Version tested: Wii
I've just been bollocked by a carrot. In almost three decades of gaming, I think it's safe to say that this represents something of a first.
A little context: I've recently taken up the position of barber in a town apparently populated entirely by sentient vegetables. Being new to this rather specialist field, I foolishly made the mistake of booking an appointment for Reg Wedge on the same day that review code for Batman: Arkham Asylum arrived. When I took a break from Gotham's seedy underbelly and returned to my role as a cartoon legume stylist the next morning there was a snotty missive waiting on my Wii message board.
You didn't turn up yesterday, dude. I can't waste time waiting around for you like that; I've got places to go, canyons to leap!
That Bonsai Barber goes to these lengths to extend its surreal pleasures outside of actual gameplay speaks highly of the volume of ideas and gags crammed into its deceptively simple shell. That Reg's disgruntled complaint had no immediate impact on the game is sadly indicative of its rather vague structure.
Making use of the Wii's internal clock to dictate your sartorial routine, Bonsai Barber offers up five customers per day. Each will have specific demands to be met. For your first few days it's simply a case of mastering the new hairstyles added to your scrapbook, and getting used to the various tools at your disposal. The more days you play, the more complex the tasks you need to perform and the more daft flourishes and random events you discover.
Having selected your customer, they appear on screen with their bushy green leaves swaying gently above their beaming face. The outline of the desired style is superimposed over the top, and you use the remote to trim the foliage to suit. Scissors are great for rapid pruning, but cut branches too low down and you'll lose huge chunks from the top. A spray bottle grows them back again, should you need to start over.
You also get a comb, which can be used to drag twigs into the perfect trimming position, and a pair of clippers, which can remove leaves without cutting the branches - essential for some of the more fanciful styles you're asked to provide later in the game. Finally, there are some pots of paint, just in case someone wants a change of colour, and a camera for capturing your masterpieces.
Your work is judged on a moment-by-moment basis, with a star rating at the top fluctuating between zero and five stars depending on how the style is progressing. Once you're happy, you can strike a gong to tell the customer you've finished. Satisfied customers may leave you a gift, and there are loads of additional medals to be earned by meeting certain requirements or taking photographs of the right things.
It's a right laugh, to begin with. It's as the game progresses that tensions between its digital toy nature and the challenge-driven implementation start to show some strain. Despite requiring no small amount of skill and a supernaturally steady hand as the days progress, there's no real shape to the gameplay. Reg Wedge may have sent me an angry message for standing him up, but he was back again the next day with a smile on his face. There's no limit to how long you need to take to finish off a hairstyle, and no apparent punishment for hitting the gong on a mediocre three-star cut. The only impetus to keep striving for five stars is your own pride, but when the game doesn't seem to care, why should you?