Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion review: the funniest game I've ever played
Would also make a delicious soup
Oh, to be a sentient turnip. A little stubby-legged jackanape with a serene, blank smile, several very fashionable hats, and a fondness for destroying paperwork. An unlikely hero, is Turnip Boy: he is a turnip, he is a boy, and he has evaded some taxes (specifically, taxes owed to Mayor Onion, an onion who is also the mayor). In this specific case, it's pretty clear that the tax thing is a flimsy excuse for Mayor Onion to get Turnip Boy to carry out dangerous and annoying errands. But off you pop on a colourful 2D action adventure anyway.
I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but also what else am I supposed to judge a book on when I'm standing in the shop deciding which one to buy? And if the cover says 'Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion' on it, obviously any sane person would be immediately drawn to it. But the tax evasion is only the inciting incident that sets Turnip Boy on a surprising, engaging, and extremely funny journey. The style and the content are pleasingly misaligned; the sweet cartoon art and bright colours giggle and say "wholesome" but the tone of the missions and story scream, "I spend a lot of time online and I hate it".
While I acknowledge that humour is subjective, I also have very strong opinions about it. I find the difference between US stand-up and most other stand-up to be an unscalable wall. If anyone takes to the comments and mentions the name Bill Burr, I swear to God I will permanently ban you from this website. And I am instantly suspicious of anyone or anything that self-describes as funny, because it is usually a strong indicator I will find it the opposite.
I mention this because Turnip Boy does not describe itself as a comedy game, and yet it is possibly the funniest game I have ever played. I can't remember finding a game this funny since Tales From The Borderlands, and I think Turnip Boy is actually much funnier. It's in the bones of the game. Every citizen is a fruit or vegetable, rendered in entertaining style. The travelling biologist is an avocado, for example, with the green bit made to look like it's a backpack the seed is wearing. Turnip Boy has a bouncy little walk and his feet make suckery tappa tappa noises. The first boss you fight is a giant pig king that explodes into bacon when you beat it. In the icebox of a haunted house, you find a gang of mafioso pickles in snazzy hats.
But the writing is obviously where its funny bones come to the fore. It's got an extremely online vibe, but with a sense of self-awareness. I suspect this is a very specific brand of humour, but it was one that I really enjoyed. Early on, for example, a streamer blocks your path and demands a sub from you - so you have to go and buy a sandwich. One of the first side quests you can encounter is to retrieve rent from a tenant, but the only action available at that point is to kill him. The other tenant expresses some dismay, until you hand the cash over. And Turnip Boy will gleefully tear up not just his own tax documents, but literally any piece of paper that is handed to him. This is exploited to great effect.
Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion makes fun of all kinds of pop culture tropes (like zombie movies, and video game quest structures), but not so specifically or consistently that you need to have watched every Marvel film, say, or played every Resident Evil game, so you can just sit back and enjoy everything. This extends to the puzzles, too, which are mostly little tic-tacs of logic to freshen up exploring an area. Turnip Boy amasses various tools: a watering can to grow bomb plants or portal flowers, boots to kick the bombs in a cardinal direction, gloves to push big watermelon cubes. Using these in concert - say, growing a watermelon block to push into a hole in the floor, so you can roll a bomb plant over it - will let you explode or open barriers to new rooms in a dungeon.
The dungeons are kind of self-contained mini-dungeons within a larger area around Turnip Boy's village. The haunted house, for example, is a shack near a carrot farm. Getting into a dungeon requires the completion of one or two other tasks (e.g. finding a baby carrot who's been put in a bin, and exchanging it for a stool so you can climb up onto the porch). Once you're inside a dungeon, there are more rooms and puzzles to navigate, as well as other food-based enemies, like a donut that shoots sprinkles, and a big boss fight that uses the skills you've learned so far. Very much like top-dow, Turnip-themed Zelda, in other words.
The boss fights can be a big step up in difficulty from the rest of the game, mostly because the combat is a bit inelegant. The game does have weapon quickswapping, but needing to switch between your sword and your watering can for basically every boss fight, and interact with special items in the arena, becomes stilted. The speed of your movement and actions doesn't quite build up enough flow with the big telegraphed boss attacks, so you never establish any kind of rhythm. The fights feel off, and can be wildly difficult as a result. It's frustrating, especially because the bosses are often really fun concepts, as in the giant mutant stag, which I was stuck on for approximately my entire life.
You can tell that someone has thought about how the combat system fits into the game as a whole, though, because Turnip Boy's dodge is actually him tripping and falling over. It's funny! The animation is great! But he also gets up about half a second too slowly, and I ended up barely ever using it. It's perhaps a case where practicality was sacrificed for the greater joke.
Despite that, though, I would still heartily recommend Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion. It's weird and funny - at times actually laugh-out-loud funny - the music is an absolute bop, and as you progress you uncover how walking turnips and onions came to be. And every single thing in this game would make a really great plushie toy. But I can also see some people getting so annoyed by a boss fight that they never go back to the game, and then they'd never see some of the most fun bits. And that's a real shame.