A couple of friends and I were discussing animated films the other day. In the last five years or so we could only think of two animated films that weren't about talking animals in any way shape or form, and the only two we could think of (Monster House and Cars) featured anthromorphic representations of other non-human characters (cars and a house, surprisingly). Barnyard is the licensed game of the latest movie about animated animals, designed to appeal to the movie's young audience. However, like every other such game, it gets dull very quickly due to an overall lack of polish and lazy design.
At the beginning the game does show some promise, mainly because unlike most other licensed titles, Barnyard doesn't follow the plot of the movie. After the introductory cinematic where characters of the movie watch as a new cow is delivered to the farm, players take control of this cow. The first thing you're allowed to do is pick the gender, colour and name of your bovine avatar, after which you'll be allowed to run free through the barnyard. While the options for colour are limited, it's nice for the developers to allow some form of customisation.
The main crux of the game is its sandbox environment, as after completing a few minor beginner missions, players are free to wander around the initial farm, plus other areas later on. All these areas have some room for exploration, mainly to accommodate the missions the other residents of the Barnyard world want to dole out to the newcomer. Most of which either take the form of locating specific items around the environment, performing athletic feats, or partaking in one of the many mini-games available.
The mini-games and missions themselves are enjoyable enough, and have some great humour to them. One type of mission involves donning a pair of sunglasses while squirting milk at residents of the Barnyard world, with the first six notes of George Thoroughgood's "Bad to the Bone" playing in the background. And this section does provide some accidental humour as well. You can select to play as a male cow at the beginning of the game, which don't actually exist. A male cow, for those who skipped biology, is a bull. Bulls, as a general rule (well, law of nature really) do not have udders. So when my male cow was running about the barnyard squirting a white liquid at people I couldn't help but smirk madly.
Other levels involve such antics as helping the perilous Peck, a chicken with a death wish, achieving flight by launching him off a catapult and then guiding him through a series of oncoming obstacles. Others, like Gopher Golf and Whack-A-Gopher, are pretty straightforward, but then again, probably ideal for the target audience. While certain games can get repetitive there's quite a large variety in the missions that can be played, so plenty for the fans of the film who it's aimed at. They'll also get a kick out of the game's cel-shaded graphics which capture the look and feel of the film very well.
While the graphics certainly capture the feel of the film they do look rather lazy, with repeated character models being the biggest offender. The game's audio design could certainly do with an upgrade as well. The music very rarely changes from a string of banjo plucking, and when it does, as in the case of the milk-squirting missions, you simply get a short string of notes repeated over and over. Voice work is also disappointing, with many of the lines of dialogue in the game simply being placed on the screen to be read. A few more spoken lines would have been great, especially as the game is aimed squarely at kids.
As ever with movie licensed games, and in particular movies for kids, there's little to get excited about in Barnyard. It's just about good enough to entertain kids who must see more of the characters from the movie, but everyone else should stay well clear.