Review: Welcome to Merriweather Farm (PC)
Developer: Bold Games
Release Date: 9/1/05
So what exactly is Edutainment, anyway? Well, if you break it down, it’s a combination of the words Education and Entertainment. In this particular case, it’s referring to a genre of games mostly aimed at children under 10. These games attempt to be both enjoyable and mentally stimulating for little kids, while helping them work on their problem-solving and recognition skills.
Obviously this isn’t the sort of game that you all are used to seeing review here on IP, but it’s good to step out of one’s element every now and then. And in this day of older and more mature gamers, I’m willing to guess that there are at least a decent portion of you that have children of your own. As such, hopefully I can help you to determine whether or not this game is worth picking up for your kids.
So, is it?
Welcome to Merriweather Farm doesn’t have a story per say. The gist of it is that you are helping out Johnny Tractor (J. T.), Allie Gator, and Corey Combine who live and work on the farm.
The game is basically broken down into a number of different mini-games and puzzles for you to solve. To start with you can explore Merriweather farm and meet the various machines and animals that live there. Next up we have Apple Harvest you can help J. T. catch apples as they fall off of the trees. Then it’s time to check out Combine Fun where you work with J. T. and Corey Combine to harvest the corn field.
The next game on the list is Corn Maze, where you guide Allie Gator through the maze and help her collect her tools. Then there is Chicken Coop Chase, where a mischievous raccoon is letting the chickens loose and it’s up to you to return them to their pen. And finally we have Help J. T. Plow where you can guide J. T. through the fields avoiding any rocks, tools, and hay bales that might be in your way.
Overall it’s a nice little collection of fairly simple games that are pretty entertaining and are sure to appeal to most 3-6 year olds.
Story/Modes Score: 8/10
The general look of Merriweather Farm is very cartoonish with little detail, but plenty of vivid colors and easily identifiable characters. The main color palette consists predominantly of greens and browns, but there is also quite a bit of use of bright reds, blues, and yellows.
There is very little in the way of complexity here, but there doesn’t need to be. What little animation there is is smooth and fluid. You should also have no difficulty seeing the mouse pointer or any other objects in the game, as everything is very easily differentiated from the backgrounds.
Overall the game’s graphics are perfect for their target audience. Plenty of large colorful characters and bright and vivid colors.
Graphics Score: 9/10
The sounds for the game are equally simple but enjoyable. There are a number of different music tracks that will play for each game, and while these can get a bit repetitive (especially the menu music), they are exactly the sort of basic melodies that young children will be captivated by.
The rest of the sound consists of easily recognizable noises such as the cluck of chickens or the steady roar of a tractor engine. The exploration portion of the game has an especially large number of sounds as you can hear each of the three main characters talk, the sounds that the animals make, and various other noises that are common place on a farm.
And speaking of the voices, each of the three main characters has an easily distinguishable and cartoonish voice that matches their appearance rather well. They are exactly the sort of voices you would expect to find on Sesame Street or other children’s programs, with the slightly over the top cheeriness, but this should appeal to and help engross most kids.
Again, there is nothing overly complex and not much in the way of variety here, but for the target audience, you couldn’t ask for much better.
Sound Score: 8/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
For the most part the controls for the game are pretty straightforward. All of the games either involve simply moving the mouse by itself, or moving the mouse and clicking on objects. However, there are a few games where the controls are not quite as intuitive as they probably should be.
The easiest games to play are Explore Merriweather Farm, Apple Harvest, and Chicken Coop Chase. Each of these involve you interacting with the environment by simply moving the mouse over an object, or clicking on an object. For example, while exploring, moving the mouse over the barn door will open it and allow you to click on the horse inside to hear it whinny. You can also click on the tires laying around the farm and stack them up near the tool shed. For the Apple Harvest, all you have to do is move your mouse under the falling apples, and you will automatically catch them in a basket. Lastly, once you see the chickens start to run away in Chicken Coop Chase, simply click on them and they will turn around and run back to their pen.
The other three games aren’t quite as simple as they seem at first, and take a little bit of getting used to. Combine Fun requires you to position J. T. under Corey Combine so you can catch the corn he releases, but it’s a little tricky to move J. T. Clicking the mouse while hovering over a section of ground will call J. T. to that spot, but you may have to click two or three times to get him to respond properly, as with each click he only turns 90 degrees. Fortunately, as long as you are in the general area of the combine and the corn silo, the game will allow you to pick up or drop off your load.
Corn Maze suffers from a similar movement issue as Combine Fun. You need to help Allie Gator navigate the maze, but clicking on the ground will only turn her 90 degrees in the direction that you clicked. So making her turn 180 degrees will involve at least two clicks, or else you will send her into a wall. This can be a little frustrating for small children, but with some patience they should get the hand of it.
Finally, the controls for Help J. T. Plow are somewhat in the middle. While not entirely intuitive, they aren’t as tricky as Combine Fun and Corn Maze. As J. T. moves through the field there are basically three tracks he can follow… the left, middle, or right track. Clicking on any of these will move him from his current track to the new one. However, if you need to move from the far right track to the far left track, or vice versa, you will need to click at least twice, and the second click will need to be after he has settled into the middle track. Again, not overly difficult, but potentially frustrating for a small child.
On the whole, the controls are fairly good, with three games being incredibly easy and the other three having a few small issues. Fortunately these issues can be worked around with a little patience and hopefully shouldn’t distract from the game too much.
Control and Gameplay Score: 6/10
Children are a fickle lot when it comes to any sort of game. Either they immediately fall in love with it and play it over and over and over again until their parents are sick of it, or they lose interest in the first five minutes and move on to something else.
With six games total, there is the potential for quite a bit of replayability here. Additionally, there are three different difficulty levels to choose from, so there should always be a challenge waiting for you. Also, if you can manage to win a game, you will unlock one of the six coloring pages. These can later be printed out whenever you like.
Between the six different games and the coloring pages, there is plenty to do here as long as your child enjoys the game.
Replayability Score: 8/10
Since Welcome to Merriweather Farm is geared at children ages 3 to 6, none of the games are incredibly difficult. Perhaps the hardest of the six is the Combine Fun, but this is mostly due to the slight control issues.
As mentioned, there are three different difficulty levels to choose from, so if your child starts to find one of the games too simple, just take it up a notch and go from there. Control issues aside, the games are pretty much perfectly balanced for their target audience.
Balance Score: 8/10
Not having played many children’s games myself, it’s hard to say how original this title really is. However, I can remember playing similar games on my old Atari 7800 that were geared towards kids. The Apple Harvest game is very reminiscent of the old Big Bird’s Egg Catch which I used to play for hours as a kid.
Still, there are only so many games that you can make for a 3 year old that they are going to be able to understand and play. And the Welcome to Merriweather Farm has certainly succeeded here. It may not have the most original of activities, but this could be a young child’s first game, so it’s all fresh to them.
Originality Score: 7/10
Again, this is going to completely depend on what kind of child you have. If they enjoy the game, they will probably be addicted to it to the point where you are the one getting sick and tired of seeing and hearing it. On the other hand, they may play it for a few minutes and wander off to find the next interesting thing.
At any rate, the potential for your child to get addicted to this game is certainly there. With six different games to play, something is more than likely going to interest them and keep them playing.
Addictiveness Score: 7/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
Be it games, movies, television shows, or books, children’s entertainment has been, and always will be, big business. Especially those items that can be passed off to parents as being both educational and fun. Welcome to Merriweather Farm pretty much fits those criteria to a T, so there should be a pretty decent market for this.
The game is also based off of the John Deere book of the same name, so any children who are all ready familiar with it, or the other John Deere life-the-flap books, will be sure to enjoy this.
In addition, the game is only $20. Now tell me, how many of you would be willing to spend $20 if it meant giving your child something that they would enjoy and learn from for hours at a time? I know I would. In a heartbeat.
Appeal Factor Score: 9/10
Welcome to Merriweather Farm is certainly an enjoyable game for small children, but how is its educational value? Well, overall it’s not that high. There is a little bit of problem solving involved, but most of the games simply require quick reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
In a way, this was a bit disappointing. Because the game takes place entirely on a farm, I was hoping that there would be more information on the different farm machines, what functions they performed, and maybe some snippets on animal care and crop growth. Instead the game focuses entirely on the various mini-games and doesn’t provide much in the way of educational information.
My only major complaint is that the game did not include an instruction manual. Just installation help. Sure, none of the games really require a manual, and the in game help option that appears on each screen is very informative, but it still would have been nice to have one.
Still, I can’t find fault in the game’s entertainment value. With six different games and the extra coloring pages, there is plenty here for children to enjoy. Parents can rest easy knowing that this is a worthwhile purchase, especially if they have a child who all ready enjoys farms or farm machinery, or the book this game is based on.
Miscellaneous Score: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 9
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)