It's become standard procedure to combine every movie release with at least one run of console games to arrive with it. In the case of Barnyard, THQ isn't breaking suit, developing a multiplatform console game paired with a GBA treatment set to debut this summer alongside the theatrical release. We recently had a chance to go hands-on with the adventure, and while it follows the common licensed game formula like so many before it, it does it in a slightly different capacity. Barnyard may not be hitting the mainstream crowd, but those looking to pick it up for the younglings may be a bit surprised at the product, as THQ's latest addition to the "movie-game" genre promises a ton of variety and gameplay options.
Barnyard mixes a free-roaming design similar, oddly enough, to Grand Theft Auto (if you sub out the guns and violence and replace it with milk-squirting and slapstick comedy, that is), using the free-form gameplay as a window for tons of fetch quests and mini-games. The story begins with the player picking either a male or female cow, giving it a name, and entering the world of Barnyard as a new animal sent to the farm. Rather than hours of toiling work on the field, however, the members of the yard have free reign over the property.
The first hour of the game is set up as an introduction, allowing players to get to know the characters, learn how to navigate the town, access and manage inventory and execute basic tasks around the village. Even then, however, the entire game is free-roaming, so aside from being locked in general areas around the yard there's no penalty for taking your time or straying from the objectives. As the game continues, more areas are opened up, along with the ability to customize the barn as you see fit (used at night to throw parties), ride around town on a BMX bike or participate in any of the previously beaten mini-games collected from main missions. The entire game works on an "accelerated-time" clock, allowing for different events to occur specifically during the day or night.
While there's no major way to "win" the game, there are three overall objectives that players can shoot for. By completing every mission, players are rewarded with the Barnyard Hero accomplishment. Likewise, if each mini-game can be completed at the highest level the Barnyard Champion title will be awarded. Finally, and possibly the most appealing of the accomplishments, is the Number One Party Animal achievement, which can only be unlocked after fully customizing your barn with all the hottest furniture, games and accessories. The option of buying and selling items at the gopher shop gives the game a bit of an Animal Crossing feel, as customization and player preference actually takes precedent over simply "winning" the game. Since the game is entirely free-form, however, players can pick and chose what paths they want to take.
From the gameplay side of things, Barnyard is still a bit of a mixed bag. It's important to note that the build we played was not the final version of the game, but the issues are still worth mentioning. For starters, the main character control is still a bit messy and unbalanced at times. The stamina bar (which allows the player to run) drains too quickly, and the walk speed is far too slow for the amount of time you'll have to use it. A few of the mini-games still have some odd issues (such as the somewhat glitchy physics in the pool game, for instance) that need to be ironed out as well. We also had the audio drop out on numerous occasions, though that is definitely a bug that will be sorted out by release.
Even despite the current (and temporary) setbacks, Barnyard is showing potential as a solid sandbox title, and a very strong overall licensed product. The sheer amount of depth in the game allows for a ton of play time, and the day/night design gives a nice balance of both missions and recreation.
We'll have more on Barnyard as we near release, including a more in-depth look at the full list of mini-games available around town. Keep checking back at IGN.com for the latest GameCube news.
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