Barnyard «

There’s a good idea behind Barnyard for the GBA, and it actually worked out well on the PS2 and GameCube: As a farm’s bovine newcomer, you complete missions and play mini-games in a free-roaming adventure that might have been called Grand Theft Cow. The problem is that the GBA version is a mere shadow of its lengthy console cohorts. Not only are the mini-games less engaging, but you can finish the entire game in two to three hours. That might be fine with your kids, who will breeze through it in an evening and move on to something else, but it’s a questionable purchase when there are better values on the Game Boy Advance.

You’ll also likely be intrigued and a bit troubled by the issue of male cows with udders, since milk-shooting is a prominent theme in Barnyard. You can avoid the entire business, though, by simply avoiding the roaming raccoons that attack you as you travel around. If you decide to take them on, you can squirt them down, but the aiming is iffy and it’s an optional feature, unlike on consoles, where attacking animals with your boy-udder is unavoidable.

The game’s main structure is as a quest-based RPG, where you move your cow from a top-down perspective and take on missions from the other inhabitants of the farm. Most of them are simple fetch quests that take you through the various areas of the yard and surrounding countryside. While many of these places are fenced off when you start, it doesn’t take long to unlock them, and you’ll have full run of the entire map in an hour or less.

Like the other versions, there are also mini-games to occupy your time, but while on console they were offered as quest rewards and unlocked over time, here they’re immediately available as soon as you can access their locations on the map. Some of them are amusing enough, such as the mini-golf variation or the dart game, which has you steering your living projectile through rings on its way to the bull’s-eye. The bike racing game is also done well, and had it been more fleshed out with more courses or racers, could have added significant replay value. Others are just plain boring, like the whack-a-mole variant, or teasing the mailman, which was good in the other versions but is oversimplified on the GBA and lacks the necessary quirkiness.

In fact, the entire package is too simple and easy. Anyone over the age of eight or nine will whip right through the missions in a few hours and earn enough coin to completely deck out the barn with every available decoration. You’ll also probably establish the high score in every mini-game the first time you play it, leaving little reason to revisit them once you’ve completed the game two or three hours in.

A lot of care went into making Barnyard look and sound good though, which makes the scant gameplay all the more disappointing. The sprite characters and animations are cute and crisp, and the environments are vibrant and appealing. The sound design is equally delightful, thanks to the quaint bluegrass soundtrack, although there’s little in the way of ambient noise.

But a game you can finish in less than three hours is tough to recommend, even when the core idea is sound. Every facet of the core gameplay is plain, making Barnyard for the GBA the most forgettable kind of throwaway entertainment. It’s too bad, because it had the potential to be more than the usual mediocre film tie-in.


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