Barnyard Hands-On

We check out the Wii version of THQ's farmyard romp based on the upcoming Nickelodeon CG film.



Barnyard is the recently released current-gen game based on the upcoming Nickelodeon CG flick of the same name. The film and game both revolve around the secret life of barnyard animals that are hardly what they seem when people aren't looking. The forthcoming Wii version will take the content from the released game and marry it to console's controller, offering a unique experience. We had the chance to try out a work-in-progress version at THQ's New York media event to see what happens when Nintendo's upcoming console meets a pack of brazen farm animals.

Barnyard exposes the secret life of farm animals.
Barnyard exposes the secret life of farm animals.

Barnyard will feature two distinct types of gameplay, an open-ended third-person action game that will have you exploring the world of the barnyard in the context of the story, and a collection of minigames. The exploration component is a "grand theft cow" expansion on the story that has you going around the farm and the surrounding area while interacting with the colorful cast of characters who'll send you on various missions. Over the course of that adventure, and in a separate mode in the game, you'll engage in a host of silly minigames inspired by events in the film. The demo on display showed off several of those minigames, which included playing darts, taunting a milkman, attacking small children with tomatoes (always a plus!), and knocking around a pipe. Each of the games requires you to hold the controller in slightly different ways, much like Nintendo's own Warioware Smooth Moves.

Barnyard's use of the controller covers a lot of the same territory we've seen before, and it works reasonably well from what we tried. The third-person action bits take some getting used to, as they require the use of the Wii remote and its analog attachment. Given how ingrained third-person adventuring has become on conventional controllers for us, the Wii game's slightly different approach forced us to do some adjusting. We moved head bovine Otis around with the analog stick and made him jump by flicking the analog peripheral or tapping one of its shoulder buttons. Action was tied to the A button in a variety of ways. Besides the traditional approach of hitting the button when you want to interact with certain items in the world, you could use it in conjunction with waving the wand to break crates, to interact with certain objects, and to select choices when using the pointing feature in certain menus. The B button helped adjust the free camera when needed, and the 1 button let you access Otis' inventory, which is key to helping your mission-givers with their requests.

The minigames required a slightly simpler use of the controller by sticking to basic actions, though the mailman-taunting required us to multitask while making moves behind an unsuspecting postman. You'll need to hold the button down to act out the necessary motions for various moves and poses. If you're about to be discovered, the B button will let you hit the deck on all fours and appear to be a nondescript cow engaged in Zen-like cud chewing. One thing to note about all of the above is that THQ is still trying to refine the control mechanics, so the control scheme in the demo we tried may change before Barnyard ships. What we played felt pretty good overall, although the minigames had a comfier feel than the action bits, which we hope will be smoothed out. The game currently doesn't offer any functionality to the Wii remote's built-in speaker.

Prepare for next-generation cow tipping.
Prepare for next-generation cow tipping.

The visuals in the game have been buffed up from the current-gen versions. You'll see improved detail and fluid performance, but there's nothing mind-boggling on display, which suits the feel of the game. The audio will also adhere to the same modest tone and will stick close to that of its current-gen predecessors.

Based on what we played, Barnyard is looking like a basic Wii conversion that has some bells and whistles centered around the system's controller. The variety of gameplay works well with the versatile controller. We'd obviously like to have seen some multiplayer action, especially in the various minigames that were included, but we reckon that development constraints didn't allow that to be. The interactive twist afforded by the Wii controller should add to the game's appeal with kids. Barnyard is slated to ship this fall for the Wii.

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