I may be a product of the Ontario (Canada) school system but even I have heard the (American) slogan “No child left behind.” So when a game came up with the title of No Pineapple Left Behind, I was intrigued. I may also really like pineapple, but I promise that my love of the fruit will had no impact of my early positive reactions to this sharp little satire.
For those unfamiliar with the phrase “No child left behind,” a brief and severely oversimplified lesson in American history awaits. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 essentially said that standardised testing would keep schools and teachers accountable for their students’ success (or failure). In order to receive federal funds, each individual state must give standardised tests to all grade levels. Those against standardised testing believe that it promotes a very narrow subset of skills. Essentially, they all leave high school knowing the exact same thing as one another, because that’s what every person was tested on. Individual needs, creative thinking, and specialised knoweldge take a backseat to general knowledge. They may as well be pineapples. See where I’m going with this?
In No Pineapple Behind, you become the principal of a school and your goal is to make the school as much money as possible (interesting that that is the end goal KPI rather than, you know, developing the intelligence of the children). There are two sorts of students: humans and pineapples. Human students are complex creatures with emotional needs (“I want to fight with Sheelyn Rousner”). Pineapples are simple creatures who only need good grades (“I want to get an A in English”). And pineapples are far more valuable than humans, because they are the ones that make the school money. Teachers can be hired and fired as needed, and their purpose is to both teach and control the students.
Teachers are the ones being controlled by the principal. Every teacher costs the school money per day; the better the teacher, the more their cost. Teachers each have a limited amount of energy, and by spending the energy they earn XP. Energy is spent on casting spells and using lasers. Spells help students learn while lasers are used to zap their human emotions to help turn them into delicious pineapples.
Now that the basics are covered, here is the best part of the game: it absolutely oozes with satire. Teachers are designed to be disposable: once their energy is depleted, fire them and move on to the next person in line for the position. Classes are where teachers talk (cast spells) and students sit still at their desks and listen. Human emotions are terrible things that need to be nipped in the bud (or zapped, to be more precise) instead of dealt with and learned from. Making friends is discouraged. Being human at all is discouraged. Hoorah for pineapples, because no humanity equals more money. But oops, if pineapples aren’t looked after they rot back into humans and have to have their emotions zapped all over again.
The version of No Pineapple Behind I played was an alpha; that’s to say, it isn’t anywhere near what we can expect from the final finished product aside from the game’s very basic structure. Only two of what will be nine levels were available, but it was enough to fall in love with the concept. Seth Alter, one of the two head people at Subaltern Games and the only full-time employee working on the game, was a teacher until 2012 when he quit due to how poorly the administration treated students. His disdain for the educational system shines through in every nook and cranny in the game, creating high emotion while playing a game all about destroying it.
The graphics are rough but completely acceptable at this stage, as they do not distract from the gameplay in the slightest. But it is an alpha; there are many issues that need to be addressed if the full game will become an enjoyable experience. Sometimes teachers fail to appear at all and are walking around invisible, making them almost impossible to click on to initiate spells or lasers. Menus are cluttered and confusing. Tracking students is difficult, in that their need bubbles often don’t stay with them long enough to know who to zap. I’d often have to pause time in the mere seconds before class started just to find the student I want to use the laser on and also have time do complete the action. The controls feel a bit clunky (I truly have no better explanation than that), and I never did get the hang of them.
The crew at Subaltern Games have a lot of work to do in order to get No Pineapple Left Behind in working order for its launch on Steam. But that being said, it has infinite potential as a simulation game filled with a humorous reaction to a much-debated political act from the Bush (Jr.) administration. And games can indeed be smoothed out considerably in going from alpha through to final release. With better controls and a clearer menu system I am fully convinced that this game will be something special.
– Lindsay M.