we’ve had video games where you take on the role of a familiar occupation, such as a lawyer and a doctor, but wiiware’s bonsai barber is certainly unique. the game combines hair cutting and horticulture and makes good use of the wii’s capabilities, and it follows the pacing of games such as nintendogs by limiting the number of “hair” cuts you can give to only 5 a day. this easily fits within half an hour of gameplay, but as with nintendogs it does help stretch the fairly thin core gameplay.
in this case the long-term goals and accumulated experience are less compelling than other games with a similar pacing. although the game mechanics work well and haircuts do get somewhat more difficult by incorporating more rounded parts, the overall experience stays pretty much exactly the same throughout. the twelve customers are amusing but don’t have much personality aside from their appearance, and although the game keeps track of your highest score for all customers for all haircuts, it feels like there are several missed opportunities that would’ve been minor changes but made the overall gameplay a bit more interesting. the game throws in some obstacles, such as rainclouds that automatically cause leaves to regrow, but they are all too-easily dispelled. it includes a practice mode in which your best times are recorded per haircut, but there’s really no incentive to chase after this type of high score. also, only one of the twelve characters features a completely different branch structure than the others, making cutting his leaves require a different approach: another underutilized feature that if expanded would’ve helped provide more variety to the experience. the game also tries to play up the relationship between you and your clientele by having them give you gifts and send postcards when they go on holiday, but this is another half-baked distraction that doesn’t have any causality; aside from giving them a good haircut, there’s nothing to chart the progression of your relationships and none of the usual gossip and therapy one would expect from a barber or a beauty parlor. the game allows for minimal creative input by allowing you to paint some haircuts as you wish, but a “free cut” mode with saving and sharing capabilities would’ve been an easy and amusing addition.
all in all despite a unique premise the game feels stunted and underdeveloped. my interest in wiiware continues to lag behind other digital offerings such as DSiware, and unfortunately this game does nothing to change that.
not-so-stunted bonsai barber links:
– interview with director martin hollis at gamasutra.com. the club nintendo page on the game also includes an interview from GDC ’09.
– review at nintendolife
– although no one’s written a FAQ for the game this forum thread on gamefaqs covers the details of the camera achievements. apparently there are 3960 stars you can earn (66 haircuts * 12 customers * 5 star rating), and apparently someone out there has spent 56+ hours on the game!
– entry at wikipedia
– official press release for the game