It's only when you've been playing for a week or so, in real time, that you start to see new rewards for your dedication, but even then the criteria for success feels vague. You're never entirely sure what you need to do, but you keep doing stuff and things happen so you must be doing something right. Such laissez-faire structure can be liberating, but it can also lead to the feeling that there's not really much point. With nothing at stake and no firm idea of where it's all leading, it's easy to drift away from the game, especially given its strict "five customers a day" rationing.
Balanced against this is the simple fact that it's an enormously charming game. Created by former Rare man Martin Hollis (he of GoldenEye fame) there's a clear lineage back to the sort of seriously silly ideas that populated Banjo-Kazooie and it shares a sense of humorous whimsy with Viva Pinata. Wielding the remote like a pair of scissors is a surprisingly tactile experience, calling to mind some of Trauma Center's more ingenious moments, and there's a distinct and immediate pleasure in snipping away and seeing a creation take shape. On a purely instinctive level, it's a game you want to play.
Precision work can feel frustrating though. As the designs become more complex your tools begin to feel rather crude, and you'll be crying out for the option to zoom right in and perfect those lines as scissors and clippers struggle to render the increasingly intricate curves required. Given that the game has an uneven approach to scoring, it doesn't take long to realise that perfectionism isn't always essential.
Sometimes you'll easily get a top rating for a cut that is clearly a little rough around the edges, other times you'll produce what appears to be a near-perfect style, yet the gap between four and five stars remains an impassable barrier for no apparent reason. Is it that some customers are tougher to please? Or that some designs are judged more severely? The game is too busy pulling funny faces to explain its rather arbitrary criteria for success, and so you'll often settle for four stars, knowing that it doesn't really matter.
A game like Noby Noby Boy can get away with this sort of amorphous structure and hazy goals, purely because it's so far removed from the typical effort/reward mechanisms of traditional gaming. Bonsai Barber tries to have it both ways, setting you a strictly defined series of tasks but then not taking much interest in how well you perform them. After a week of daily play, the initial appeal has begun to wear off and you're left with a game that can be very demanding, yet offers very little in the way of tangible reward.
And that's Bonsai Barber's genius and folly in a neat hairy nutshell. An easy game to admire, the concept is appealingly daft and the implementation rich in wit and charm. It's just too laidback for its own good; an approach that pays dividends in those first joyful days but proves less successful in the long term as the rising difficulty curve chafes uncomfortably against the whimsical lack of direction. It's almost worth checking out just for the bizarre invention on display, but at the top end of the WiiWare price range it's hard to make that an emphatic recommendation.
6 / 10