Developer: Tantalus Interactive
Publisher: 505 Games
Genre: Time Management/RTS
Release Date: 11/18/2012
I’ve never really understood the appeal of Farmville but my wife loves it. It’s the same disconnect I had with Shenmue. Why would I want to spend hours playing a fake forklift jobs or going to a simulated arcade when I could do those things for real? So when Funky Barn was announced as a launch title for the Nintendo Wii, my first thought was, “Why would anyone pay fifty bucks for a Wii U game that they can basically play for free on their computer?” I ended up decided to review Funky Barn after 505 Games generously supplied us with a review copy because it would be something my wife could enjoy watching while I fiddled with it, and an attempt to understand why people would spend hours tending fake crops and animals. The end result was surprising. I kind of liked Funky Barn while my wife thought it was dull and boring. Why the complete reversal? Well it’s because Funky Barn doesn’t actually have too much in common with Farmville aside from the farming aspect. It’s more a time management game mixed with Sim City. The end result is a game where you have to be far more involved/engaged than in Farmville, which has both its benefits and drawbacks, depending on what type of gamer you are.
I should start off by telling you that the story of Funky Barn is pretty damn dark. Both my wife and I watched the set of still picture cut scenes that start off the game unfold and we both were taken back at what we saw. It’s basically the story of a mad scientist slash farmer who invents these were steampunk-y cyborgs to help make farming easier. Unfortunately the animals are terrified of them and the man eventually catches pneumonia and dies while testing his devices in the winter and the rain. The farm is destroyed, the land goes to pot and everyone cries. Not what you were expecting from an E-rated game, eh? Well, you, the silent protagonist who happens to be a relative of the deceased nutjob decides to become a farmer and reclaim the once proud land for your own. You get to choose one of three plots (easy, medium or hard) and then go through each level of the game building a bigger and better farm. Yes, I said levels. Remember, this is nothing like Farmville save for the farming aspect.
Each level of Funky Barn has you trying for two goals. The first is a set of requirements such as having X number of trees or animals, X number of mechanical devices and so on. The second is a happiness meter of sorts. Once that bar is maxed out while you have all the requirements in place, you “level up.” When this happens you gain new requirements to fulfill, but also new animals, buildings, plants and the like are unlocked. While this means you can design the farm however you want, it also means that said design is limited by each level that you are on. Your farm carries over from level to level so you don’t have to start from scratch, but due to the requirements and the fact there are only three layouts, you really can’t get too creative with the farm.
In Funky Barn, you’ll start off only with chicks (that become chickens) but eventually get sheep (for shearing), cows (for milking) and other animals. You’ll also eventually be able to grow crops, but it’s a catch all generic crop. You do have the ability to harvest different kinds of fruit. An apple tree will bear fruit in the fall while an orange tree will bear fruit in the spring. If you’re more interested in planting than husbandry, you’ll find fruit trees are the way to go. There are far less options for plants and animals than in something like Farmville, but at the same time Farmville isn’t something to “beat,” while Funky Farm does have an end goal in place for the gamer.
I should also give a bit of a warning to those still expecting the E-rating to mean it’s a sweet and happy game. If my description of the opening cut scene didn’t clear this up for you, maybe the fact your animals can get sick and die or eaten by weasel and foxes will. That’s right – your animals will die (or wander off if they don’t like you) . Cows can be taken away and eviscerated by UFOs for example. The fact that Funky Barn let’s you name and pet your farm animals will make losing a prize chicken or beloved sheep to the fangs and claws of a wild animal all the more traumatic for younger gamers. I’m actually surprised that the game made it through with a E instead of E10+ rating due to all the death in this game. For those worried about losing precious animals, invest in fences and guard dogs.
As this is a time management game, you really will have to be all over the place, especially as the farm grows. Funky Barn takes as much micromanaging as most real time strategy games and a lot of gamers probably won’t go into this expecting that. You’ll have to constant harvest crops, eggs, wool, milk, fruit and the like, while also trading with other farmers, watching your farm for wild animals, preparing for natural disasters, meeting level requirements and keeping all of your animals happy as well as well fed and watered. All of these things require constant hands-on, which means, the game gets especially fast and frantic as the farm gets bigger. You’ll also encounter some noticeable slow down as the farm gets bigger, which can really hurt your productivity, especially in later stages. Thankfully you can purchase inventions made by your dead predecessor to help out. These devices can do the good collection and selling for you. You just have to remember they a) need roads and b) the animals are terrified of them. The best way to go about this then, is to pen off an area for the type of animal, then build a road around the pen, and finally purchase a collection device. There are a couple problems with roads though. The road needs to be one big interconnected piece. So you have to build it all in one go. If you start and then start building right next to where you stopped, the game counts it as a separate road and thus the device won’t go on the new track. So you have to demolish the old road and start over. Worse yet, trying to build the road in this manner can be tough as the game tries to help you by making the road and cheap (short) as possible. This means as close to a straight line as possible, which really sucks if you are looping around a circle or oval shape. Just take it slow and you should be okay, but also remember, while you’re fighting with the road/fence building, you’re ignoring everything else that is going on.
Once you beat one of the base difficulty campaigns, you unlock Challenge Mode for that level. Challenge Mode is similar but you just have to max out the happy bar. Just have lots of water towers, food troughs and water troughs, and this ends up being pretty easy. You should be able to be the challenges in about ten to twenty minutes depending on how and what you build. So it’s not really challenging, but then nothing about the game is actually hard. The challenge comes in keeping tabs on everything when your farm gets big!
There’s no multiplayer and the only reason to go back through the game after you’ve beaten a difficulty setting is to try and build the farm another way. Of course, that’s not really possible due to the fact you are limited as to what you can build based on the current level you are at, but you can still change the size and shape of pens, the number of animals you have, and so on. So there is room and reason to go back through the game multiple times, but only if you’re a huge fan of time management and real time strategy titles.
The visuals of Funky Barn are cute, but by no means push the Wii U’s graphical capability. This game could easily have been done on the Wii, or even the Game Cube or N64. The animal designs are very cartoon instead of realistic, which is neither bad nor good, unless you wanted more realistic looking animals. Then you’re out of luck. The buildings, plants, weather effects and machinery are equally cartoonish. Kids and casual gamers will probably enjoy the style of Funky Barn while people who primarily care about graphics will be put out that Funky Barn could easily be done on an older, less powerful system.
Aurally the game is fine. It won’t blow anyone away, but the background music is nice and soothing (a must for this type of frantic game), the animals all make realistic noises, the robo-drones clank as one would expect them to, and noises like wind and rain are acceptable. Pretty much Funky Barn gives you all you need in terms of noise and music. It won’t impress you and you certainly won’t be humming the tune after the game, but the noises are a nice compliment to the gameplay.
You’ll use the gamepad for lots of things in Funky Barn with the TV Screen showing you what the farm looks like. Want to pet an animal and raise its happiness? Move the cursor over the animal, press A and then scribble on the animal with the stylus. Want to buy something? You’ll touch the option on the GamePad screen and then scroll through the choices. Tap what you want and it will be delivered to your farm. Pretty much all of the gameplay in Funky Barn is point and click. You’ll move the cursor over what you want to interact with, click the button and choose from options. The only things that aren’t directly point and click are the building of roads and fences, or when you pick up something and move it from one location to another. This is still point and click, but it also adds the drag function in. This will come up when you move things like eggs or wool into the collection bin (which gives you money) or when you pick up an animal and move it someplace else . The game is very easy to figure out control-wise and at times, it felt like Funky Barn would be more at home on a PC due to the control style, but it still worked exceptionally well on the Wii U. Even very young gamers will get a hang of playing Funky Barn rather quickly, even if the time management aspects confound of frustrate them on later levels.
I found Funky Barn to be quite serene and enjoyable for what it is, even if it’s not a game I’d come back to ever again. It was a pleasing “one and done” experience. It’s been a while since I really got into a time management game and I had fun with this one, although I really hated the animals getting sick or eaten aspect. It’s realistic but it doesn’t jibe with the visuals and rating and I’ll admit it took me by surprise the first time it happened. So I’m not really sure who the target audience is. The game looks especially cartoonish, yet the time management pace and the death of your cuddly animals are going to put off younger gamers, yet the game is too easy for older gamers. I’m guessing Tantalus was trying to appeal to all ages, but ended up including things that each demographic would find unappealing. It’s a well made game and it’s a very different take on farming games like the ones Farmville and Harvest Moon have, but I honestly can’t figure out who to recommend the game to because of all the factors involved.
Basically Funky Barn is a well made game, yet it’s a mixed bag. The game plays exceptionally well, but the odd mix of cartoon visuals with the dark opening story and the ability to have your animals eaten by predators makes it hard to decide who would be the correct audience. Kids might be freaked out while older gamers might poo-poo the visuals. Farmville fans will like the no stress pace of that game over this, while Harvest Moon fans will like the deep story and role-playing elements of THAT faming sim. Funky Barn can be quite engrossing once you start playing and I can’t deny I had trouble putting the controller down at points, but it’s also not a game I’d ever pick back up now that I’ve beaten all three difficulty levels. It’s not a bad game; just not one I feel is fifty dollars worth. It would have worked better as a budget game, but as this is a launch title for the Wii U, it would have looked bad all around if the system launched with a game that had budget pricing. When this gets down to $29.99 or below though, this might be a surprise hit. The game can be quite fun at times and I ended up having more fun with this than the Wii U games I thought would be my favorite of the launch titles, so there’s that in its favor. Just go in knowing that this game requires a lot of concentration and micromanagement of animals and resources similar to a RTS. If this review has at all piqued your interest, it’s probably a game you should pick up. I went in skeptical and came out giving this a mild recommendation. You might too.
Control and Gameplay: Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Funky Barn is neither Farmville nor Harvest Moon. It’s a farming sin with heavy real time strategy elements. It’s well done and the only hiccup you’ll encounter is the slowdown that may occur when your farm is quite large and supersaturated with animals and crops alike.
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