If I never played a game with a ghostly maze forest in it again, I would never miss it. There’s nothing really fun about them. Even the more benign lost woods varieties, that are just straight up mazes, really just waste a lot of my time while I wind through its coils. The worst are the ones that require memorization and sequencing, with the punishment of getting teleported back to the beginning. Some of my favorite games of all time lifted this Legend of Zelda trope and plopped it into the middle of their game to make everyone who plays it feel bad. Vagrant Story’s Snowfly Forest and Legend of Mana’s Jungle are guilty, and those games rule enough that I don’t hold it against them. Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion doesn’t make that list.
Snoozy Kazoo’s love letter to everything Zelda is a pretty painless time right up until you get to its version of the lost woods, The Grim Graveyard. Up to that point, Turnip Boy is a brisk action adventure with extremely little challenge but an impressive amount of interesting environmental puzzles and fun tools to spice traversal and combat up with. Watering certain plants with your watering can item will cause them to sprout things like bombs that you can kick across rooms or watermelons shaped like giant blocks that can be moved to open pathways or block attackers. My favorite – the pocket petalportal – allows you to plant one end of a portal, which can connect to either another of your portal plants or ones that occur naturally in the stage. Most rooms really lean on your ability to actively use what’s at your disposal to dispatch enemies or solve problems.
The Grim Graveyard does very little of this, and instead uses riddles to get you to guess the right path to take to proceed. These were hardly challenging riddles, the toughest being the last one where a patch of talking pumpkins all are telling you a direction and you have to determine who’s telling you the truth. But it’s the least fun I had with what is supposed to be a light-hearted romp. It reminded me of every version of this trope I’ve seen in the past 30 years. The feeling I have every time I see it is the same: this sucks, please let me out.
Am I overreacting? Maybe. I beat this game in a little over an hour, and this particular spot in it took maybe 10 minutes tops. It was a very small portion of an overall good experience. It’s also a good example of a game that is clearly a pastiche of what’s come before it, but could have used this opportunity to evaluate what about those old games is a necessary evil in the design, and what in them could stay on the cutting room floor without the risk of betraying the core concept of the original works.
It could have also done more with the basic concept at play here. In a civilization full of anthropomorphic vegetables, your titular protagonist, Turnip Boy, is being coerced into helping the mayor collect items for some sort of scheme because you owe a lot of back taxes. The title and the introductory dialogue are really the only times this game has anything to do with taxes outside of the occasional veggie based I.R.S. reference. Jokes about regular banal and depressing occurrences under capitalism sprout up everywhere, but Turnip Boy’s enemies get dispatched just as Link dispatches his. Level designs tell a story that gets gradually darker and recontextualizes the citizens of Veggietown in an unsettling way, but even then that’s the game picking up and committing to something better and easier to nail after luring the curious in with such a great title.
For a low price and an hour or so of your time, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion could be worth a romp. It’s bizarre and often funny, but it can’t leave behind the bad parts of the game it so clearly loves, and doesn’t do much to iterate on any of the good parts either. It could have done to Zelda what Shovel Knight did to Genesis Era cartoon side scrollers, but instead, it’s kinda just Zelda.