|2013-01-05||Wii U||Simulation||E (Everyone)||505 Games / Tantalus|
While it's easy for new adopters of any console to stick to properties they know, those looking for something a bit different on Nintendo's Wii U had the chance to pick up Funky Barn from 505 Games, a farming simulation game that focuses more on raising animals than actually growing crops. Considering how difficult wild animals are to control and raise, that ultimately isn't a good thing.
After a loading screen of up to five minutes, Funky Barn on the Wii U greets players with a slew of tutorials and complicated controls, combining the stylus / Game Pad with the controller's actual buttons and analog stick. Each farm starts as a bare plot of land with only a few spots of grass for grazing, and you're left to unlock most of the store's machines and animals by simply playing.
Starting with chickens and eventually expanding to sheep, cows, dogs and more, Funky Barn doesn't come with a traditional quest system or storyline to keep you moving.
Instead, your farm is given a level, with a small set of requirements and a massive Farm Quality bar blocking you from reaching the next level, animal or set of objects in the store. Once you complete these few strict requirements, like purchasing flowers or trees in the store, actually filling your Farm Quality bar is left up to you (and filling it is much easier said than done).
Each item added to the farm increases its quality to a varying degree, depending on its cost or purpose. As chickens lay eggs or sheep can be sheared, as examples, players can increase their farm's productivity by purchasing machines to collect these items for them, rather than constantly scrolling around the barnyard to collect items by hand.
This isn't to say that these machines completely remove the complexity of the game, as it's still incredibly easy to become overwhelmed by everything there is to do.
If you (or your machines) don't collect goods fast enough, they disappear. If your animals aren't constantly fed and watered, they'll get angry and leave the farm. If your animals aren't contained in pens, they'll get scared by the machines walking near them or will simply wander all over the place and get lost. If animals don't have companionship, they'll be sad. If it's not the right time of year (the game quickly moves through all four seasons), they won't produce as many goods. If you're unlucky, tornadoes can wipe out half of your farm. All of this (and more) combines into an experience that is only made more frustrating than fun by the lack of true instruction on how to handle many of these obstacles.
For instance, Water Towers can be placed to spread grass to areas that are currently brown and dry, but only after you've placed your first Water Tower do you receive the tutorial on how they work. Since they're so expensive, it's easy for players to ignore these sorts of items and then get frustrated when they can't build additional animal areas or plant crops because they've run out of grass. The game works against itself in so many respects, and that's simply a shame.
Make no doubt about it: Funky Barn looks and feels like a budget game, and it comes at a budget price, but if you're willing to put enough time into the experience to really get a feel for the menus and controls, there's an odd sense of satisfaction that comes when everything falls into place. Still, it's unfortunate that the game requires such a time investment to understand its core mechanics, as the game's position among titles like Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U doesn't give the game room to be so complicated. With tweaks to the tutorial system and less annoying loading times, Funky Barn could actually be a fun way to waste a few hours, but its many problems block most of the long-term fun that could be had.