I've had to say this more times than I would've ever imagined just a few years ago: Boy cows are called "bulls." They do not have udders. This is something the Back at the Barnyard series on Nickelodeon has sadly refused to educate children about, and it continues to perpetuate the myth of the male udder in Back at the Barnyard: Slop Bucket Games on Nintendo's DS.
In this mini-game compilation, you choose from a pallet of six cows, three male (uuuuugh) and three female, to provide the player some level of customization. After this, though, it's all about the games. In order to actually play them, you have to point your blundering bovine-based avatar around a tiny farmyard map to collect a few items. These items are all readily marked on the map on the top screen, as are the locations of the TV show's main characters, who serve as the keepers of the games. There are 10 games in all, spread out over a three-day event so that you have to play three or four the first day, seven by the second day, and all 10 by the third day, and once you've bested all the barnyard has to offer, you're deemed barnyard champion and given free license to play the mini-games to your heart's content.
For the most part, the games are pretty solid. Many, such as "Balloon Shepherd," are simple knock-offs of Flash games readily available online, but almost all of them are competent, distracting, and very, very accessible. Pro tip: Accessible means easy.
Balloon Shepherd puts the main character in a small balloon, lifted with a held A button and controlled with left and right directional inputs. The only goal is to rescue as many sheep as possible in the time limit, while staying in the air. The more sheep you drop off at one time, the more points you get, but there is a capacity limit, and the balloon becomes heavier with more sheep. It sounds a little complex, but the goal scores are incredibly pathetic, and the control of the balloon very forgiving.
Other games, such as Cowapult, put the DS' unique capabilities to better use. In it, you launch your avatar from a slingshot by pulling back on his icon, angling the shot, and then releasing. From there, you can control his tilt as he flies forward and slowly plummets back to earth, trying to keep him afloat with trampolines, balloons and simple denial of the laws of physics. The controls and properties of the game make almost no sense, but it's nevertheless the most fun distraction out of all the mini-games, making for almost 15 whole minutes of simple-minded distraction all by itself.
The other slingshot game, Chicken Launch, does not fare so well. Its slingshot mechanic is similar, but it's presented very differently, as a sort of target shoot featuring an infinite number of chickens and one very annoying obstacle. The chicken veers on a curve after it's launched, unpredictably throwing off aim in the three dimensional field of moving targets, making it both frustrating and unlovable.
Whack-a-Rac, on the other hand, is simple and tried enough to be manageable. It's a simple reflex game featuring a large grid of holes for ferrets, raccoons and chicks to pop out of. You "rac" up points by hitting the pests while avoiding the innocents, just like a firing range but without the mess. It's as simple as the other game's childish driving scenarios, Shufflemuck and Melon Race. Each game features a traditionally controlled vehicle using the A button to accelerate and B to brake, and each one poses little threat or challenge. In one, you have to collect flags in an arena, and in the other, you just have to keep melons from falling from the back of a truck as you race across a bumpy track.
That just leaves the sloppy and visually boring 2-D affairs like Sorting Chicks, Flag Defender and Stickbike Stunts. They're all knocked-off Flash games not even worth a look, featuring boring gameplay, useless interface and poor controls, as well as completely bland looks. In Stickbike Stunts, most of the stunts don't even register properly, which is half the point of the game. There's no explanation or logical reason for this, it just … doesn't like to register flips very much.
The sounds are bland, but nothing terrible. They're the porridge of the ear, barely intruding and keeping you going, even if they don't satisfy you. The voices barely ever pop up, and the music is enough to convince you to keep the volume unmuted, even if you'll never ever find yourself humming along. It's probably the most polished feature of the game, next to the surprisingly cool 3-D renderings of the characters. They're faithful to the show almost precisely, rendering with chunky textures the simplistic good looks of the cartoon show.
Still, some presentational polish isn't enough to save this, ahem, "sloppy" game. The games are nothing spectacular, mostly just imitating successful (and free) games that have been around longer than the TV show. The one fun game doesn't make a lick of real sense, and even that can't really draw in anyone for more than a few minutes at a time. Even with a reduced price, Back at the Barnyard: Slop Bucket Games isn't worth picking up out of the bucket.
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