Barnyard review
Not a Bad Day at the Farm


Let me guess. You're wondering why the heck IP is playing a game like this when it's so obviously not my style. Same reason I tired Chicken SHoot - it's not my game and so doesn't hurt to give it a whirl. The key difference between this and the aforementioned game? Barnyard doesn't lose its enjoyment value after 5 minutes. It could do better, but hell it actually qualifies as a game.

So let's get straight onto the visuals. As expected from a licensed title the graphics themselves are top quality. The character models have been rendered exceptionally well not only in their basic construction but also the little details and the way they are smoothly animated. It helps to bring a wonderful charm when you have all these animals milling around, and they do have their own idle animations that give them a sense of life... even though most of them appear to be cemented to the spot whenever you see them. The farm and surrounding lands look wonderful too. Dirt paths, farm buildings, ponds, hills, gates and more await and the whole place has been constructed into a very believable play area.

The camera can be a little hit and miss. On foot its fine, especially as you have full control over it. On the bike though the camera frustratingly does not remain fixed behind your cow as you would expect, which makes trying to turn around or performing reversing a bit of a nightmare.

The audio is not as good as I had hoped. The music quality is good and it fits the theme of the farm life quite well. There just isn't much variety. When exploring the farm you have the same song repeating and it can get dull pretty quickly. The same holds true for minigames, especially where it starts sounding all too similar. If the selection matched the quality this would have fared better.

The use of vocals is also odd. Every important character has a few literally spoken lines and these are as great as you would expect but the rest is handled through onscreen text only. For your cow this would be permissible, who you handpick a name and style for, but it's odd not to hear everyone else's complete dialogue. Licensed games are normally good at that kind of thing.

The story here is that you have a new cow arriving at the farm and must do your best to become one of the group. The whole game pretty much revolves around carrying out missions and playing games to accomplish this. There is a more involved story that progresses as you complete missions which is handled nicely enough though at times it's easy to forget a story exists until the serious stuff happens towards the latter half.

Barnyard is pretty much an open world game. Well, open as in there's the farm and surrounding lands to explore but most of it is locked off at first. Playing through the game will earn you keys that open up more areas and thus more missions, and the rate at which this happens is handled well enough. The layout of the areas is great and there's also a map on offer that can quickly be accessed through the Z button that not only clearly shows the area layout but also marks points of interest like where missions are.

There are effectively two goals in the game - become the barnyard champion and the party master. Let's cover the first one. Throughout the game other animals will send you text messages (yes, cows have mobiles) asking for help. If you accept then that given mission/game starts and you have so long to complete it.

First of all, there are the normal missions like fetch quests like gathering materials for a tomato launcher or playing hide and seek with little chicks that simply take place in the normal game world and typically involve finding so many of something or someone. Ultimately these are pretty mundane and ultimately only serve as a means to progress along to unlock other missions/games. Thankfully key items involved (ie ones that can't be collected normally) and locations are always clearly signposted so they're difficult to miss.

Then there are the more involved missions. These range from shooting down cans with milk, racing other cows, tackling troublesome raccoons, playing a round of golf and many more. These are opened up as you play. Additionally some will rank you based on your performance, with the goal being to collect as many unique star rankings as you can. Generally simply clearing these games won't be too difficult aside from a couple of lategame entries (precision golf can prove troublesome even for veteran gamers) but getting those elusive star ranks is certainly a challenge. Perhaps a bit too much for the target audience but gamers wanting some form of challenge will get a kick out of aiming for those stars.

Replayability is a mixed bag. I certainly enjoyed the likes of pool, whack-a-rac and golf enough to want to go back and play them again, which the game generously allows you to do. But this contrasts with some of the other games that, while mostly enjoyable, do not have the same draw. Once I'd finished with games like mud jumpers I left them alone, as I felt no incentive to go back after I'd won the star ranking. There are also a few missions that are indeed downright horrible. The car racing segments suffer from terrible track layouts, poorly programmed computer AI and atrocious controls. The only saving grace for them is that they are not ranked, but just completing them can be a nightmare.

The other goal of the game is the party master, which is introduced to you as part of an earlygame mission. At night the barn is turned into a sort of disco bar, and you're tasked with buying all the furniture and other items for it. Out of your own pocket. This is basically the point of building up the cash. It's certainly nice seeing the barn fill up with everything you're buying and a few purchases open up games to play. It is a bit jarring though to note how few items are really interactable, especially as out of all the game items you can buyable only a few of them can actually be used. Oh well, this does at least provide an incentive to keep building up the cash so good job on that.

When you're not playing games you're free to explore the area, and it certainly is an expansive area with two farms, fields, forests, pond, hill and wasteland. Walking would take ages but thankfully you gain a bike shortly into the game to make moving between areas that much faster, and the interweaving of the routes help bridge the gaps between locations. Scattered around the place are tons of pickups to find as well. Cash itself is found all over the place, but you can also find things like food, flowers and notes, all of which are designed to help either build more money or with missions.

The food is specifically designed for the recipe aspect. Pig will offer to make you items if you have the ingredients for it, which basically translates into receiving money for getting food and drinks made. To do this though you need to first find the recipes hidden all around the place under rocks marked with an X, and some ingredients are in areas that start off locked so the more you play the more you can get cooked. After a few attempts though I found it a bit boring, and other cash gathering methods tend to yield more.

There is also a day/night system and this is tied to a stamina system. As you play around in this open world time will pass and this affects two things. One is that animals are in different places between the day and night portions, meaning that you have to keep the time of day in mind when tackling missions. The other is stamina, which affects how much you can run before your cow slows to a walk. The longer you're awake the lower the maximum stamina will be, which is reset by going to bed. Unlike the other aspect, this one seems decidedly less important.

There are an issue with this whole thing though. For creating an open world, the local residents are awfully ignorant of you. It seems that nobody will talk to you unless they have a mission for you, with some very rare exceptions for characters fulfilling specific information roles. This does put a dent in the atmosphere that is otherwise crafted well. Surely it would not have hurt to throw in some generic phrases for random chitchat?

So yeah. It's still not the kind of game I would go for myself but it's actually quite good. The games are mostly enjoyable and some will drag you back for more. There's a decent lifespan tied to the game and a spread of difficulty. For a licensed game it surprised me with its charm and fun value, but there are still clear problems that should have been avoided that prevent it from being a must have. Still, fans of the original film won't be disappointed as there is genuine entertainment value here.

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