Reviewed: February 4, 2007
Released: November 19, 2006
Last fall, Nickelodeon released a game tie-in to accompany their CGI film, Barnyard. The game was released on the last-gen consoles, and received a fair amount of praise for its pseudo-sandbox styling, and innovative gameplay. Almost a half a year later, and Nickelodeon is trying once again to cash in on the very same cow, with a near-identical port of the original that as been tailored to utilize the Wii’s unique control system – with less than stellar results.
First off – a warning: Barnyard starts off drearily slow with a long, drawn-out series of training missions that seem to take forever, with very little reward. And without some kind of hint that a bunch of fun stuff was in store, most veteran gamers will lose interest long before the gameplay really begins to develop. And really, just like the original release, Barnyard does a lot of things right – a real surprise for a licensed tie-in to a less-than-stellar movie.
The game starts with the gamer taking on the role of a new cow delivered to a farm stocked with mischievous and fun-loving animals who absolutely adore their farmer (a vegetarian, no less), but like to get a bit, err…hog-wild while he’s away.
The character development system allows the gamer to choose gender and breed (basically, color) of their cow with whom they will navigate Barnyard, completing the various in-game missions and mini-games in an attempt to raise rank and become the top cow on the farm.
Barnyard’s missions range from the expected item collection and driving missions, to a number of very unexpected; bar room style darts and pool, and even golf and the aforementioned Whack-A-Mole. All-in-all, Barnyard features nearly two-dozen mini-games – each of which sports its own solid design and unique gameplay.
There are also missions where the chosen character is tasked with fending off attacks from roving coyotes and raccoons – the primary weapon being, err…milk, squirting out from his or her udders. Yes, I said “his” udders – you know, even if you choose a bull, of course.
(Note to city kids: Bulls do not have udders in real life)
None of the missions are too hard that an average gamer can’t master them on the first or second try – which makes the game a great choice for families that like to game together.
Now the first time we played Barnyard last fall, my kids and I had a great time passing the PS2 controller around. But the new control scheme – revamped completely with the Wii’s unique motion-sensing controller in mind – the fun was nowhere near as great as I had hoped it would be. In fact, more often than not it was downright dreadful.
The main issue is that the game seems very unresponsive to the required controller motions – and yes, I checked the Wii remote’s batteries and the sensor bar position, and all were in good standing.
Navigating the farm is awkward, with the nunchuk controlling movement, and the Wii pointer controlling the viewpoint functions. While this seemingly intuitive layout should have worked perfectly, in all reality it was incredibly frustrating; making movement very abrupt, and nearly eliminating any chance to complete simple motions like turning around, or targeting.
Even simple actions like kicking boxes, which is performed by swinging the controller in a deliberate downward fashion, become frustrating after the fourth failed attempt. Jumping, which is performed by jerking up on the nunchuk controller, might be a tad easier to perform, but is difficult to actually put to any good use in the game. And as for the wild flailing required to churn the various milk containers into useful cream or butter – you might as well sign yourself up for a repetitive motion injury.
Really as far as controls go, the game just seemed to work better with the older-style controllers.
Still, as with last year’s release, Barnyard does a stand-up job emulating the open-world sandbox style play made popular by the Grand Theft Auto series. The farm (including the surrounding land and later a second farm) is pretty much open for free roaming exploration, and certain animals hanging about dole out the missions to the player. Thankfully, the game flags (on screen and on the map) which characters are waiting with mission objectives, alleviating much of the needless confusion and roaming about.
Barnyard’s visuals have taken quite a leap from its initial release on the last-gen platforms last fall. That’s not saying a whole lot, since most reviewers (myself included) felt the original releases’ visuals were all too dated – but the Wii’s version does seem to have a bit more polish, especially with component cables and on a good widescreen TV. Still, if this review were on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, we would have much higher expectations and been much more disappointed with the results.
All of the unique details put in the original – the polygonal trees and shrubs that sway and rustle in the wind or when brushed against, and the animals that kick up dust when strolling along – have translated well to the Wii.
Barnyard really drops the ball in terms of sound quality, with a repetitive background soundtrack and some of the lamest half-baked voiceovers ever put (or not put?) in a game. Last fall, we made mention of some of the strange things that the developers did with the sound – like having voiceovers for only the first sentence or two of a conversation, and then switching over to onscreen text for the remainder – and it is apparent the developers were not willing to fix these strange anomalies.
To their defense, the environmental sound effects, like the chirping of birds, or the creaking of the barn floors – all seem quite authentic. But the rest of the sound is about as lame as can be.
Barnyard still packs the same amount of gameplay as the original release from last fall. The real problem, is that the Wii version is being sold as a full-price game ($50), which is nearly double what the original releases debuted at, and probably five times more than you could pick one of those right up for right now. Given the poor utilization of the Wii controller, that means that the gamer will be paying more, but getting a lesser gameplay experience. That is not cool at all.
Barnyard was a surprisingly solid release in the fall of 2006, but this Wii version tries too hard to incorporate the unique Wii controls, and it all ends up falling flat.