Review: Bonsai Barber (WiiWare)

Has Zoonami assembled the perfect hairstyle for all ages?

If you were randomly asked which developer had the most well-known franchises under its belt, you’d likely respond by saying Nintendo. With series such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Pokémon, it isn’t difficult to see why. It should also be noted that they’re the publisher who’s released some of the greatest new IPs, most notably through the WiiWare service. Thanks to the service, the Art Style series was born, as was Maboshi’s Arcade. Their latest IP, the Zoonami-coded Bonsai Barber, may not look like the most hardcore experience they’ve released in the past decade, but beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s one of their greatest games they’ve published on the Wii Shop Channel.

Since the barber of the village retired, the local residents have been awaiting the moment in which they could receive the latest foliage fashions. With you being the new barber, it’s up to you to pick up your scissors, chop away branches and satisfy your customers. It may sound a little quirky, but it’s a very original idea that puts a unique twist on being a barber.

As each day passes, five customers arrive to test your style and abilities. If a customer requests a specific style, it’s up to you to attempt to deliver what they want. On the other hand, they may not be all that particular and allow you to pick from over thirty different hair styles. Though it may sound like a difficult task, it’s actually no trouble at all. With a wide array of tools at your disposal, cutting each customer’s hair will be as simple as one, two and three.

Bonsai Barber features a quirky cast of characters as well, ranging from a duo of cherries to a cactus cowboy. It’s nice to see a fine amount of attention put on making the cast as unique as possible, even if it means making them all fruits and vegetables. Despite some of them being a pain in the backside at times, most of them are loveable creatures that you may even become attached to.

The main gameplay of the game revolves around cutting hair (or should that be branches) for various fruits and vegetables. Essentially what you’re given is a big bush of hair and using your tools, you’ll have to cut excess branches off so that the hair will look like a specified shape. For example, if one customer walks in and wants his hair shaped like a mountain, the shape will appear on-screen and then it’s up to you to cut off branches in order to match it. Though it may sound easy, it actually ends up being quite a challenge.

For starters, you have to be careful not to cut away the main branches. By doing so you’ll cause a huge cluster of branches to fall off - not exactly what the customer was looking for. If that should happen though, your tools are there to help ease the pain. By using a spray bottle, you’ll be able to use water to make the branches grow back and thus allow you to take another stab at cutting the customer’s hair to the desired style.

Carrying on with that train of thought, there are also other problems that could be thrown your way. For example, your customer isn’t satisfied with their new look. Tough, that’s life. It may put a bit of a strain on your barber shop, but that’s all you can do. Cutting hair isn’t all that easy, but thanks to the game’s great controls (point, click, and press to cut hair), the game plays great. The amount of precision required may turn some people off, but in the long run, the game feels very natural, very fresh, and very intuitive.

Once you’re finished cutting your client’s hair, it’s time to bring out the mallet, hit a large gong, and get your customer's approval. Each client rates their hairstyle out of five stars, and naturally, the more stars, the better you did. If you do a good enough job, you may receive a gift or even a postcard from an exotic location, as your customers travel throughout the land showing off their fancy new hairdo.

On the opposite side of things though, you may occasionally miss an appointment. With that in mind, your customers won’t be at all happy, and you’ll certainly hear about it, as well. The client who had an appointment will be furious enough to even send a message to your Wii Message Board. We don’t want that happening every day, now do we?

One of the biggest strengths of Bonsai Barber is the game’s style. The graphical approach the developers took paid off in the long run, as did the approach they took with the game’s audio. The casual look of the game should be enough to draw in younger audiences and thanks to the game’s steady difficulty curve; they’ll be an expert barber in no time.

Conclusion

Once the customers have been served and new hairstyles have been dished out, one thing should be evident - Bonsai Barber is one of the most unique titles available on WiiWare. The game overflows with personality and substance and does a stellar job of creating a real-life barber shop atmosphere. Cutting customers' hair is a breeze thanks to the game’s simple-to-use controls, as is navigating the menus. The steady learning curve is also great for younger audiences who aren’t capable of starting with difficult tasks at the beginning of the game. Though the 'five cuts a day' thing may not be everyone's cup of tea, it adds a little realism to the game and makes it feel as though you're an actual barber. When everything is said and done though, this is one WiiWare experience you definitely don’t want to miss.

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