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: Welcome to Hugsville is all about customization, and lots of it. You start out as a newly arrived resident in town, and will soon begin the process of settling in building 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. Unlike the Wii version of the game, the DS version is limited to just 5 colors to paint with, and there are virtually no remodeling options, outside of getting to assemble its structure with simple items like a hammer and screwdriver (it was already pre-made on the Wii).
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 they always make good use of the DS touchscreen and stylus controls.
Welcome to Hugsville a bit more structured and linear than its Wii counterpart, with a smaller town to explore as you’ll have to participate and complete mini-games to unlock and open up more challenges. The games themselves are easy to understand and time-based, and include activities like racing, mazes, and even a game of tag. Successfully completing each will open up newer challenges and difficulty levels, and it won’t be long before skilled players are out planting trees, driving cars, or even drawing pictures along the way. The entire game is played using the stylus, which can be fun, but can sometimes feel slightly delayed and can even obscure the viewing area when you need to see where you’re going.
The game’s bright characters are nicely detailed and easy to see on the smaller screen, and the music is very engaging and uplifting. The DS version also supports a multiplayer option that requires both players to have their own consoles and copies of the game, but I wasn’t able to test this feature for this review.
Build-a-Bear Workshop: Welcome to Hugsville for the DS retains the same gentle nature as its Wii counterpart, and offers up plenty of customizable fun based on the popular retail store. The adventure and scope is a bit more streamlined here, as the emphasis is on completing and unlocking new challenges and mini-games that are fun and age-appropriate. 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.