It starts with this game and having a teddy bear, and the next thing you know, you're that guy on Grizzly Man.
One... Two... Three... Four! Four logos! My future award-winning game quality algorithm is nearly finished! I'm sure you are familiar with it, yes? If not, please peruse my body of reviews on this site. You will see that I have noticed a pattern among handheld video games: the more logos before the start screen of any particular game, the less likely that particular game will provide a worthwhile experience. Considering Build-A-Bear Workshop, a custom Teddy Bear outlet, is not the typical license for a video game, perhaps the formula may have a hitch in its conception. Perhaps.
Well, as you might imagine, before playing with my bear I had to make a bear. Or rather, I should say I had to make a stuffed animal, since the bear is only one of the stuffed animals that Build-A-Bear Workshop makes. Jeez I'm starting to sound like a commercial. Anyway, I chose a black bear. I mean, it is Build-a-Bear, right? They had cat, bunny, frog, and dog models, too, but I imagine naming the franchise "Build-a-Bunny" or "Create-a-Kitty" or "F-... Fabricate-a-Frog" wouldn't do for a national brand, phonetic link or not. Or "Procreate-a-Pooch", either. That kinda sounds cheeky.
Anyway, I began making my black bear. The workshop in the game has several stations. After picking out a model, the next station asked me to pick a sound. Oh I get it. Like "Mama," right? I mean "Papa!" I meant "Papa." (Whew, nice save.) Anyway, the array of sounds I could choose from was quite ridiculous:
Sound #1: A Cow mooing. Alright...
Sound #2: Cat meowing. I hadn't heard a bear meow since that time at the bar... (I forget what was in that cup.)
Sound #3: Frog croaking. No.
Sound #4: Monkey. Nope.
Sound #5: Dog barking. No!
Sound #6: "I love you," in the most grainy, mechanized voice possible.
I settled on Sound #6. Next I had to ensure how "huggable" my bear friend would be by stuffing him. I'm starting to get a cavity here from this saccharine exercise. OK, I touched the foot pedal to stuff the bear. Then I had to make a wish. This is starting to get a little peculiar. To activate this "wish," I had to rub hearts on the screen and whisper a secret into the DS. I told my bear that his citizenship and loyalties to the U.S. were still in question. He responded with, "I love you." Typical furry immigrant—appeal to the heartstrings. Next was stitching him up: zigzag the stylus through the holes, and that's that. Then I had to "fluff" him. US decency laws prohibit me from describing this part in detail, but it involves a hot, steamy shower and questionable electronic devices. It's better left unsaid.
In case you are wondering, throughout the creation process I was guided by a talking Teddy named Bearemy. If you think that pun is funny, then the game's humor will strike a chord with you. Everyone else is left to endure such awful punnery as "furbulous," "bearific" and "100% pawesome." (My word processor is screaming in terror right now.)
But back to my bear. All stuffed and fluffed, the next step was to dress him in some kind of clothing. What is this? My teddy bears never had clothes! What is with this modern wo—Uhh... I never owned teddy bears! I played with lighter fluid and shaving cream and other manly things growing up. No bears here, no sirree.
I should make a note here that, strangely, the teddy bears in this game have no gender assigned to them. That is to say, if you want to dress your bundle of joy in a T-shirt and jeans, like a manly man, fine. You'd prefer that personality shirt that says "Diva", "Hottie", or "Butter Troll"? Sure thing! Hopefully the parents who buy this game for their kids will explain that it really isn't that simple, and that your sex won't change just because you wear other gendered clothing. Hopefully.
Finally I got to name it. I named it Terry: because of all the gender-confusion, it's best to keep my options open. So I was finally given a birth certificate that proves I am the guardian of this genderless lump of fluff, and the real fun began. Or maybe I should say that's where the fun ended. After finishing your bear, the game basically stops. It prompts for a house to be painted, and once that's done it turns into some kind of button-collecting exercise. These buttons buy stuff like sex change operations—uh I mean clothes—should you strive to leave your gender again. To earn these buttons you must play awful mini-games which I will also list as thus:
Mini-game #1: Musical chairs. No, really. Grab a seat when the music stops by tapping a chair. That's it. Controls in this one are bad, though that doesn't stop it from being a cakewalk.
Mini-game #2: Catch honey being dropped by moving your bear under the falling drops. This one is also bad. The controls are spotty and the hit detection is atrocious... although this game does have the humorous, unexplained cloning of your animal to help collect this honey.
Mini-game #3: Some kind of dancing game where you scribble shapes to trigger dance moves.
Mini-game #4: A playing-in-the-park thing ripped right out of Nintendogs. One particularly puzzling part has you pushing your animal on a swing set with a soccer ball in his/her/its legs and trying to throw—kick--whatever the ball through football goalposts.
Mini-game #5: A really terrible cooking game.
Mini-game #6: Helping your animal brush his teeth and comb his hair. Man, this animal's existence is mundane.
And that's all. Seriously. That's all of it. What a huge build-up for a whole lot of nothing.
As for the ancillary qualities, the graphics are 3-D and adequate for the game, despite some unusual frame rate hiccups in the park. The music is forgettable at best, and the sound effects are... lacking, to say the least. There are multiplayer options, should you find another person who owns a copy of the game, although I can't imagine anybody playing the game's multiplayer, since mini-games are decidedly boring alone. You can also trade photographs taken in the game with each other, which is about as fun as it sounds.
I applaud the concept behind this license. A customized stuffed animal is probably the best gift you can give a small child, because you'll create a unique figure in his life with which he can formulate exclusive memories. The same can't be said of an off-the-shelf Elmo. Build-A-Bear is a fantastic idea, but that idea best left in the real world. This virtual version of it is a wasted effort.