If you're looking for the most happening place on Miiverse, look no further than the community for Funky Barn. Filled with sketches of animals in sunglasses and musical references, it's become a haven for memes and the friendliest trolling you've ever seen. When somebody posts about the game itself rather than its title, it's met with amazement and apparently genuine curiousity from users wondering whether it's a barn that's actually worth visiting.
Debatably the title is little more than an inaccurate misstep that has prodded temptingly at the traditionally cheeky online gaming crowd; there are barns alright, but there's nothing especially funky about them. Based on its Miiverse response, however, it's certainly proved canny from a marketing point of view. Would a simplistic game about building a farm really have received so much attention were it not for the name?
Funky Barn gives you free reign to construct your own agricultural dream land. By caring for animals, growing crops and protecting your property from thunderstorms, foxes and UFO attacks, you earn money to improve your farm. The more you add, the higher your level grows, unlocking more bits, pieces and animals as you go. Animals don't actually cost you any money, but you can only get a new one whenever a stork happens by.
Maintenance is a more time-consuming endeavour than creation, however. Once you've popped up your pretty little pens, filled them with animals and lined the roads with fruit trees, you then have to make sure everything continues to run smoothly. Food and water troughs require regular replenishment, cows have to be milked, produce needs to be collected quickly and sold off. You can't afford to feed your animals without money; without fodder they grow unhappy and either leave or don't give out the goods.
Funky Barn's main gameplay essentially involves watching over all, fixing and picking things up so that everything continues to tick over. Every so often a neighbour will also pop up with an optional trade challenge, asking for a certain amount of produce within a time limit in exchange for a delicious cash bonus.
There are rarely significant moments of victory; it all feeds into a compulsive loop that initially needs constant attention, actions rewarded by little sound effects and a growing bank balance, which is usually promptly emptied in order to complete something else. Funky Barn's simple and repetitive, but there's definitely something addictive and compelling about it.
As you go on you can also buy contraptions to help out, such as automatic robots that stomp about sucking up eggs and spitting them straight into the selling area for you, or you can upgrade shearing machines so that they grab any sheep in need of a haircut by themselves. These gadgets save you the hassle of seeking out eggs or dragging animals into the appropriate machine. The problem is that they're a little too useful, to the point that your farm ends up running itself, leaving you to sit back, fill up the odd trough and watch your money counter soar.
Funky Barn's main issue is that there isn't enough content to keep the momentum going, and it certainly doesn't come close to justifying a full retail price tag. It's possible to see everything within five hours or so, and after that there's no incentive to go on unless you really want to earn thousands of virtual coins. The animal count is quite low, with only a few species available from basic chickens and sheep to more exotic beasts such as alpacas. Even within the small range produce types are duplicated, only differentiated by price: a goose egg sells for more than a chicken's, for instance.
There are three challenge levels to slosh through, but they add little. These stages thrust you into a trio of utterly ruined farms and ask you to fix them up to an acceptable standard against a time limit. Otherwise the gameplay doesn't differ: you're still collecting, selling and buying continually. You're given a score at the end, but without any leaderboards it's a bit worthless.
A full set of these missions formed into some kind of campaign, plus a pile of extra animals, plants and machinery, could have made Funky Barn into a much more enticing prospect. It's clearly been constructed on a very tight budget; the sound is repetitious, the same animal noises playing out over and over again, while the visuals fall short of what we'd expect of a high definition console in 2012. Some animals are nothing more than blobs with a few circles for limbs and some splodges for eyes. It's not an entirely lost cause, and there's something sweet about the chunky style, but it's safe to say that it's not among Wii U's best looking titles by some distance.
It does make decent use of the GamePad, though. The view is mirrored across TV and controller, and you can use either touch screen or analogue sticks to interact with the world. You operate a floating hand with your chosen method and pick things up by clicking the ZL or ZR button when it's drifting over something of interest. It works well, though when you have loads of stuff in your farm there can be some very slight frame rate drops when dragging around the map.
Touch control was our preference, and the handheld screen is extra convenient because it shows the farm in a style approaching night vision; everything is darkened and the most important things, like animals and ready-to-sell produce, are highlighted in neon colours. If you click on an object that's overlapping or right next to another, a helpful menu pops up to confirm which of the objects you wanted to select.
Focusing on an animal also lets you check its mood, give it a little stroke or customise it with a new colour; it's surprising that there aren't other touch interactions like this, such as manual milking or shearing. The lack of an off-TV, GamePad-only option is a missed opportunity, however; its micro-managerial nature could have been fun to muck about with idly while watching TV.
Don't let the incessant trolling of its Miiverse community delude you, as Funky Barn is not an entirely bad game. It's far from pretty, but its simple gameplay is quite addictive while it lasts and it controls well. What really puts it out to pasture prematurely is its unjustly high price tag and a dearth of content, however: it only takes a few hours to see everything, and after that there's very little reason to return to the fields.