Why am I reviewing a game created for little girls ten years ago? Well, first, I’ve never played it before. Second, I was kind of curious how a “girl’s game” would turn out. I was expecting a game about glitter and ponies, but I was NOT expecting such a featureless title. I even hesitate to call it a “game” because I’m having trouble finding the gamey elements. Now, it would be fine if this were a game created for girls and packed with things little girls love. It’s not – at least, I can verify it’s not “packed” with anything. It’s essentially one giant collection of Barbie-related minigames, with minimal interaction in each one. It’s basically one of those properties forced kicking and screaming into videogames to make a buck. So I was ready to rip into this with talons of satire and ramble on a diatribe of how corporate America is out of control, and this game is simply half-assedly slapped together to make a buck by capitalizing off gender stereotypes.
Then I realized that as a developer, honestly, making a game based on Barbie is a no-win situation. First off, you surely have Mattel riding your ass, making sure you stay true to the Barbie license. This means you’re required to make a game about makeup, runway modeling, God-awful pink convertibles, and some of the tackiest clothing the late 80s ever conceived. And of course, there can be no violence, so that pretty much throws out the idea of reusing a proven game concept with Barbie characters. Furthermore, your sole consumers are aged four to eight years old, and have the attention span of a meth addict and the dexterity of a peanut. When the odds are this highly stacked against you, I don’t know if it’s possible to make a Barbie game better than this.
Still, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a game about the toy store’s “pink isle”, and it is just as horrible as you would expect, even if you manage not to flee from the source material. There is absolutely no linear quest whatsoever, just a collection of minigames that range from matching outfits to a picture on a magazine, to nailing down a runway routine, with a two-button interaction scheme throughout. There’s no purpose to any of these games whatsoever, and the game doesn’t even tally points. You simply play one minigame, and then the next one, while driving Barbie down Hollywood Boulevard in between. It’s a showcase of the license, nothing more.
As I said before, I understand that the target audience for this game is extremely young, probably is not a video game master, and therefore you can’t make a game that’s too complicated or requires standard video game skills. I understand why this isn’t a Barbie platformer, Barbie adventure, or a Barbie racing game. I understand why it requires no complex skills like timing leaps, or planning, like raising horses Tamagochi-style. But even for a child, well, maybe especially for a child, there’s not a whole lot to do here, or much that would keep anyone interested. I suppose the most captivating part of the game would be the makeup and clothing minigames, where creative little gals can press buttons to change aspects of Barbie’s appearance, like the color of her dress, or the style of her hair. It’s still only switching between five or so pre-drawn choices, but the numbers are in the combinations. Theoretically, the little ladies could spend minutes of excitement cycling through the different options until they find one they like. The game doesn’t offer any reward for this action, but that doesn’t prevent them from showing Mommy, who will then scream at them for interrupting Oprah for this meaningless shit, and the resulting trauma will likely put an end to their desire to ever play the game again.
“Hey, girls! Some say I’m an attention whore and wear tacky clothes, but they’re just jealous! Everybody wishes they were like me, and you should too! Don’t wanna grow up to be a bull dyke, do ya girls?”
The game’s artwork isn’t terribly great. The screen-filling closeup of Barbie’s face in the makeup section is about the best you’re going to find. Everything else is a collection of poorly-drawn Barbie poses and ghastly clothing. The runway sections feature an unnecessarily distant Barbie, and an goofy looking, static audience. The driving sections are more silly than anything else, while the same block of stores passes by endlessly, and cars stiffly pull up beside you like cardboard cutouts on strings.
Controlling Barbie is never really an issue, as it never really happens. Buttons generally just change her clothes or colors, and nothing more. The driving section is just responsive enough to keep you from hitting other cars, and the runway section is like a poor gal’s Dance Dance Revolution, as you’re simply required to hit one of two buttons when Barbie reaches a certain point on the floor.
To put this in perspective, this game retailed for $60 when it came out. That’s almost impossible to imagine. No one, and I mean no one, will get any long-term enjoyment out of this game, and the only people who would are the young girls to which the game is targeted – and even they will get bored after just a few rounds.
This is probably the only way to make a Barbie game.
Doesn’t mean you’ll want to play it.