Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Barnyard has male cows that squirt milk. It's actually a big part of the game, and you'll see them do it a ton. Now that this odd tidbit of info is out in the open, we're comfortable continuing. With the current release of Barnyard in theatres, it was no surprise that THQ brought the milk-squirting mayhem of the big screen to home consoles all across the globe. After all, if you're going to confuse kids into thinking male cows have utters (we're going to stay away from this one), you might as well do it on a grandioso scale, right? In fact, Barnyard does just that, delivering the same off-the-wall comedy that keeps the little ADD rascals entertained, and while the presentation, gameplay, story, and replay value is taken directly from the GameCube version for Wii, it's still one of the more decent Wii-makes out there for launch. The game isn't perfect, but anyone that happens to find Barnyard invading their Wii should at least find some rewarding moments to be had, but you'll need to put your GameCube goggles back on, as the Wii version adds very little above and beyond what we saw last summer.
In a bold move, THQ has emulated a surprisingly deep design formula in creating Barnyard. Incorporating a "go anywhere, do anything" atmosphere, Barnyard feels astonishingly close to a miniature version of (dare we say it?) Grand Theft Auto, as long as gangs were substituted out for pigs and cows, toting milk-squirting utters instead of uzis and shotguns, though it is on a much smaller scale. In fact, despite the ever-apparent licensed feel, the game actually manages to squeeze in some strong elements from titles like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing as well. Players take the role of a new male/female cow entering the Barnyard farm, and will have to make friends with the townspeople, take on missions, find their own income, and climb the ranks to become the most popular animal in the land. To keep the adventure from becoming too stale, THQ has included a ton of mini-games and activities, as well as a "design your own barn" aspect to the game which will have players buying furniture, games, and other odd-ball accessories to build their own Barnyard nightclub. In addition to day-to-day fetch quests, the animals compete in events, ride bikes, drive cars, and play pranks on townspeople. Not too bad of a life.
The action is handled in a 3rd person perspective, as players can roam the farm collecting items, talking to other animals, or participating in missions. Though the area starts out quite small, other sections of the farm are opened up as the game progresses, with the full map taking 30+ minutes to walk the perimeter of. Luckily for us, barnyard animals can use bikes as well, and within the opening minutes of the game players will be able to take to the trails on a BMX bike rather than hoofing from place to place. The included game map is also very reminiscent of previous open-environment designs as well, showing anyone who has a mission to give out, any major town hot-spots (such as stores and events), and all save points. When selecting a mission, the map will automatically update with waypoints for the player to follow, making sure that Barnyard is easily accessible for any age and play level. In-game control is fairly intuitive, though there are a few oddities (such as some bike control issues and a lack of player stamina for running) that bog down the gameplay a bit. Even still, the overall progression from mission to mission is seamless and simple, and the overall presentation is actually pretty strong.
In fact, even though we normally shy away from "all-in-one" games that attempt to give players a taste of everything, bombarding gamers with rushed mini-games and "extras", Barnyard actually does a solid job on most of the bonus content. As the game progresses, players will have the chance to unlock a ton of different mini-game events. These events range from a chicken flying game to a racing challenge, gopher golf, billiards, darts, and whack-a-mole. In the end there are more than 20 events to check out (including both mini-games and in-game events), each with their own high score boards. A few of the games, such as the pool and driving mini-games, are a bit too stripped down, though many of the challenges simply utilize a simple gameplay hook (such as a timing-based dart game) to deliver simple entertainment. Mix those events in with the basic missions, having players gather food for cooking, ingredients for mock-tail drinks, or simply gathering items around the town to sell, and you've got a game that doesn't necessarily play as tight as we'd like, but still delivers a ton of depth and variety.
And when it comes to capturing the feel of Barnyard, the adventure doesn't do too bad of a job overall. Character models are a bit too low-poly now that we're moving into the next generation of gaming (and the standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio is wearing thin, though 480p was included for Wii), but the animations are still pretty snappy. While the visual presentation definitely holds its own, the sound design could have used a little work. A bit more range would have been nice for the audio presentation, as the main song (comprised of banjo and whistling) plays over and over until the player enters a mission. If we never have to hear that freaking banjo again it'll still be far too soon.
To add to the "almost there" feeling the sound design gives off, the movie's cast recorded a few key phrases for each of their characters. Although this is a nice addition (one that licensed games don't always have the benefit of getting
), the amount of audio for each character is far too limited. On systems like DS and PSP, it's common to hear a player give a catch-phrase followed by simple text. In a game like Barnyard, however, that relies specifically on missions, story lines and objective-based gameplay, the lack of fully-recorded conversations is definitely missed. Reading is an absolute prerequisite to Barnyard, which alienates younger gamers from getting in on the action.
Bringing it to Wii
As one of the last licensed GameCube titles to hit the system we were dead sure that we'd be seeing Barnyard make the jump to Wii in an attempt to get a piece of the initial action. Though the game isn't as solid as the GameCube version, mixing in some very "take it or leave it" motion control, it still has a decent feel in general, and is one of the better double-dip games on the system. Not every chunk of motion control works, but we can tell THQ made in effort in providing at least a bit of movement into every area of the game, and for the most part it's a decent attempt. In the main game - which makes the best use of the Wii-mote in Barnyard - players will control their cow with the analog stick, leaving the on-screen pointer to be used as a cursor for milk squirting and camera movement, as well as context sensitive actions such as breaking barrels and picking up items. There isn't anything truly revolutionary happening, but it works just fine.
Where the game does feel a bit on the weak side - and sometimes downright broken - is the mini-games, which will have players taking part in various events using the Wii-mote as the primary input. For areas such as Joy Ride, Sharp Squirter, and Mud Jumpers the controls work fine. In events such as Darts, Gopher Golf, and Barnyard Pool, however, it's an entirely different story. In the classic game of darts players will hold the Wii-mote out in front of them, position a cursor on screen, and then shove forward to simulate a throw. Unfortunately the Wii-mote can glitch out and become ultra sensitive at times, making it so that virtually any movement of the Wii remote at all will be interpreted as a throw. Along those same lines, Barnyard Pool attempts to use depth with the Wii-mote for judging a pool shot (just like in Wii Play), although the ability to change your power based on movement is a total crapshoot, as the power bar jumps and slides with little to no direct user control. Other events, such as the Chicken Launch, Tease the Mailman and the Milk Bar work just fine, though the Wii-mote adds very little to the experience at all, with elements such as flight control and poses still done with the analog stick and buttons.
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