Barnyard Blast
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-03-18 Nintendo DS Shooter E10 (Everyone 10+) DSI Games / Sanuk Games

With all of the focus today on impressive three-dimensional simulations and frighteningly realistic graphics, it?‚…s a great escape to take a trip back in time to the classic 2D side-scrolling shooters from yesteryear. This experience is made even better when you realize that games made in this classic style are still being produced, and are just as fun now as they were then.

Barnyard Blast, from DSI Games, sets you in the role of Robert Belmart, your average pig down on the farm. That is, if average meant gun-toting and cowboy hat wearing. On a spooky Halloween night, your son Cliffy tries to make a name for himself by tee-peeing the dark and mysterious castle on the outskirts of town. With a nod to Monster House, the castle sucks Cliffy in, and you, as the caring father you are, must save him.

After some seriously funny dialogue, your wife equips you with a whip, pistol, shotgun and some dynamite, and off you go.

Barnyard Blast is split into six fairly long levels. As you can expect, each level is not a simple trek from one end to the other, as you are often faced with dangerous jumps over spikes and bottomless pits, along with facing the challenge of multiple enemy types, ranging from flying bats, to pumpkin men who spit at you. The biggest challenge here however are the multiple screen traps that have you unable to continue until you eliminate all enemies that are coming at you from both directions.

Each level contains multiple bosses, and it is in defeating these bosses that your weapon and jumping skills are really put to the test. Each of your four weapons comes in handy during different circumstances. The pistol, for instance, comes with unlimited ammo and is your all around button mashing weapon of choice. While it lacks in overall firepower its rapid shot capabilities enable you to escape quickly when needed.

The shotgun, then, is the much more powerful version of the pistol. While it does have limited ammo and a limited range, the powerful blast sends multiple enemies flying, making it a great choice when you feel backed into a corner. Similarly, the whip can also attack multiple enemies with one shot, but with its reliance on SP (very much like mana), it should be saved for when needed most.

Finally, even though the dynamite available to you may cause massive amounts of damage to all things in its path, just know that you are not immune.

Other tools in your arsenal come in the form of power-ups, like Regen which uses SP points to recharge your health, speed and jump boosts, and 2x SP which allows you to gain four SP instead of two each time you pick up a blue heart, that is randomly dropped by slain foes.

Other commonly dropped items include red hearts, which recover a single HP up to the maximum of 5, and yellow stars, which give Robert an extra life once 10 are recovered. Shotgun ammo and dynamite are also dropped, but not as frequently.

All of Robert?‚…s information is displayed on the top screen, with the action taking place on the touch screen via the use of very simple controls. You move using the control pad, Y is for shoot, B is for jump, and R / L cycle through your weapons and power-ups, respectively.

With such intuitive controls, the fast paced gameplay comes as a welcome surprise. Where easy controls normally mean fairly easy gameplay, Barnyard Blast does not fit that mold. Even in the second level, I was finding myself dying more often than expected, normally from the fact that you can?‚…t shoot up into the air at things swooping in from above. However, getting past that obstacle and finishing said level makes the game all the more exciting.

The gameplay is not so fast, however, to stop you from enjoying the scenery in the game. The graphics here are straight out of classic arcade machines. Shotgun ammo explodes into a cloud of smoke and enemies disintegrate before your eyes. Likewise, the backgrounds themselves are very retro with flickering wall sconces lit by flame and deformed trees which are perfectly suited to the horror movie esque nature of the game.

The music, however, is not as spooky as I would have expected. Don?‚…t get me wrong, as the music itself is very pleasing to the ear, with its simulated piano and horn orchestra playing throughout, it?‚…s just that upbeat tunes are not the norm when fighting evil creatures from the darkness of night. Furthermore, where the sound department may have added a bit of whimsy to the tale, so too do the dialogue segments.

It?‚…s been a long time since I?‚…ve played a game this sarcastic. Nothing is taken too seriously, whether it is the whimsical music I talked of earlier, or the character design of both Robert and Cliffy and the monsters you?‚…re killing. The storyline itself, however, has to take the cake.

Instead of being filled with depressing soliloquies of how Robert will never be able to save his son, you have the wife nagging Robert to pick up a few essentials from the store on the way home from his journey. There?‚…s also a very funny bit where Robert momentarily believes Cliffy to be the hideous demon walking in front of him so he mentions how he must find his wife to replace him.

All in all, I haven?‚…t been this impressed by a side-scroller in a very long time. With a great mix of challenging gameplay and genuinely funny humor, Barnyard Blast is just that - a blast.

Special thanks to Alison Kain and DSI games for providing a copy of this title.