Written by Paul Lyon
Your fun loving, furry friends from the Build-a-Bear Workshop retail store have jumped into the digital world to invite you along for some magical adventures. Activision’s newest chapters for the Nintendo Wii and DS consoles offer up plenty of family-friendly fun and excitement, as the games focus on flexing those creative muscles with plenty of customizing and personal touches, much like the store they’re based on. While some will bemoan what could have been another crass marketing jab aimed at younger players, the actual results are anything but, and will likely cause even the most pessimistic parent to grin and bear it. I hope you liked that pun, because they flow like honey pots in the games.
Build-a-Bear Workshop: Friendship Valley is all about customization, and lots of it. You start out as a newly arrived resident in the town of Friendship Valley, and will soon begin the process of settling in customizing your new home and virtual self. Just like the real ones you’ll pick the one you want and then give them a heart to bring them to life. There are several types of characters to choose from, including a zebra, a wolf, a penguin, and even (of course) a bear, as well as many others. Your home is actually a semi-large condo with interchangeable furniture, fixtures, and can be personalized by adding pictures, chimneys, and repaint just about anything with a wide variety of colors. On top of all that you can extend your wardrobe with a somewhat large selection of clothes.
An energetic female voice will help explain things along the way, and after settling in you’ll soon be on your very first quest, which is to speak with the town’s mayor, Bearamy, who soon informs you that the residents are planning a huge celebration and could really use your help. Free body, free house…there’s always a catch! But have no fear, as you’ll help the town by engaging in new quests, which typically involve simple activities like picking fruit, or repairing things along the way. These are never that difficult, and you can have up to three different quests at any one time. One nice touch is that you’ll have access to almost every area right off the bat, and given how quickly your character can run from place to place (including warping to any area instantly using the mini-map) exploration in the game is never frustrating or time consuming.
The mini-games which is usually part of the quests in the game use the both the Wii remote and Nunchuk to help accomplish goals in a set time limit, and are never more challenging than they need to be. Completing them quickly and accurately will earn you better grades and more medals, which can be spent at the local store. The inventory itself is a fun little backpack that shows all you’ve collected and how much money or medals you have to spend. The game is loaded with tons of pawsome things to discover and explore, and should keep age-appropriate players occupied for a long time.
The different bears and animal friends look great on the Wii, as do the colorful backgrounds and different locations you’ll be exploring throughout. The music is also very engaging and uplifting, and fits the cuddly motif right down to the last button.
With its gentle nature and focus on creatively customizing your digital friends and home, Build-a-Bear Workshop: Friendship Valley on the Wii more than lives up to its adorable name, and should make fans of the popular brand very happy. The controls are surprisingly accurate and fun, which is great as many of the mini-games and quests you’ll engage in focus on primary tasks and simple commands. The tasks themselves encourage good social behavior and helping others in your community, and that’s always a plus. The game even includes a special $5 coupon to spend at one of the Build-a-Bear retail stores; direct marketing has seldom been this huggable.