E3 '07: Build-a-Bear Impressions

We took a look at Game Factory's strangely addictive new game for the Nintendo DS at their Santa Monica offices.

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First off, we know what you're thinking. A Nintendo DS game based on a chain of American stores where you build your own teddy bear--sounds terrible, right? Well, we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw at Game Factory's Santa Monica offices, as the Nintendogs-like game expands on the gifting concept of the chain while making some excellent use of the touch-screen interface.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

At the beginning of the game you can choose from the same sorts of toys that are available in the store. You go through the procedure of choosing its skin, stuffing it up and then stitching its back, all via the touch-screen interface. Obviously, our first inclination was to overstuff the toy to explosion, but this being a kid-friendly title, it won't let you do that. You can also de-fluff it using a steam machine, and then blow it clean by blowing into the DS microphone. With our teddy bear stuffed to full cuddly capacity and completely fluff-free, we took it to its very own condominium to start its new home.

Build-a-Bear has definitely been designed to maximise use of the DS touch-screen interface. As you take your bear into its new home, you have to paint the walls by making brushstrokes across the outside. The next step is to dress it up using a selection of clothes and accessories, and you can of course collect further items as you progress through the game. You can also gift items to other owners of the game using a wireless connection, as well as send them one of ten photos that can be saved on the cartridge. In fact, the photo studio is one of the best features of the game. Your bear is quite the model, happily pulling off a variety of poses such as handstands and backflips while wearing any clothes that you like.

The main aim of the game is to keep your bear happy, and you do this by keeping it fed and generally playing with it. We got to see a couple of the games that will be on offer, from the Cooking Mama-esque culinary exercise to some sports games. The Game Factory representative showed us how to make an apple pie by mixing the ingredients and chopping up the apples, and after a short cooking period we fed our bear using the touch screen. This particular game will also form the basis for one of Build-a-Bear's four wireless minigames, along with a Dancing Stage-style competition where you have to draw shapes in time to the beat, and even a game based on musical chairs.

It's not all fun and games though, as your bear needs to be looked after in order to stay healthy. You have to take care of chores such as brushing your teeth by playing a game where you draw shapes onscreen, and if you mess up just one shape you have to start over again. You also have to tidy your bear's room by putting toys into boxes, and as you struggle to make everything fit together, the game increases the difficulty by dimming the lights down.

Build-a-Bear is currently in beta stage, but it looked fairly complete at this stage ahead of its October release in the US. As the store chain is an American concept, there's unfortunately no release planned for Europe outside of Denmark. The game looks like it will appeal to fans of the Build-a-Bear concept, and hopefully it will offer something for fans of Nintendogs and Animal Crossing as well.

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