The Wii U carries the tradition of many things its predecessor had. Motion controls, Miis and the classic Nintendo adorable vibe are all here. But you know what’s missing? Shovelware. Games that have been developed with seemingly no pride in the finishing of the work are clearly missing. No longer with the release of Funky Barn, a game that is definitely not funky.
Funky Barn is a farming simulator, which I hear is all the rage these days due to some little game called FarmVille. The game begins and you’re thrust a farm that you’ve inherited from some obscure relative. A stork flies by while you’re inspecting your newfound property (presumably while you’re trying to figure out how to build a mini-mall on it,) and drops off a lone chicken. While this is all happening you’re getting long-winded tutorials from hillbilly farmer stereotype on the GamePad screen, telling you that your ultimate goal is to build a farm that can sustain itself. This means collecting the fruits of your labor for profit in order to improve your farm further.
You need to keep your animals happy in order for them to produce eggs, milk, wool, etc. They’re kept happy by keeping them fed, giving them homes, interacting with them, the usual fare. When you’ve got produce on your hands, drop it into the machine and it’ll be fired off into the distance in exchange for a bit of pocket change. This money is spent on structures and machinery used in order to improve the farm, and make your job easier. This is the cycle of farming: doing the job, earning money, using money towards doing the job more, and repeat. It’s a cycle I’ve never really understood why everyone seems to think this makes for a fun game, but to each his own.
The process is easy when you’ve only got a few chickens, but you’ll soon progress and earn a few sheep. You’ll soon find out the chickens are apparently afraid of sheep, so you need to build fences to separate them. Okay, now you’ve got to keep track of when the chickens lay eggs and when the sheep are ready to be sheared. “This is getting difficult” you say to yourself. You find out that you can buy machines that will pick up produce and whatnot for you. You buy one, unpack it, and find an error message above the robot that amounts to the fact that it can only run on roads. “Right,” you think to yourself, “because I’m totally going to pave freakin’ ROADS in my chicken coop.” And while you’ve been trying to figure out why this robot doesn’t work the way you’d think it would? The coop is overflowing with eggs, the sheep are angry they haven’t been sheared yet, and all the animals are starting to hate you because they’ve consumed all their food and water. You finally activate the tutorial that’s been blinking for the last 10 minutes only to be told “Hey! Looks like your animals are unhappy!” Thanks, farmer tutorial. I couldn’t tell by looking at all the animals attacking each other.
I’m reminded of Viva Pinata, a game that shared many of the same mechanics, and perhaps the most universally successful farming simulation game. There are two main differences here: pacing and motivation. In Viva Pinata, players were given a leisurely pace. You’d have to be a good multitasker, but things would be slow enough to where you could actually enjoy the scenery every so often. Also the workers that did your collection duties for you were actually useful. Funky Barn needs multitaskers on a super-mom level. Within even just a half hour of playing I was frustrated with how I wasn’t able to get everything done in a timely matter.
The rewards for Viva Pinata were much more worth the time and effort spent as well. It was exciting every time you’d find more new animals wander into your garden or to see what sort of bright things would pop up. With Funky Barn the only thing you have to get excited about is the idea that you’ll have even more things to do; a reward that doesn’t look all that great when the struggle leading up to it isn’t great in the first place.
If nothing else, the GamePad is utilized well here. It’s cumbersome to use a scrolling cursor with an analog stick in order to get anything done, especially considering the speed at which the game expects you to work. Using the touch screen to scroll across your farm and get through menus quickly works very well, I just wish it wasn’t the only nice thing I have to say about the game.
What does the player even have to look forward to once they get so far? If the ultimate goal is getting to a point where your farm can run itself, is the ultimate goal to not play the game, but rather watch it and waste time? This seems like a silly goal. The sense of accomplishment is lost when the novelty of running a virtual farm wears off and all you’re left is a big chunk of time you’ll never get back.
I feel bad especially for the folks picking up the game thinking they might be getting into a party game. The cover, which features a sheep getting shot out of a machine and a flurry of other wide-eyed cartoon animals, mixed with the title, seem to suggest that this is meant to be a kid-friendly party game. That’s what I thought it was when I first saw it. At least party games are given a pass for a massive lack of depth or goals.
I guess someone had to claim the title of “Wii U Launch Game that no one wants to play.” It might as well be Funky Barn. What’s sad is that there’s actually a decent idea underneath all the pain and agony of the game, but that means nothing when the execution is all off course. Avoid this game at all costs. Having the ultimate virtual farm that you can’t even share with other people is not worth the headache of running an actual farm by yourself.
This review is based on a Wii U copy of the game provided to us for review purposes.
Funky Barn has some solid ideas, but ends up lacking polish or any proper longevity management. Looks like the Wii U will have just as much shovelware as its predecessor.