hid the main point because there is something new that is cleaning up the seabed. It's a mess because of a toxic oil spill, and you're encouraged to go down there and clean it up. Practically, it's a bit like dungeoning in the mines, but under water. To get to different areas, you have to destroy units of trash until you find a special golden machine key that breaks up big sections of oil and lets you move on. But the way it fits into the game as a whole is really smart, because Coral Island makes you want to throw trash away. One of the most useful things in the game is trash.
For example, one of the fastest ways to get fertilizer is to use trash. It's also a fast way to get scrap, which can be used to make many useful things. You will have to dig through trash cans in town to find more. Coral Island has a strong environmental theme, and the town's rating goes up as more local food is sold and the seabed is cleaned up. For some people, this will be enough to get them involved. But Coral Island makes it a part of how you play, so even if you don't really care about the environment, you'll feel like you do by proxy. Your farmer might as well be a grump voiced by J.K. Simmons who spends hours at the recycling plant and gives every interesting thing he finds to the museum, but then grumbles that he only did it because it was the most practical thing to do [he stomps back to his farm as hopeful music builds; the local vet cries as he watches him go].
Coral Island deserves a lot of credit for making that work, as well as for the details that change with the seasons, the way I got to know different characters, and how beautiful everything looks when it rains. You'll find some missing pieces here and there, and there are bugs to fix, but for an early access game, it feels pretty complete. I don't like how hard it is to get things like glass, but if you're tired of Stardew Valley or never really got into it, Coral Island could be the trash-filled paradise you're looking for.