Man, aren’t children… Aren’t they inefficient? They have feelings, they have dreams, and they have desires. This, in a setting as unforgiving, cruel, and mental-illness-inducing as the education system, will not do. What if something could be done with them to make sure they are efficient beings? Not robotise them, no, that would be too cold. Maybe something light hearted, something… Fruity?
…What if we could turn all children into pineapples?
No Pineapple Left Behind is the peculiar brain-child of Subaltern Games (headed by an ex special education maths teacher). Named after the US policy No Child Left Behind, you are the unlucky chap (or…Chapette? Is that even a word?) tasked to run a school where you get paid depending what grades your students get. Your students have special needs, suffering from circumstances beyond your control (e.g. bus strikes), or they just had an “off day.” Tough, less money for you, hope you don’t bankrupt yourself!
However, you spy the way out. What if they became efficient enough to only get grades and that’s it? What if they weren’t distracted by feelings, desires and dreams? What if… They were pineapples?
Each day your children are pushed through classes where they are graded depending on their personal grade statistic (which you boost via classes) and if the lesson goes well that day. Whether the lesson goes well usually depends on the specific lesso– er, “spell” (yep, that’s what the game calls it) you cast, and the teacher’s energy levels. The lower the levels, the higher the chance the spell fizzles like sand dropping through your fingertips.
“But, how do I get their energy up?” Thanks for asking, hypothetical voice in my head! Every day their energy recharges depending on how much you pay them. However, ouroboros style, you get paid depending on the average grade amongst all the classes that day. So you need money to keep energised teachers who can get grades so you get more money…
…Or you can tear off the lid of the box in a fury, discarding ethics to the four winds. Why don’t you increase and decrease the wage as the energy requires it, or maybe even fire the teacher and get a new one who isn’t worn down from poor pay?
This disregard of ethics hits critical mass as the main focus of success is delicious pineapple children. Sadly, humanised children will be hampered by school life which includes bullying, dating, and loneliness. Pineapples, lacking even a name, will just attend classes and get grades. All you have to do to transform children into money-printing pineapples and make sure they learn and learn and learn, draining their humanity like a 9-5 job, while avoiding things that break the monotony and create humanity. With the chaotic form that is the education system, can you do it? No, you MUST do it, for the sake of the future of the pineapple children (and your bank account, never forget that).
…Oh, and the human children, too, I suppose. At least I don’t have to keep them locked away, hidden from vegans wanting to feast on the pineapples’ succulent, juicy, ripe flesh… Mmm…
You may be rolling your eyes into the back of your skull about now, imagining intricate faffing about of charts, facts, and figures, but fortunately the theme of a pineapple-school stays light and true like fruity juice. While there is the silly nature of watching pineapples run about, the star of the show is the children as, like real children in school, they each have their own lives that play out. Maybe they’re in a drama, constantly teased due to a tendency to cross dress? Maybe they’re in a comedy, trying to find friends but are always caught at the last second by a vice-principle with Barry Manilow attire (I have Breakfast Club on the mind) who is always hunting them down? Maybe they’re even a romantic, one child trying to get the other to notice them?
These are complimented by a side-quest system, making you the antagonist in all these tales. Parents will ring you up occasionally to ask you to prevent an event from occurring like something between being a dictator and a babysitter. An example of which would be that several times I was told a child was gay or bisexual, and that the parent would really prefer it if I stopped them from ever going near someone of the same sex. I felt like a horrid person, purposely dooming a romance to failure, but as long as I got the money that was all that counted.
It is getting this money that becomes the challenge. Often I just couldn’t keep the rent, unable to pay the salaries and bankrupting myself, or I’d miss out on the main objective (because stopping a cross-dressing boy from being bullied is really, really hard). I honestly had wished there was a difficulty slider, as the standard form kept beating me into the floor at every turn.
Fortunately, that’s not to say No Pineapple Left Behind is heavily luck based, as failure often crawls onto you in the form of a slow death. It also isn’t the type of puzzle where the solution lies in an obscure hidden part of the various spinning cogs of the education machine, as the systems are easy.
Sadly, the easiness of the systems are a double-edged sword, threatening to lop your own head off. Often there is one real solution to a problem, with minor strategic differences. There just isn’t the amount of depth I had somewhat hoped; no room to spread your wings and take a different creative approach to the same problem (i.e. making pineapple children, and turning them into educated tropical fruit). You either get the grades by making sure the classes function, or you don’t and you lose.
Although, maybe that’s the point? Beyond how cheap it is ($9.99, so about £6.99), it is a satirical game about an education policy designed more on measurable grades and passing tests than teaching children. It is a spit in the face of a policy that expects the unreasonable in a cold manner (e.g. getting As or Bs as a rough average in a special needs class or risk feeling and being treated as a drain on your school). It encourages teaching how to pass an exam rather than actual knowledge and sometimes leads to mental illnesses in brains that haven’t finished developing.
My only problem with No Pineapple Left Behind‘s satire, and it is likely a personal one, is while the message is still broadcasted, it feels defanged. I never got the moment where the other shoe drops, like in Papers, Please or Spec Ops: The Line, and the fury of the development team is unleashed onto the subject. Instead, it seems polite with its subject matter, the disgruntlement always hiding under the surface but never projected in a raw form.
Giving No Pineapple Left Behind a score is a tricky affair for me. Giving scores is always hard due to the reductive nature of scores, but in this case it feels cruel to assign a score. As a game you can buy and play, it gets a 5.5. While it is cheap and remembers to add colour to its subject matter, the systems are somewhat simplistic and a bit too narrow to offer any real variation in strategy. This is even with the various objectives in place, which seem to hobble you rather than add dimension.
If you’re looking for something satirical like Papers, Please, a criticism of the US policy No Child Left Behind, the score increases to a 6.5. I really had hoped for the moment it becomes biting, when the curtain falls and the audience has to look in shame at what they’ve done. Instead, frustratingly, it remembers to be a game so much that it loses what could have been a potent message or a conversation piece about the education system. It did well enough that I thought about things like Summerhill School (which forgoes teaching how to pass an exam in favour of self-actualisation and freedom for the student), but it didn’t seem to bring anything to the table itself, sadly.
Well, at least besides pineapple juice and a pineapple-hedgehog to munch on; appetizers are always welcome to conversations.
A PC code for No Pineapple Left Behind was provided by Subaltern Games for the purpose of this review