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Funky Barn - Wii U Review

Game Info
Funky Barn

Wii U | 505 Games / Tantalus Interactive | 1 Player | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad; Wii Remote
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14th January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

So as not to provoke or be quickly categorized as dopey, some simulation games go about things in a tactful way and in very defined terms, sheltering players from rubbing shoulders with anything out of the ordinary. Funky Barn, though, in all its conventional wisdom, strives to produce and build upon active threads of hectic farm-life cultivation, bringing about this investment through free customization. What can quickly be pegged as distressingly feeble in fact has a sportive quality going for it. But by aiming to liven things up through somewhat opaque means and with other debris getting in the way of this style being amplified rather than simply toyed with, Funky Barn's lamentable execution proves imperfectly laid-back for not doing more service than that of a rather silly sandbox.

    With a story centering on land provided as an inheritance, you're given a pair of yard boots and some blue overalls to take care of your pasture and facilitate growth, on occasion supplying goods to neighbours who more or less behave like one-way business partners. Exercising a great deal of creative restraint, Funky Barn is, at its heart, a game that trains you to adopt a process towards accomplishing chores in the upkeep of your property. A hypothetical model is proposed where animals of varying sorts are buzzing about, with maintenance being carried out largely by autonomous machinery. The game gives you enough provisions to work with, adding better, more convenient materials as you go along. It's simply a matter of getting to the point where you can have an ideal farm that is running all on its lonesome with little command from you. At such a point, much of the work will be out of your hands, which prompts the question as to whether or not the game can prosper when the end-result as intended is one of minimized player influence.

Much of the game's controls involve using the L-Stick or D-Pad to affect the camera (which by default is from an overhead perspective but can be adjusted to a zoomed-in or bird's-eye view) and the R-Stick to move a hand around the screen. L, R, ZL, and ZR all work as your interact button, with A and B confirming and denying selections. A series of shortcuts are put in place to simplify menial tasks, like how a gentle shake of the controller will cause all fruit-bearing trees to drop their produce. But truth be told, these feel gimmicky, even if they do save time entering menus or navigating to a particular area.

    Along the top of the GamePad screen is a taskbar with options for trades with townsfolk, notifications of new arrivals or progress updates, and a way to access the shop for adding tools to your inventory. A secondary use of the GamePad comes from the X-ray effect applied for the purpose of spotting smaller entities that might go unnoticed as your farm starts to fill up with animals, and these then form clusters that obscure eggs and things of this sort. The TV screen is used to display, besides the normal view of the farm, the capacity of animals, any funds you have, as well as a season wheel that impacts the appearance of the setting. As a whole, while the navigation is clunky even with the easy button setup, the displays on both screens are divided fairly well.

Your top priority, as far as gameplay is concerned, is to foster cycles that allow for the production of goods -- namely, eggs, wool, milk, truffles and grain. Not all of this is done naturally, however, and this is where the game's semi-hollow style comes into play -- that of a decked-out farm with advanced utilities. Moving from the initial machine provided that cashes anything thrown into it, a series of O-Matic's can be purchased for extracting those aforementioned goods from the respective animals (except in the case of grain, which must be cultivated using a tractor).

    At first, you'll have to drag them over to these machines for the process to initiate, but through costly upgrades, animals can later be lifted off their feet by the device itself. Retrieving the finished products must still be done by you, though -- that is until you also invest in some mobile inventions designed for the sole purpose of collection. These too must be upgraded for a more reliable reach and to expand their containment tanks. Gradually forming an automated task force that can fetch things for you and also look after what these machines then do to package it all together, this entirely removes the tedium of individually dragging items back and forth. And, too, the surprise events that are experienced now and again -- chicken-snatching foxes, as well as tornadoes and thunderstorms -- theoretically prevent you from becoming too comfortable as you try to settle into a groove. But in my experience, these were too wishy-washy in their rarity and the damage they did (if any).

    The less involvement you have in these affairs, though, the more the game ironically shifts to a place that is mass-produced, thus also removing the aspect of heavy player manipulation in the formula. As you work your way up from little means, it's interesting to see that the game, rather than boring players by having them go around and around in circles, has a finite limit to its initially mundane routine. Teaching necessary labor before the benefits come along keeps players occupied in a positive sense, with possible addiction surfacing in connection with this process. Leading up to this, seeing how your actions improve the state of your initially barren area -- for instance, installing water towers to improve the soil quality -- may not go so far as to invigorate, but at the cusp of it all, this artificial enjoyment can be rather palatable when it arises. Unfortunately, as burdens are lifted and things that are done on your behalf become more numerous and involuntary, the game sheds its absorbing state very quickly in comparison to the prolonged uphill climb. And while having an ongoing pace, it's not something players move with but are instead detached from as this self-initiated advancement takes place. 

    There are a number of other sour aspects that will further distort the average player's view of the mechanics and flow, with the first of these being the general AI. Instead of demanding personal attention, animals will instead voice concerns (by way of a thought bubble) over their living arrangements -- things that need to be addressed with haste. Such may include an animal feeling lonely over there not being other friends of the same type, showing this by sulking with its head towards the ground. But the way you can quickly coerce them into completely forgetting whatever it was they were complaining about demonstrates a deficiency on the game's part.

    If an animal is concerned over the lack of greenery in an area, you can drag that animal over to a new area (not joined by his mates) with trees and he may or may not go back to mulling on the same issue. When affected by the side-effects of ingesting a coloured mushroom, simply picking up the ill creature and setting it back down will often return it to normal. At other times, it's a case of animals exhibiting very cranky behaviour, asking for more plant life when there's a large tree right in front of it. Also, when the stork drops off a new animal, it will be sometimes let loose in a corresponding area -- that is, in the same, sectioned-off spot where others of the same type reside. But this isn't always the case.

    Related to the above point on limitation, the concept of interaction is nearly non-existent. Animals can be individually selected and rubbed against using the stylus on the GamePad screen, increasing their happiness. But this is never required, nor does it ever lead to anything noteworthy. In these matters, the game doesn't display very much consistency, and while these issues don't aggravate, they are valid nitpicks to make for the reason that they confine the game's design in ways that are not sound.

Speaking of, Funky Barn has much to answer for as to why there's such a rash of technical concerns throughout. The first trouble has to do with the long loading times -- the game takes nearly if not more than a full minute to load a plot of land that isn't that grand in size. There are also occasions where no music plays in the background, or worse, the game freezes entirely and making you lose out on perhaps major progress. There are also flickering textures, rudimentary visual effects; coins not being counted properly, with the tabulation even heading into the negatives; as well as some minor problems resting with unfinished roads. Truthfully, the game's general ethic isn't going to make anyone feel inclined to forgive these faults, not when the touches are so lacking in care. The art style isn't bad; it's other areas, such as coarse text, improper sound effects, and sections displaying below-average resolution, that completely down any semblance of playfulness that the style otherwise might have helped generate.

    For a full-priced, retail endeavour, Funky Barn isn't crammed with a great deal of content. Aside from Story Mode, three Challenge Farms are available wherein you must restore a run-down plot affected by disaster. After understanding how the formula works, these diversions are perhaps more fun than the main game, if only because they don't drag on. But even with this being the case, the package sure brings out a bare minimum of features.

While not prospering in any way, Funky Barn isn't a lost cause. Even with the canceling disruptions, the technical flaws, some mechanics not being up to par, the questionable flow and the upset all of these cause, the design of it isn't so constricted that it prevents you from wedging yourself in. In fact, even with the clunky setup, I'd say the opposite is true. But it's still a very limited sim -- one that you won't see much growth in. It's a very mixed product, both technically and from a gameplay perspective, to an extent that the idea of paying anything more than $20 is nuts. Ultimately the effect of the game's foundation has been thwarted by, not a crowding out of elements, but a dubious development of what is present. And with that, Funky Barn, then, should only be sought out by casual gamers who, for some reason or another, can't see past the wheat stocks to realize there are far better games out there.

14/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 5/10 - Executed in a limited sandbox style, AI of animals not that great, clunky controls, decent tool palette, mundane formula and flow
Presentation 5/10 - Visual presence could use some improvement, strange happenings and bothersome mishaps, variety of technical concerns
Enjoyment 2/5 - Up and down, routine commands turned into an automated process, effectiveness of style doesn't come to the fore
Extra Content 2/5 - Can get a couple hours out of it before it wears off, Challenge Farms are enjoyable, not much content for a full-priced offering

Equivalent to a score of 47% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Funky Barn
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