No Pineapple Left Behind Review
Children are complex. Pineapples are simple. Pineapples are trouble free. Pineapples don’t have personalities. And they certainly don’t have feelings. No Pineapple Left Behind is a game about turning children in to lovely, tasty, emotionless, test-taking, money-making machines. Children you see, are nothing but trouble, with their feelings and their dreams. Children are the kind of trouble which cost money when they should be making it instead. No Pineapple Left Behind is a satirical and not-so-subtle commentary on the No Child Left Behind Act which ties in a school’s performance to it’s budget.
You take on the role of principle at nine different schools, with each school representing a game level, and each level featuring a different objective. You may simply need to make money, or increase grades to a certain level – two objectives which play nicely together – simply take away a student’s humanity, eventually seeing them turn in to obedient pineapples, and you’re well on your way to good grades and a fat pay check. But this comes at the cost of your own morality, there’s something very disturbing about wanting children to turn in to pineapples. On the other hand, you may have an objective to look after a child, to make sure that they’re happy and this is where the political commentary really kicks in. When you shift that focus to people you’ll soon notice that you’re operating with less cash. There’s a middle-ground somewhere but the point is that the No Child Left Behind act is nowhere near to finding it.
Indeed, No Pineapple Left Behind isn’t itself – for the most part – a balancing act – you’ll often find yourself totally ignoring one aspect of the game as you seek to complete the level. Level objectives are often quite extreme and to reach them, you’re going to have to make sacrifices. Whether that’s profitability and grades, the humanity of your pupils, or the morale of your teachers, it often feels like the game forces you to play each level a certain way. I would often treat the game as just that and go balls out to hit my objective. I need to make $1000 so forget about the pupils, turn them into pineapples and ride off in to the sunset. There are a few simplistic ways to achieve your goals and they sometimes take a little trial and error but ultimately the joy is in figuring them out and as such, I would suggest that No Pineapple Left Behind features very little replay-ability.
Each level takes a similar form, you’re given an objective to reach and you have a number of resources at your disposal. First up is the hiring of teachers. In No Pineapple Left Behind teachers are disposable magicians, they have magic spells (or lesson plans, if you will) that help the students to learn. Each spell consumes a certain amount of their energy level. The lower those energy levels get, the less effective a spell becomes which can eventually force grades to fall. A level is usually set over a specific time period, taking place over a few days, or a few weeks. As you begin a new day, energy levels will regenerate somewhat based on what you pay your teachers. The more pay, the more energy they have for teaching. Strategic vision is the key for managing these budgets, sometimes it works out cheaper to be callous and simply fire a teacher and hire a new one which can be done daily. At other times, you’ll need to manage their energy levels over the course of a few days but as always, it comes at the cost of something else. To save energy, you might have your teachers cast ‘Televisor’, where you’ll effectively sit students in front of a monitor and let them absorb the images. The political commentary comes roaring back then because this has very little positive effect on grades.
Teachers also have lasers which can ‘zap’ students and basically hack their brains. In one level, you make use of these lasers to zap away the feelings of a cross-dressing pupil who gets teased throughout each day over the course of a week. These lasers often have very specific uses on certain levels but can otherwise be ignored when there isn’t a compelling reason to use them.
This is a game which likes to throw you some curve balls now and then, you’ll play a few of the easy levels and just as you start getting comfortable, it will introduce a new problem for you to solve. Parent phone calls are punishments for not reaching optional objectives, these are often monetary and on those levels where money is tight – they’ll become a big issue. You may receive a call to say that Pupil X needs to get a C- in English, if he doesn’t, that’s going to cost you $500. These can soon start to stack up and there’s no reward for meeting the passing criteria. You can however solve this issue by spending influence points. These points are given to at a rate of one per day and can be used to ignore parent phone calls, saving you the trouble of tackling that particular issue. These points are also used to hire other resources such as a vice-principle who will help you get children to their classes on time. In the early levels one per day is plenty enough but you’ll soon be wishing that you had more – it’s another point of strategy and each level will force you to make different decisions based on what is more important at that particular time.
At other times, these phone calls will come in and you can ignore them completely to the point that they simply become a nuisance and something else to micro-manage. It’s a small problem which is easily dismissed by a click of the mouse but I can’t help feeling that there should be some kind of reward for completing the tasks. Without that, there’s no reason to care, unless that specific level is designed for it to become a problem.
In terms of the influence points, they allow you to hire a vice principle for one day at no cost. If you let his/her tenure roll over to the next day, it costs $2000 but you can simply fire them and hire someone new the next day. Whilst there’s an obvious politically driven point here, as a game mechanic it felt a little bit ‘cheaty’. In one particular level, you simply have to abuse this to win.
As you advance in levels, the game introduces more and more features to the point that it can introduce just a little bit too much micro-management. Once you start needing to track multiple pupils, the game suddenly feels, not only a lot more difficult, but also more of a chore. There’s a gentle learning curve that is executed very nicely however so the game never becomes difficult beyond reason and each level will do a good job of keeping you engaged to see it through. There’s a very simple, inoffensive user interface which is often thoughtfully put together but at other times, lacks those little extras to help reduce the amount of clicking you’ll need to do.
Before I round this up, there were a couple of other niggly issues. First of all, you’re able to click a classroom and it will bring up information about the teacher who takes that class, this can however be finicky and you need to rotate and pan the camera to get it just right. There are other ways to access this menu but this is by far the quickest but whilst not a big issue, it was a constant source of annoyance. As well as that, if I can take you back in time to David, the cross-dressing student, I couldn’t wait to move on. I ended up on a (the) tactic of using lasers to banish his memory of being teased, this seemingly worked randomly. Sometimes it would take two or three attempts to fix, other times it would take only one. That in itself isn’t a problem but I wasn’t given an indication of it failing, I had to just figure that out myself. Secondly on this level, I failed at literally the last second. As David was getting on the bus to leave, some little asshole teased him and so I failed the entire level. The frustration came from not being able to do anything about it, I had played the perfect level but as this occurred so late, there was no way to save myself.
No Pineapple Left Behind is a relatively shallow school simulator, it’s use of humour raises it above that a couple of levels and when accompanied by the excellent early levels – you’ll find yourself having a lot of fun. As levels begin to get more complex however, simple tasks start to become repetitive and the feeling of performing a chore will become more prevalent. The middle level games are the most fun, there’s a great balance between things being challenging but not so complex as to be overly boring.
Ultimately, No Pineapple Left Behind isn’t the most complex sim-type game that you’ll come across, it’s simply not deep enough to delight hardcore simulator fans but more casual players will enjoy the challenges, if not the slightly excessive micromanagement.