Here's a refreshing entry into the games-based-on-movies fad: instead of simulating a movie's plot, THQ's Barnyard offers up an open-ended Grand Theft Auto-style experience (minus the sex and violence, of course). In fact, Grand Theft Bovine would have been a fitting subtitle.
Upon first glance, the open-ended elements are simply a vehicle to take you from one minigame to the next with little to do in-between. But then something unexpected happens: the game slowly transforms into a fairly entertaining story-driven game, revealing surprising depth.
Boasting a large, open-ended environment, Barnyard (mostly) allows you to run around and explore as you see fit. Unlike a GTA-style game, however, you're not granted unrestricted access to the entire map; some of the areas have to be unlocked, which requires little more than playing minigames and completing easy quest-like missions. This style allows Barnyard to avoid pitfalls associated with movie-based games, such as exaggerating the plot.
While there is much to be mined from this setup, it does wear out its welcome fairly quickly. Gameplay is broken up into day and night missions, but each time period only grants you access to a few minigames, most of which you'll replay until given the opportunity to try something new. Fortunately, the minigames are fun and often put a nice spin on the games they're mimicking: pool is played on a table shaped like a boat; gophers substituting as putters transform golf into a frenzied race to sink the ball. There are even varied quest-like missions that employ you to chase this or track down that. But they're all too simple. So simple, in fact, that you'll have little trouble blowing through this game in a couple days. Even preteens will find few of these games challenging.