It takes a special kind of person to get into Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night. It's an action platformer parodying the original Castlevania and starring a cowboy pig. If you're one of those readers who comes here every day to read about eccentric titles that hardly anyone else cares about, this one's right up your alley!
Even executive producer Yan Marchal wasn't initially fond of the game: "I was busy with other vital issues in the studio while this took place ... Our 3D artist likes designing pigs, while our 2D artists are fans of Castlevania and Ghosts'n Goblins. When I took the project back in hand, I thought it would be unmarketable as such, but the timeline was too tight to reshape it before San Francisco's  GDC."
A few of those "special kind of people" took to the concept, however, so Yan and Sanuk Software were able to sell Barnyard Blast to a publisher, and the rest is history. History being a cowboy pig fighting the undead.
These are strange times we live in.
Barnyard Blast's lighthearted script is a great match for the game's campy premise. Robert Belmart, the hog hero of our story, is charged with rescuing his pignapped son from Mr. Final Boss. The aptly named villain has setup base in a predictable ancient castle ruled by darkness: "As is typical with ancient castles ruled by darkness, few people entered the castle gates, and those who did never left. Animals from town did not dare to venture near. It was presumed that those who never left weren't having a good time."
You'll start the game with every weapon you need in your quest -- a low-damage pistol with unlimited bullets, a shotgun, throwable sticks of dynamite, and a "slayer" whip. Each weapon is effective against a particular set of enemies. The shotgun, for example, is a wonderful answer to your bat problems. As with the Clock Tower's Medusa Heads in Castlevania, these bats can ruin your life at any moment.
Making up for the limited weapon selection, each of the bosses leading to Mr. Final Boss drops special abilities that you can enhance Robert with (e.g. Super Jump, Speed Up.). Some of those special abilities, like health regeneration, draw from your SP meter. Your slayer whip is also powered by SP, so you'll only want to break it out for special occasions. Like, uh, on holidays and stuff.
Though Barnyard Blast is billed as an action platformer, its level design doesn't provide many platforming challenges. It's more of a a poor man's Metal Slug, as you'll spend most of the six levels on a flat stage, mowing down a flood of spawning enemies. By the end of the game, my thumb was sore from tapping the Y-button non-stop, Takahashi Meijin-style.
The difficulty really picks up after the second stage, and you'll soon have to be mindful of where you stop or run, as you can suddenly find yourself surrounded if you're not careful. Since your health meter stays fixed at five hearts, staying out of the mob's reach is essential. Thankfully, plenty of the enemies drop health, ammunition, SP units, and stars (10 stars = 1UP).
Once again emulating the Castlevania series, Barnyard Blast's boss battles can be exceedingly difficult until you learn your foe's attack pattern. It can take over a half-dozen tries to master each encounter, though, and you'll have to start at the beginning of the level if you run out of lives. Half of the bosses are generic in their designs, but the last level's mini-boss is worth playing through the game to see!
Controls: It would be nice if Robert could jump a few pixels higher, but the "super jump" ability amends that weak point, and pigs aren't really known for their leaping abilities, anyway. Most of the control issues stem from switching weapons/abilities with the touchscreen, as the bottom screen is cluttered with unneccessary elements. Thus, the buttons you need to hit are smaller than they should be. While you can cycle through your weapons/abilities with the L/R buttons, you don't always have time to shuffle through everything.
Visuals: Though the graphics would be at home on the GBA and the background scenery often repeats itself, each level has a unique, atmospheric look. The game could use a larger selection of enemies, as the purple-head monsters get old quick.
Sound: Surprisingly, there is some rad music on this soundtrack! Too bad there are only about seven songs. Also, the game's sound effects aren't anything special. Almost every enemy makes the same squishing noise upon their demise.
Story: Barnyard Blast's script, provided by Insert Credit's Brandon Sheffield, really adds humor and character to an otherwise simple game. The cutscenes that bookend each stage are filled with references to familiar games and sarcastic takes on the story's progress. I feel comfortable in pointing out the script as the best part of Barnyard Blast. I just wish the game was longer so we could have more of it!
Difficulty: I was surprised by how many times I died, especially at the bosses' hands! It might too difficult for children, but I doubt that kids will really appreciate the game's humor, anyway. Apparently, there's a cheat floating around to unlock an "easy mode."
Final Score: 6.5/10 -- Despite its production flaws, Barnyard Blast has a great script and provides an "old-school" experience reminiscent of the original Castlevania games. It also helps that you can buy it for only $20 at Amazon! If you still have that $10 gift card from Wal-Mart, you can even pick it up for half that price!