The Average Gamer

Hands-on with Funky Barn Wii U

Funky Barn is one of the launch window titles for the Wii U and I checked it out last week. It’s a cutesy resource management game, accessible for kids but with enough depth to keep adults busy as well. A version came out on 3DS earlier this year and the Wii U looks much the same.

You run a farm on a randomly-generated map. Starting out with just a few hens, it’s your job to level up the farm by selling eggs. Keep your hens happy and they’ll produce more eggs. Eventually you’ll be able to buy sheep, cows and other farmyard animals.

No, there is no abattoir. It’s a cuddly game. If one of your sheep isn’t producing enough wool, you can select it and zoom in to manually fill its happiness meter by stroking your animal on the touchscreen. It takes time though, so you’re better off building nice spacious pens and decorating them with trees, wagon wheels and other farming tat.

Of course, it’s not just a matter of plonking your animals down in a nice grassy field and hoping for the best. You first have to irrigate the fields with a water tower, fence off a pen for each animal type, build a barn for them to sleep in, buy a food trough, buy a water trough and pay to keep both troughs filled. Your animals won’t die if you fail. They’ll simply grab a helium balloon and float away, never to be seen again.

The entire game is about the slow, inexorable shift to automated farming. You could build three pens fairly quickly and spend all your time frantically clicking on things to harvest, sell, fill, tickle and so on. What you’re supposed to do is save up for an egg collector to hoover up all your eggs and carry them to the collection point. Do the same for wool and milk and you’d be sorted, if not for the aliens.

As we all know, a cow’s natural enemy is the UFO. You’ll have to hire some planes to patrol the skies and scare them off. Foxes will try to carry off your chickens, so get some guard dogs to keep them at bay. As you can imagine, the farm starts to get pretty crowded, pretty quickly.

It’s a problem. Perhaps when I spend more time with the Wii U gamepad it will feel more natural, but I found it very fiddly trying to pick up eggs or lay down fences, thanks to the number of objects on the screen. Developers Tantalus have provided a workaround for this; in its normal mode the tablet displays a cut-down version of the main farm view. Creatures and objects you can use are highlighted on a minimalist, contrasting background. If you select a spot with multiple objects, a radial menu will appear to let you refine your choice. It’s a good solution, even though it adds an extra step to frequent, repetitive tasks like replenishing the food supply.

You can also use the tablet screen to move your controlling cursor hand, though you still need to use the right trigger to pick objects up. For right-handed people like me, this results in an awkward control method where I’m constantly changing grip. It’s a nice idea but unpleasant to do for any length of time.

The tablet mainly acts as a touchscreen menu for you to browse the shop. It’s convenient and easy to browse, so I don’t know why Tantalus have decided to put some information on the tablet and some on the main screen when shopping. When buying decorations, for example, the impact each item will have on your farm is only shown on the TV. Not only do you now have to shift your hands between the touchscreen and the buttons, you also have to shift your attention between the two screens just to choose the right tree. It’s probably a legacy design from the 3DS version, but where the handheld’s adjacent screens are fine, the separation between tablet and TV is an issue.

Interface issues aside, Funky Barn does look like an enjoyable farm game. Maybe it’s just me getting old and the technology-demon children of today will have no problems with the controls. If nothing else, it will be an excellent way to teach multitasking.

Funky Barn will be out for the Wii U on 7th December and is already available on 3DS.