Developer: Halfbrick Studios
Release Date: August 1, 2006
Ah, the noble fetch quest. Since the beginning of time, warriors destined to defend the kingdom from evil, save the princess, and slay the dragon have toiled away countless hours on finding a ladder for John Randomguy so that he'd let them through the Pass of Mountainous Place and into the Plains of the Next Area. Typically a staple of half-hearted SNES-era RPG design (or downright inspired MMORPG design), the fetch quest is an easy way to take under-leveled characters through an enemy-laden area for no good reason, simply to grab the McGuffin du jour for a random NPC. Said pointless fetching nets the player's party experience, items, and occasionally even respect from the digitized townsfolk. What happens, though, when you take the RPG out of the fetch quest?
Well, the end result would probably be incredibly like the Game Boy Advance rendition of Barnyard.
Barnyard is yet another in a long line of movies starring computer-animated animals that manage to walk and talk. Unlike most CGI animal films, though, this isn't something that happens right in front of humans without us noticing (see: Madagascar or Finding Nemo) or something that happens only in the perception of reality that the animals and the viewers share (such as in Over the Hedge). Instead, Barnyard strikes a balance much like classic The Far Side comics: Cows, chickens, and all those other barnyard fauna really can walk upright and talk and ride bikes, but they're all playing some sort of cruel joke on humans in pretending they don't.`
The plot is largely unimportant, seeing as the movie has little and the game has less. Your disbelief needs to be suspended in a couple of cases before you pop Barnyard into your Game Boy. Examples:
1) Yes, there are such things as male cows. No, they are not bulls. Yes, they are male, but they still have udders. This is okay, somehow.
2) There is some sort of point to you running errands for everyone, other than the ability to play equally pointless worthwhile mini-games.
You start the game as the new cow on the farm, and yes, you can be male, with working udders. Don't break your brain; we've still got more review left. Regardless, you're immediately accosted to start doing odd jobs for the local farm denizens, including gathering apples, gathering a hammer and nails to fix the barn, or playing barnyard bowling.
The local rabble doesn't just walk up to you and start demanding things, though; oh no, that would be rude. Instead, each of the animals will get a speech balloon with an exclamation point over its head when it has a task for you, a representation which immediately brought to mind the much more popular game, World of Warcraft. The only difference is that instead of slaying kobolds, you're left looking for the head cow's guitar.
Technically, there is combat in the game in that you have a health meter, and there are enemies that could conceivably do damage to it in the forms of dastardly raccoons and coyotes. Naturally, you arm yourself with your mighty milk-filled udder, blasting gobs of cream at enemies to subdue them. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. Instead, it comes off as an exercise in "avoid the hazard," since the easily dodged enemies wander around with only the most rudimentary of intelligence; actually hitting anything with milk while not wandering into them is an exercise in frustration.
While the topic of the controls is raised, Barnyard incorporates possibly the most annoying feature shared by many games of this type: the stamina meter. Yes, you can walk at a snail's pace, or you can burn maybe 10 seconds' worth of juice to walk at something that isn't a crawl before running out of stamina and having to wait until the gauge recharges again! You do get a bike later in the game to ride around on in a strangely bipedal fashion, but you'll spend just as much time running into people and fences and trees as you do riding around them.
Graphically, the game looks nice. Each sprite is rendered beautifully, and animations, while not the most detailed in the world, certainly get the job done. Colors are bright and vibrant, as they should be, and they even stand out on a backlight-free original Game Boy Advance. Aurally, however, the game only barely squeaks by. The annoying twang of hideously overblown hillbilly banjo comprises most of the game's soundtrack, and while it is fitting for such a game, it will make all but the most patient gamer scramble for the volume controls.
The true Achilles heel of the game, however, is its playtime. Like many movie-licensed games for portable systems, Barnyard is done in three hours, tops. Sure, there are mini-games all over the place, ranging from a version of "Taunt the Mailman" that seems disgustingly watered-down compared to its console brethren, to a whack-a-mole clone, to a miniature bike racing mini-game that plays almost like the slower kid brother of Super Off-Road. It's all moderately varied, but even then, playing and subsequently mastering each and every one of the mini-games will add maybe another full hour to your play experience, at most.
Barnyard is yet another stone in the mountainous pile of absolutely mediocre movie cash-in ploys. It may be a good choice for a small child enamored with the movie, but if you're looking for this kind of gameplay, you can easily pick up a copy of Animal Crossing or its little brother Animal Crossing: Wild World for roughly the same price. If all you have is a Game Boy Advance, however ... well, many games take the Legend of Zelda roam-about formula, and many do it much better than Barnyard does. There's nothing inherently bad about the game, but there's also very little that is actually good.