Build-a-Bear Workshop: Friendship Valley
Wii | Activision / Neko Entertainment | 1 Player / 2-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now (North America)
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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26th May 2010; By KnucklesSonic8
The main premise of the game's Adventure is that you're a new resident in town and you need to get yourself acquainted with the neighborhood. Early on in the game, the mayor will enlist your help and ask you to take on quests of town dwellers, and eventually, you'll become everyone's favourite helper. The game is introduced to you by means of female voice acting, in such a way that you'd feel like a picture book is coming to life on your screen. To start off, you choose a furry friend who will represent you in the game. You can choose from a bunch of bears, a monkey, dog, zebra, panda, koala and more. As you bring it to life, you can dress it using a few clothing options in your wardrobe. There's one or two articles of clothing that will portray your characters as a boy or a girl, and as you advance in the game, you'll unlock new outfits to try on. Your condo can be decorated using new furniture that you obtain from completing quests, or by finding them on your own in hidden areas.
When you venture out into the world, you'll be equipped with a bunch of items to help you on your question. The on-screen HUD is laid out quite nicely and it's easy enough for a young child to understand how to play. At the bottom-left corner of the screen, you'll see various icons that correspond to different buttons on the D-Pad. Pressing right will pull up your handy map; pressing left will allow you to use your camera to take pictures; look into your backpack by pressing up; and you can consult your to-do list by pressing down. Movement is mapped to the Nunchuk's analog and the camera is controlled automatically with some fair success. However, if you find yourself not being able to see clearly, holding the Z Button and moving the control stick will allow you to fix your sights more clearly. When the narrator or nearby residents speak via dialog boxes, some of these are advanced by pointing your cursor and pressing A. I felt it would've been a lot simpler had all the boxes just required you to press A.
Each civilian has a series of heart outlines above their head which can be filled in as you complete quests they assign to you. You can manage up to 3 quests at once and while you're taking on an assignment, an arrow near your character will direct you where you need to go. Although it's unlikely you won't know where to go, you can talk to people nearby to get a refresher of the location you're looking for. The tasks you're assigned to perform are pretty straight-forward: bake a pastry, help with the garden, fix a broken machine, that sort of thing. You can even take pictures as part of an assignment (or on your own) and place them in frames on your living room room. Some of them are enjoyable for a child and the controls work well too. Mind you, some aspects may seem a bit gimmicky, but it relieves children of having to remember button presses.
There are multiple areas to explore around the town. You have the Countryside, the Marketplace, Town Square, and your own Neighbourhood. As you make new discoveries and assist people, you'll earn new titles which gives you a small sense of accomplishment. You'll also earn medals, which serve as the game's currency, allowing you to purchase items such as gardening supplies. When you've completed a quest, your character will have a yellow shine around him, serving as a clear indication to the player. The game isn't entirely linear, though. Sometimes you'll need to take on additional tasks to help with the task you originally started, and other times, you'll be allowed more freedom to take on whichever task you prefer. Exploring around the area is fun to do and thankfully, going around the bend of a new area doesn't result in a loading screen. This only happens you select a specific location off the map, or enter into a building of some sort. Overall, despite the large-scale area, there's enough elements here to ease with the possible confusion.
The game manages to capture the childish feel really well without appearing poorly-made. Visuals look great overall and although kids may not notice it, a lot of work went into developing this title. The music is one thing about this game that impressed me. I expected something that was a tad dull and thrown together, but the songs included were really lively and served as a good listen. Some tracks sounded like they came right out of the ending theme for a TV Show, and others had some clear inspirations in their usage of instrumentals. I can't say I was surprised when I found out that Neko Entertainment was responsible, just because presentation is so well done.
There's quite a bit to do in this game and it's something that would seem to hold the attention of a child for a reasonable amount of time. Once you unlock mini-games in the Adventure mode, you can play these against up to 4 friends in 'Multiplayer Challenge'. Most of these require players to take turns but there are a few fun ones to play through. Additionally, codes from Build-a-Bear Workshop's website can also be entered under 'Options' for secret prizes and items, a good use of self-promotion.
I'm sure parents would agree with me when I say that if you're going to make a game for kids, do it right. And in this case, it's the workings of Neko Entertainment that shine through in this child-focused adventure. It's an enjoyable romp and it's something I can easily see children under the age of 10 (or even slightly over) enjoying very much. Some may lose interest and long for something more entertaining/educational like Big Brain Academy. But parents who are looking for a fun game to play with their kids on Wii will want to give this a try.
25/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Some controls could be a tad more accessible for younger players, freedom to explore is great, lots of tasks to perform
Presentation 8/10 - Colourful visuals, certainly didn't take the easy way out, great music that adds to the experience
Enjoyment 4/5 - Quite fun for children of a certain age group, promotes positive messages, pretty captivating task-by-task system
Extra Content 4/5 - Will last quite a few hours, worthy purchase for a budget price, multiplayer mode, records may motivate children to improve
Equivalent to a score of 83% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)