Barnyard is a somewhat bizarre conconction, combining a selection of distinct child-friendly mini-games with a touch of Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox gameplay. The essential idea behind the game is to defend the farm and its livestock from marauding coyotes and other hostile wildlife, but Barnyard tosses in so many little tasks to do over and above the basic missions that it's more like a 'simulation' of cartoon life on the farm. It's as much about making apple pies, churning milk, playing golf, dancing, racing bikes and wallowing in the mud with the pigs as it is about performing heroic duties.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Yes indeed, it is another in a long line of enhanced GameCube conversions. But much thought has been put into using the Wiimote effectively (and crucially not over-using it), especially in the mini-games. Over and above that, there is a strong sense that the game actually looks a fair bit better than its current gen brethren, with more detail, and a much more solid update thanks in part to its LCD display-friendly 480p graphics option.
The game kicks off with the player defining the appearance of their bovine avatar - gender along with markings and name are chosen - then you're dumped off in the titular Barnyard where the inhabitants do all they can to settle you into the environment and the mission/mini-game structure. Much effort is spent on getting you up to speed with your one offensive weapon - milk squirting. Weirdly, in the Barnyard universe even the males have udders, capable of issuing Peter North-alike levels of creamy ejaculate that are enough to take down anything or anyone intent on disrupting life on the farm. You can even direct the blast using the IR capabilities of the Wiimote.
Then it's simply a case of exploring the Barnyard environs, helping out the inhabitants with their myriad problems (usually to do with finding lost items), engaging with them in their mini-game based pursuits and then taking on missions that sees the game open up its map, giving you more territory to explore, and yet more tasks and mini-games to undertake. Missions are tied to helping out a particular animal on the farm and it's here that your character's mobile phone is put to use - you can explore all you like, safe in the knowledge that a quick glance at your mobile and the in-game map puts you back on the right track should you stray too far.
It's difficult to put your finger on what is actually appealing about this game. One thing's for sure - it is spectacularly easy. Indeed, the hardest thing about it is navigating the sub-menus with the Wiimote (an unnecessarily complex gestures system is employed here). Perhaps it's because the game crams in so much variety that the interest level is sustained - always a bonus with a game primarily aimed at a younger audience. The fact that Barnyard does such a good job of replicating the look and feel of the original movie is another major plus point.
Overall, Barnyard is a strangely compelling, if completely non-essential, diversion for adults and definitely a recommended rental for the youngsters. However, I just don't buy into this concept that kids' games need to be stupidly easy and my money is on any games-savvy brat breezing through this game with no problems whatsoever.
The Ant Bully
Yet another CG movie makes the leap from celluloid to silicon, as Warner Bros' The Ant Bully gets licensed for gaming duties by the conversion-smiths at Midway. The plot of both movie and game is fairly straightforward: schoolboy sociopath-in-waiting Lucas gets his kicks by terrorising an innocent ant colony, but one day he mysteriously finds himself reduced to the size of an ant. Taken in by his erstwhile six-legged victims, it's Lucas's task to become a model citizen in the colony and only then will the secrets of returning to his normal size be revealed.
And so begins what is essentially a platform game by the numbers. Running and jumping gets you around the clichéd environs, and liberal use of a sharp pointy stick is initially enough to subdue the many insect predators that threaten the colony. Gameplay is split fairly evenly between combat and fetching items, returning them to their proper place within the lair of the ants. As gameplay progresses, a number of slightly more interesting developments kick in - Lucas gets hold of better weapons including bombs and silk squirters, and the game opens up a little, allowing you to choose the tasks you want to tackle next. Finding the parts to assemble weapons, locating food, defending behemoth caterpillars - The Ant Bully offers plenty of variety, for sure. Unfortunately, it's only the combat tasks that are truly entertaining, thanks to fairly entertaining use of the Wiimote's motion sensing controls and the implementation of each weapon.
Also of note is how Midway has attempted to completely simplify the controls. Control is achieved via the analogue stick on the nunchuk and you can adjust the game camera by tilting it left and right. Combat moves are essentially gesture or point-based, with the Z button allowing you to lock on to individual foes. An Ocarina of Time style jump system is also employed, whereby Lucas leaps about based on the game reading your intentions - something initially very confusing as jumps are only 'allowed' at key points; points the game makes no attempt to inform you about. Other in-game activities such as climbing are all achieved using the A button, its use changing depending on the context. At least here the game tells you when the button becomes active.
Once again, in terms of audio-visuals and basic gameplay, this is essentially exactly the same as the GameCube version, right down to the horribly interlaced graphics (no 480p here folks - I got a skull-rendingly bad headache playing this on my LCD TV). Indeed, it's so close that there's much to be said for buying the Cube game and running it on the Wii instead, thus saving yourself a few quid. Whilst the Wii controls work out pretty well, in no way are they worth any kind of additional premium over the Cube rendition of the game.
It's a moot point though because the truth is that neither version is particularly worthy of your hard-earned - to the point where even the cash spent on a rental would be best diverted towards your next Virtual Console purchase. The Ant Bully is simply too generic in pretty much every way, a collection of ideas done hundreds of times before in other games, offering nothing new to excite or surprise the player. A wholly unremarkable and totally avoidable game.