Who knew that farming could be so popular? At least two farming games were released last year (which is two more than I would have thought*). After Rituro’s review of Farming Simulator 2013, I was a bit leery to pop Tantalus Media’s Funky Barn into my Wii U – which is why I sat on it for a bit; but, let me tell you: even though it is a bit rough around the edges, it is one of the most fun games for the Wii U so far!
My trepidation of playing this title seemed justified when I loaded the game – for a long while. Seriously; the game takes quite a long time to load**. Fortunately, during the boot-up time (which is at least a minute – if not two), we are treated to the story of a farm through a series of amateurish cartoon-style slides that tell the tale of a farm struggling against the odds. One of the people that run the place is an inventor, who tries to harness the power of weird robots to make things better. Sadly, he dies, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Starting with nothing but a selling structure (which looks like a building with a giant funnel and a cannon) and a single chick, you plough ahead***.
The GamePad rules all – from chores to purchases.
To survive and thrive, you have to get your animals to produce. The more they produce, the more you sell; the more you sell, the more profit you have; the more profit you make, the more you can invest in your farm; and so on, and so on. In keeping with the budget-looking packaging and tolerably-illustrated introduction screens, it is a very basic game, both in design and aesthetics. But it is not something that will leave you with idle hands. What starts out as a relatively slow game quickly becomes a whirlwind of maintenance and, yes: fun. For instance, you can use the GamePad to interact with the animals: you can check out what they are thinking; you can rename them; you can even pet them by gently dragging your finger or stylus over the animal (which causes them to produce instantly when you reach their maximum happiness level). Of course, once you have more than two types of animals (there are seven), you’ll barely have time to refill the troughs much less pet anyone.
Luckily, you don’t have to do everything manually for ever. At the beginning of the game, you will use the touch-screen to pick up and drag produce to the selling structure. Once you start raking in the dough, you can buy robots to help you with almost all the tasks. Collecting eggs; shearing sheep; milking cows: the robots can do it all. They can also be upgraded (provided that you have enough cash), giving the greater speed and capacity. All the while, tips are doled out by a fellow farmer, and all of your notifications of events are displayed both on-screen and on the GamePad.
Production depends on the mental state of the animals: happy animals are animals that produce! Unfortunately, there are a fair number of things that make them unhappy – and when they remain unhappy for too long, they leave. Insufficient food, lack of water, no companions (or too many different types of companions): these are just some of the stressors that create problems. Also, your saviours, the machines, cause distress – and this is where proper layout of your farm becomes important. Fences, roads, plants and other helpful objects are available to help you keep your animals happy.
If only it were this easy in real life…
On top of planning challenges, natural disasters await your poor farm: thunderstorms, tornadoes, aliens, foxes, mushrooms – each of these problems can destroy property and cause animals to go missing. You will have to keep a careful eye on things until you can afford some measure of defense for each problem – and even when you purchase them, there is no guarantee that they will work. On a positive note, there are also time-based challenges where you must fulfill orders before the clock runs out. Both disasters and trade challenges add a neat sense of urgency to the game.
While tons of fun, Funky Barn is not without its flaws. There are moments where animals will get stuck in trees, or your machines will behave erratically, tossing animals into places where they shouldn’t. Sometimes, I would pay a lot of money to upgrade an item and it would end up damaged rather than upgraded. Due to the fact that I had spent all of my money on the upgrade, I would have no more cash available to repair it, and it would eventually explode.
Get up close and personal with your animals – but not so close as to make them nervous.
Finally, my biggest gripe is the price. This title is around $50, which is a little too high given the production quality. Graphics are clean and colorful; audio is cartoonish and fun – and yet it all seems rushed. It is almost as if it was a console game developed from a Flash budget. It’s an odd complaint, considering that everything is charming and amusing, but I feel as if the game could have used a little more polish. Given that the game can be finished in a relatively short span, I can’t help but feel that people that paid full price would feel cheated – even with the three challenge levels (farms that are in dire need of new management – rather than clean slates).
Those gripes aside, I would recommend this title – especially if you can find it on sale. Tight controls using the GamePad, easy-to-pick-up game-play, seasonal influences, and an amusing story add up to fun times! I play this game with Smallest Thumb and she gets a kick out of it. Thanks to the intuitive controls, even she can take the reins for a while, although the frenetic nature might be a bit overwhelming to those under 8 years of age.