Bonsai Barber Review for Nintendo Wii

Bonsai Barber Review for Nintendo Wii

Though WiiWare has been host to abbreviated versions of tried-and-true gameplay types, we’ve also been treated to a handful of experimental games that take advantage of the uniqueness of Wii in interesting and entertaining ways. Add to that short list Bonsai Barber, the latest creation from developer Zoonami.

Bonsai Barber screenshot

This is one game where the name pretty much says it all. Bonsai Barber begins by presenting you with a newspaper announcing the arrival of a new town barber (you). Your clientele? Cute, little bonsai trees. From the art style, to the dialogue and presentation, this is one adorable and very quirky WiiWare entry that is entertaining as an everyday Zen activity.

When you arrive at your new salon, you’re greeted by Spudsworth who will walk you through all the gameplay basics. Everyday you’ll have five new customers to cater to, each with a specific style in mind. There are 12 characters in all – from a cactus bonsai, to a berry shrub who calls himself Strawbinski – and if you can give them the look they’re longing for, these cuddly hybrids will shower you with gifts and praise.

Bonsai Barber is a very simple game, yet its quaint and polished presentation and gameplay make for a rewarding daily routine. There’s a couch, which seats up to three bonsai customers at a time, and there’s a coffee table; that’s pretty much the extent of the game world. The coffee table houses The Bumper Book, which stores all of your shop info (we’ll touch more on that later), as well as Otto the goldfish who allows you to save your progress. Spudsworth will eventually reward you with Prunella, a practice bonsai who’s also stationed on the coffee table, helping to decorate your shop.

Bonsai Barber screenshot

If we were to boil the game down, it could probably best be considered as to be a barber-simulation game… of the uber-cute kind. As the barber, you’re represented simply by an onscreen hand, and the game is played from a first-person perspective. To begin work on a new customer, you simply click on them from the couch, and you’ll enter a new screen that houses all your cutting tools.

Before moving on to the actual haircut… err, leafcut, however, the customer will first open the Bumper Book and select their desired style; when working on the customer, a soft outline will appear over their foliage as a template of where and what to cut. There are five basic tools of the trade, plus a gong to finalize your work.

The scissors allow you to execute your broad strokes, cutting both leaves and twigs. You’ll use the scissors to cut off the bulk of everything surrounding a style template, and control is very intuitive and satisfying. You can turn the Wii Remote to change the angle of the scissors (as well as all other tools) and press either the A or B button to cut.

Bonsai Barber screenshot

Of course, if you accidentally cut off too much, you can simply re-grow any areas by using the spray can. No mistakes are permanent, and there’s no time limit, so you can cut and re-grow ’til your heart’s content. Some areas require you to cut only leaves, lest you lop off main branches and bald the customer, and you’ll need the clippers (you know, that electric machine a barber generally uses at the end of a haircut) for that. As in real life, using the clippers will often tickle your clients, so you’ll need to proceed carefully so as to not botch up any work you’ve already done.

Lastly are the comb and paintbrush, and both of these tools are used sparingly and require an extra bit of finesse. The comb is useful when certain portions of a bush don’t easily fall in line with a style template. The paintbrush, of course, allows you to add a bit of color to the end product. Using the paintbrush offers its own set of simple rewards, as you’ll need to use the Wii Remote to dip your brush in paint cans, and some styles call for a subtle blending of colors, which offer a real challenge.

Bonsai Barber screenshot

During the entire process of styling a customer’s bush, you’ll gain stars, indicating how close you are to completely satisfying your customer. Additionally, your bonsai friends will offer feedback periodically about your progress, which will keep on the right track. You can get up to five stars for each style session, and it pays to have satisfied customers. Happy bonsais will reward you with gifts, postcards, and certificates to show off in The Bumper Book. Once a customer is completely happy with your work, you select the mallet tool and whack the Wii Remote forward to hit a gong – another subtle yet completely satisfying, little game mechanic.

The game only allows you to work on five customers per real day (you’ll be asked the date upon first starting the game), but it’s a perfect serving, really, for the type of gameplay and experience on offer here. Of course, you can still practice on Prunella all you like, and you’ll be able to earn stars for your work on her as well. Additionally, the last “leafstyle” you gave to Prunella will be displayed on the coffee table where she sits. You can also sift through The Bumper Book, which stores a ton of WarioWare-esque trinkets, such as awards, gifts, and photographs. At any time during a styling session, you can snap photos of your handiwork and either store them in The Bumper Book or share them with friends.

The presentation of Bonsai Barber is endearing and easy on the eyes. The visuals are comprised of hand-drawn, 2D artwork that looks like something out of a children’s storybook. The vibe, however, is well-suited to gamers of all ages, and each of your customers will offer short dialogue snippets that are hilariously ridiculous. The music and sound effects are low key and make for a great backdrop to your daily playtime. All of the character chatter is done via text bubbles, so there’s no voice work, but the bonsai critters rattle off a host of cutesy mumbles.

Bonsai Barber might sound like a totally senseless idea for a game, but it’s just the kind of oddball creation WiiWare was designed for. You wouldn’t think cutting shrubs would be a fun pastime, but everything from the use of the Wii Remote, to the perfectly rationed regimen, makes for a great, little daily ritual. The game is as inviting as Sesame Street, yet the mechanics and humor are rewarding no matter how old you are. The price seems a bit steep at $10, but the design will ensure you get your money’s worth over time.

Bonsai Barber has a great look and feel for the WiiWare platform. The simple yet adorable 2D artwork has tons of personality, though there isn’t too much to see overall. 4.3 Control
Gameplay is very straightforward, and using the Wii Remote for your tasks is extremely satisfying. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds and music work is a subtle way to add a great layer of personality to what is already a very charming game. 3.9

Play Value
Ten dollars seems like a bit much for what’s on offer here, but the regimented design ensures you’ll have a quick blast of fun for a long, long time.

4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Use the tools of your trade: scissors, clippers, spray can, and more, in this humorous, first-of-its-kind “first-person-groomer” game.
  • Bonsai Barber features a colourful cast of twelve intriguing customers, including a temperamental shallot starlet (don’t call her an onion!), an oddball strawberry boffin, a cactus cowboy, a daredevil carrot, and a suave banana with top-secret clearance.
  • Each day, five customers arrive to test your stylistic skill. If the customer requests a specific style, you’ll plow that furrow, or you can rely on your expertise to pick from over thirty popular fashions… Or why not turn over a new leaf; be creative and see how they react!

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