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Build-A-Bear Workshop (DS) artwork

Build-A-Bear Workshop (DS) review

"If you're a parent and you don't mind walking your kid through the process the first few times, or if you have a boy or girl that's approaching the double digits and you want to provide him or her with an innocent alternative to some of the more violent fare on the market, you could do a lot worse than Build-A-Bear Workshop."

To kids, few things are more important than cookies and milk, fun with friends and teddy bears. Build-A-Bear Workshop, a new DS title from the folks at The Game Factory, celebrates all of that and more. Kids build a stuffed animal, then amuse themselves by being a companion to their creation. There's customization all through the process and there are mini-games too, but the experience is more about friendship than gameplay.

Creating your friend is easy, and you can hold as many as three on the cartridge. You begin by looking along the shelf to find the one you like, then confirming your selection to get to work. There are eight available templates, so both boys and girls should be able to find one they like. You can specify any name you desire. You also get to rub some gems and make a wish, then treat your creation to a sauna experience with steam and brushes. When everything is done, you'll head to your clubhouse.

The clubhouse is the hub where you can have fun with your new creation. There are several activities, such as playing out in the yard (where you can teach your buddy a few tricks by drawing simple designs on the bottom screen with the stylus) and cooking a meal for your new friend from one of several recipes.

Cooking and baking are handled well. Ingredients line the left side of the lower screen, with your food preparation area and oven to the right. You'll toss things into the kettle, stir, then dump everything into a bowl or dish and bake it. When it's done, you can sometimes decorate it before serving it to your furry buddy. Once you set the plate, you'll see how much he or she likes the meal. Girls will probably like the whole process more than boys, but for the little gents there are games in the attic.

One option is 'musical chairs,' where you rush around a dwindling circle of chairs and try to find a seat (a classic childhood game that parents probably enjoy watching more than their kids enjoy playing). Another choice is a dancing session where you have to quickly sketch out symbols as they pass through a gray vertical bar (the same tricks you may have shown your stuffed animal a few minutes earlier when playing out in the yard). Except for the occasional instance where your stylus swipes don't register, it's a pretty satisfying experience.

Yet another option is the cooking game (again), only this time you won't have prompts from the kind bear that serves as your guide throughout the Build-A-Bear process. There are 10 recipes you can develop, each more difficult than the last. The final mini-game is choice is the best. It involves moving two bears around the bottom screen so that they can catch falling drops of honey in vases while avoiding bees and spiders (which can be shooed away using the stylus). The vases can only hold so much of the gooey treat at a time, so periodically they'll need to empty them in the big containers on either side of the screen. As you advance through the 20 stages, the number of honey drops increases and unhelpful insects get in your way more frequently. Things can get pretty lively by the end.

When you begin playing any games in the attic (or opt to trade outfits with a friend), you'll be informed repeatedly that you need two game cards. That's pretty disappointing considering how many DS titles require only one cartridge for multi-player. Kids tend to want things they can call their own, though, so perhaps it's a good idea to pick up two copies since most people in the game's target audience still measure their age with “and a half” trailing the current digit.

For people in that group, Build-A-Bear Workshop is a pretty safe bet. The visuals are vibrant and cheery, never frightening. From checkered tablecloths to windows lined by flowers and perfectly trimmed grass, it's all comforting and nicely illustrated. Even the music is settling (though soon repetitive), plus you'll often hear birds chirping. The only thing missing is digital voice work, and that's perhaps the game's most significant flaw.

Because there's no voice work (perhaps a requirement, given the option to play through with English, French or Spanish text), there's a lot of reading involved. During their first hour or two with the game, children will probably need your assistance as they read through helpful directions they might not even comprehend. The interface alternates between tedious and intuitive, with all actions controlled strictly by the stylus. Sometimes you have to keep pressing little on-screen buttons to get anywhere, though, and some kids who can't read might find that frustrating until they get a handle on how things work. Even if your tyke is happy with simple reading, occasional words like 'fashionista' and 'adventurous' are possibly beyond his or her grasp.

Reading requirements aside, Build-A-Bear Workshop is a great way for kids to pass time and increase preschool or Kindergarten skill sets at the same time. Things begin simply and progress nicely from there. Besides the diversions mentioned above, you can also brush your stuffed animal's hair and teeth (accomplished with swipes of the stylus along set paths) and work quickly to put your toys away in a few cubbyholes before the lights dim to darkness. The developer tried to make games out of a lot of the things parents might want their children to do here in the real world, and for the most part they were successful. They also extended the replay value by providing a variety of costumes that players can mix and match. Unlocking everything should keep kids busy for a while.

If you're a parent and you don't mind walking your kid through the process the first few times, or if you have a boy or girl that's approaching the double digits and you want to provide him or her with an innocent alternative to some of the more violent fare on the market, you could do a lot worse than Build-A-Bear Workshop.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 19, 2007)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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