If you saw Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night sitting on a store shelf, you'd probably assume it was kid-oriented shovelware, what with its faux-cheeky title and uber-cute cartoony box art. You'd be wrong, though. This side-scrolling action game isn't all that great, but it's a passable throwback to the 8- and 16-bit eras, when Mega Man and the Belmont family headed the baddie-shooting brigade. And despite its brightly-colored, family-friendly exterior, Barnyard Blast is meant for nostalgic, quick-thumbed old-timers ready to embrace its fiendish difficulty and clever video game references. Nevertheless, it's more likely to inspire you to dust off your older consoles and take Ghosts 'n Goblins for a spin than it is to keep you entertained on its own terms.
Barnyard Blast certainly has a sense of humor about itself. Vividly drawn 2D scenes introduce you to Cliffy Belmart, a nosy young pig with a penchant for mischief. Cliffy goes and toilet papers the local haunted mansion, much to the chagrin of its unamused residents. It's up to his porcine pappy, the Rubenesque Robert, to save him from the clutches of the restless wraiths within. Each of the six levels is preceded by a humorous scene, and they are packed with sly winks to video game culture, horror films, and even the silly conventions at the core of its own premise. A few jokes don't work as well as others, but overall, the corny and kooky tone works to the game's benefit.
The humor may be as fresh as a daisy, but the gameplay is as musty as a tombstone. It's based on honorable side-scrolling conventions at least: As Robert, you travel from left to right across a variety of ghostly, purposely cliched environments while navigating platforms, avoiding traps, and shooting any dastardly demon that dares poison your path. You've got only four weapons at your disposal: a pistol with unlimited ammo, a shotgun, a whip, and dynamite. To help you along the way, you gather yellow and blue dots, which are used to earn more lives and charge your accumulated power-ups.
It's all very simple and old-fashioned, but Barnyard Blast lacks the vitality and tight design of its inspirations. Robert is a plodding, portly hero who isn't always a joy to control. He crouches slowly and is not a very agile jumper, aspects that may feel authentically piggish but aren't assets in light of the game's often brutal difficulty. Sometimes, the challenge comes from cleverly placed traps and enemies. Just as often, it's due to inescapable foes that spawn directly underneath you, inconsistent platform placement, and insanely hard bosses without discernible patterns. When it nails the formula, Barnyard Blast is a fun challenge, but even genre veterans with finely tuned thumb-eye coordination will curse the frequent unfair cheapness. The game gets the template right, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
The levels are colorful and look nice, even if they hardly showcase the graphical abilities of the DS. The sound and music are both appropriately amusing and entirely forgettable. If you're a fan of old-time side-scrolling adventures, or pigs with whips, you could do worse than this. Nevertheless, there are 15-year-old games that have already perfected this recipe, and the addition of Barnyard Blast's brand of bacon doesn't enhance its taste.