Ever dreamed of running your own farm? OK, so neither have we really, but now that we come to think about it, we can see the idea has appeal - leaving the city for a simple life, brushing a few horses, and feeding a few pigs, before napping under a tree, wheat stem in mouth. Or at least, that's the idea. Now though, we realise the reality is that farming is all hard work and long hours for very little pay. In fact, our head's rarely hit the pillow for the past few days before 2am. The reason? We've been playing Funky Barn on the Wii U, a rather addictive launch game that attempts to mix the best of Zoo Tycoon and Harvest Moon, and only falls a little bit short of its lofty goal.
Like everything in life, your farming days begin in the most unsuspecting of ways, as a lone chicken drops from the skies, who you'll need to feed and water (as in, provide with a bowl of water, not pour it over the poor thing) before he'll reward you by laying an egg - and as the saying goes, produce means prizes. Simply pick up the egg and drop it into the 'selling bay', or money cannon as we prefer to call it, and it'll be converted into cash, which you can use to upgrade your farm, spoiling your little chicken by buying a forest of oak trees and a comfy coop from a shop that seems to sell pretty much everything you could ever dream of. It doesn't take long before the stork comes pecking on your door, offering you more and more chickens, and before you know it, you'll be overrun with the little feathered beasts, barely managing to keep up with their maniacal egg laying. Luckily, though, Funky Barn's well equipped store has the answer to this problem, too, in the form of a range of harvesting machines, which can lend a hand. Following a road which you lay around your chicken pen, the giant walking egg with teeth, known as the 'Mobile Egg Collector' patrols the perimeter, hoovering up any eggs it finds before depositing them into the Selling Bay for you, leaving you free to manage the rest of your farm.
And manage you'll need to, as before too long you'll have the option of adopting a sheep or six, which will need their own separate pen to the chickens (for some reason, chickens terrify sheep - and vice versa), and their own food and water troughs, barn and foliage to keep them happy. But, as you'd likely expect, sheep are a little bit different to chickens - for starters, they have four legs, and the don't just wonder round crapping out produce - instead, it's up to you to somehow separate the sheep from it's woolly coat - and that's just what the Shear-O-Matic E80 can do for you. Kind of like Wallace's Knit-O-Matic, all you have to do is plonk in a sheep, and out comes a bale of wool, which can then be shipped out for cash - and much like with the eggs, you can even buy a mechanical minion to do all the hard work for you.
Farming in this neck of the woods isn't always a walk in the park, though, as the land is wrought with perils - there's frequent tornadoes that come and sweep away your fences and any unfortunate sheep who couldn't fit in the overcrowded barn, and lightning storms that destroy buildings and trees like nobody's business. Of course, as with everything else, if you have enough money, there's always a way to keep your farm safe, as the shop just happens to have a Weather Controller, which sends out weather balloons to neutralise any incoming storms before they get chance to wreak havoc. And sadly, much like in real life, many of your cute animals have predators that you'll need to contend with, too; foxes that drag your chickens away, weasels that kidnap your pigs and even UFOs that abduct your cattle. The first two can be dealt with by simply placing a dog kennel in with your animals to defend them from the scumbags, although the latter requires huge financial investment - you'll need to build a defence hangar to chase off the aliens that try to steal your cows.
In order to earn a constant stream of new livestock, and grow your farm, you'll need to satisfy certain conditions first - there's seven possible 'levels' for your farm to work through, each one rewarding you with a new animal, new items and a larger maximum animal cap. You'll need to meet requirements such as having a set number of trees, at least one collector or ten animals in total as well as filling up a 'farm progress' bar that fills up as you purchase stuff before you can reach the next level and continue your farming empire - although luckily the requirements are easy enough to check in the main menu.
But after working our way through the seven levels of awesomeness (those late nights we mentioned earlier), we were kind of expecting something more - something extra, something new to work towards - but sadly, that was it. You can carry on farming pretty much indefinitely, but once you've poured in the four or five hours it takes you to build up a farm and have everything automated, aside from topping up the odd trough here or there, there's nothing left to do. Sure, you can restart, perhaps trying your hand at one of the 'harder' (read more awkward layout) landscapes, but then it's still the same game over and again. For a bit of variety, there are three increasingly difficult 'challenges' you can attempt, which ask you to turn a struggling farm around, but even they'll only occupy you for a few hours. While it's certainly fun enough, it's desperately missing some of the depth and scope of the games of a similar ilk (see: Rollercoaster Tycoon) - there's only seven animals in total, and half of those are basically clones of each other that produce the same stuff (both buffalo and cows give you milk, while alpacas and sheep produce wool).
It's also a game that's a little rough around the edges, with one particular bug cropping up time and again. As you're moving your hand cursor around the screen, it'll sometimes bump into an invisible wall near the edges of the landscape, and no matter how you move the analogue stick, it simply won't shift past it - there is a work around, in that you can simply tap the spot you want to reach on the GamePad's Touch Screen and everything returns to normal, but it can get a bit grating after a while, particularly when you're run off your feet with enough things to worry about without having to fight with the controller. The only other gripe is the game's insistence on you placing Water Towers all over the landscape to turn unusable dirt into build-on-able green grass - and at 850 coins a pop for a pitiful area of effect, you start to haemorrhage money pretty quickly at the beginning of the game as you struggle for arable space.
It may be the subject of much undeserved ridicule on it's MiiVerse page, but Funky Barn is in no way a bad game - just a rather short one, and as such it's probably worth waiting for the inevitable price drop before picking it up. Perhaps it would have been better as a £7 downloadable game at the launch of the Wii U's eShop rather than a £30 disc release/£40 retail download on the eShop.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U