Funky Barn is an addictive micro-management game from Tantalus and 505 Games that, like an addictive mobile game, will keep you tuned in for hours but isn't likely to leave you feeling like you've accomplished anything. Let's take a closer look.
In Funky Barn, you are a farmer who is out to make the most productive farm in the area. Farmer Rufus provides tips and info to get you started, and throughout the game, which can be optionally turned off. At the outset, he helps you get your farmer and farm name established, and explains the basics. In short, if you have played these type of micro-management games before, such as Dawn of Discovery, you should feel right at home. What might take just a little bit of getting used to is the Gamepad integration.
Funky Barn does not allow you to play the game solely on your Gamepad, but it does at least use the Gamepad in some pretty clever ways. From being able to say "Shoo!" into the microphone to get your animals moving to near constant use of the touchscreen, Funky Barn keeps your interaction with the Gamepad ongoing. Using a mixture of the touchscreen and the controls sticks, moving around your farm is easy. I did have a weird glitch to where whenever I went to place a purchased item, sometimes the screen would want to continue to move on me, even though I wasn't actually moving. The fix is to just tap the right stick in a direction to stop the camera from constantly trying to pan in another direction.
So as you advance into the higher levels, especially on the Medium and Hard difficulty, there are times when you have a tremendous amount of management to do. It may sound boring, and this is obviously not a AAA quality production, but it's surprisingly addictive. Being able to use your finger or the stylus to tap objects, such as troughs that need regular re-filling (I wish there were a machine you could buy for this) works nicely. The view of your farm on the Gamepad is of colored silhouettes. In other words, you get the normal, full color view on your TV, but the Gamepad highlights different objects with colors to make them easier to spot, if say an apple is behind a standing cow or something. The Gamepad also has several commands in button form along the top. From here you can get an overhead view of your farm, zoom in and out, view Trade offers, and go to the Store, which you will be doing often.
There are two modes of play, starting with a fresh piece of land or jumping into a Challenge Farm. The former mode has three difficulties and seven levels within each to become the ultimate farmer. The Challenge Farms are brief, time-based challenges. You begin with one of your uncle's contraptions, a machine that accepts product -- milk, eggs, bales of hay, wool, and several other goods -- and literally blasts them into the air, off screen, to their buyers. In other words, you must return all products that your land and animals produce to this machine. Initially, when you start with just a few chickens, that's not a hard thing to do. Within an hour or so of playing though, you have a whole lot to do and the simple task of picking up chicken eggs to put into the machine to sell becomes cumbersome. Fortunately, you can buy equipment to help, namely, up to three robots that will collect eggs. These robots, and all of the equipment and buildings in the game, can be upgraded usually once or twice to improve their speed or capacity. To get your collectors to where they can collect, you need to build roads. Chickens and other animals don't like to be around the collectors though, nor around each other, so you also need fences...
I thought Funky Barn did a pretty good job of always giving the player something else to build, or a road or fence to add, or some other management function to do. Indeed, to advance the game you have to reach level seven. Each level has some set criteria for you to achieve, and then several rewards for when you do achieve that criteria. The requirements may be to have a certain number of a specific animal, or so many decorations, or x number of collectors. Just achieving those measures is not all you need to do, however. There is also a Farm Quality meter that you have to fill. The meter will fill up based upon the happiness of your animals and how many decorations and plants you have. The General Store, where you make all of your purchases, is loaded with different plants and objects like ornamental gnomes and water fountains for you to purchase. Interestingly, there was a specific purple-leafed tree that costs 550 coins that always, no matter what level you were on, provided a very nice Farm Quality boost. I used lots of these trees in and around level five and six to advance more quickly.
As is typical with these games, the higher level you go the harder things may get. Expect tornadoes, foxes, explosive mushrooms, and even UFOs to stir up trouble for you. If you have the space and the money, you can actually help prevent a lot of these disasters with a weather control station, dogs to scare away foxes, and a small air strip to fight off UFOs. Still, not all disasters can be prevented of course, but that's just the nature of the game. One annoying problem that should be preventable is your animals getting loose and being unproductive. The big problem with this is that fences cannot touch the borders of the map, so there is always this annoying crevice that most animals can squeeze through, making it nigh impossible to fully contain them. Given that you can only build in areas that you have provided water to, it can be somewhat hard to avoid these fence problems altogether, but with the ability to destroy or move structures, it's doable, just annoying.
Ultimately, I think Funky Barn gets more right than wrong, but what I couldn't overcome was a sense of being unsatisfied. Bluntly, Funky Barn has that addictive, yet unsatisfying feel that I get from an iPhone game, for example. It keeps me entertained for a while at a time, but you get that feeling of 'going through the motions' just to be going through them, rather than for some greater purpose which the really great titles in the genre will present (SimCity, Anno, etc). With that, let's get to the summary...