#890 Bonsai Barber

Posted: 6th August 2013 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

260th played so far


Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Zoonami
Publisher: Nintendo

This is a game where you play a barber, giving haircuts to vegetables and fruit.

While I’d like to give a longer introduction, there is just no way I can top the above. When we first got this book Bonsai Barber was the first game that I looked at and instantly looked at and thought “this looks so crazy, I have to play it”. In fact it was the ‘swing vote’ that made me agree to this insane undertaking. It was the carrot that kept me going knowing that we were one day going to be shaving swearwords into radishes… then I became a teacher and had to stop being immature… or something.

Our Thoughts

This is one of the stranger games we’ve played so far – I mean , that’s what you’d expect from the single barber game out there, or one of the few at least. It’s just not something that seems that suitable for it.

But in this game, they’ve managed to pull it off. Using talking vegetables (and some fruit) while you cut their foliage in your lighthouse (why not?).

Beyond the interesting idea of shaping a carrot’s foliage, this actually has some further implications for gameplay, in particular on how to keep it playable. After all, normally a haircut is pretty one-way – what’s gone can’t be glued back on – but we’ve got a shortcut for that with vegetables. One of your tools is a spray bottle, which regrows the leaves. This makes a lot more things possible – even if it’s time consuming.

Most of the others are fairly straightforward tools – scissors, trimmers (leaves only), combs and, for your own artistic expression, paint to colour the leaves. The idea is to cut the vegetable’s foliage into a shape the customer decides on, with these tools at hand (and indirectly, your Wiimote). This is not as easy as it seems. First, the Wiimote isn’t as accurate as you would want. Probably just my fault, but also making things a bit more complicated. It really is a game that would benefit from the Plus add-on, just like Okami… but we’ll get to that.

Second are the branches and leaves. First, they’re sturdy – you can’t just comb everything into place. Second, the branches might support leaves further up – ones you do want to keep. A wrong cut will remove half the haircut, frustrating if you are nearly there.

The gameplay aspects, then, are absolutely playable despite the occasional fiddliness. Where the game really starts to shine, then, is in everything surrounding this. First, the vegetables have their own personalities, needing a haircut for their own purposes and happily chatting away as you make them look good. Even those things will come back to you – the game remembers the haircuts and you may need to update them with their latest wish.

The haircuts themselves are vaguely varied too. They start off with simple circles, but become more complicated, from hearts and bowler hats and so on. Each of these have varying degrees of looking good. To pass, you need three. A perfect haircut gives you five. We’ve managed four with some work, but getting them perfect is quite difficult. When you consider this is part of full completion and unlocking everything, this is quite scary and adds length to the game. Few of the styles actually make use of the different paints when it comes to tabulating the scores; one of the, obviously, being the heart which needs to be painted red for you to have the chance at a five star rating.

What also adds longevity, but in a less obvious sense, are the limits on how many haircuts you get each day. Only five vegetables show up. When you’re done with them, you have to wait for the next day to do more haircuts. It may be another way to spread out the game, but gets in the way of proper completion. Still, the gameplay is simple enough that spreading it like this is probably better to keep it more interesting.

Final Thoughts

In a way, this game is a novelty – a casual time waster that has a neat trick that isn’t expanded much. And with that, it doesn’t compare to today’s triple-A blockbuster. What this is more alike to – both in scope and, more important in this analogy – limited chance to play the game – is an old arcade game. It’s not as flashy and loud, but it’s the sort of game to keep coming back to – see whether you can make it to the end (and get to five stars) each time, leaving you just enough and cutting you off just as you’re getting into it.

  1. […] Bonsai Barber, today another one of the weirder games we have to play. A game I’ve been more interested in, […]