"Despite the commotion from various women’s groups over the years about the Barbie doll promoting an unrealistic standard of beauty for young girls, the long-legged plastic figurine is a powerful brand symbol. That brand has expanded strongly into the world of video games; recent Barbie titles, I am assured, capture successfully the fashion design and glamorous lifestyle roleplay associated with the doll itself. The Genesis game, however, as one of the first Barbie video games, clearly is an earl..."
Despite the commotion from various women’s groups over the years about the Barbie doll promoting an unrealistic standard of beauty for young girls, the long-legged plastic figurine is a powerful brand symbol. That brand has expanded strongly into the world of video games; recent Barbie titles, I am assured, capture successfully the fashion design and glamorous lifestyle roleplay associated with the doll itself. The Genesis game, however, as one of the first Barbie video games, clearly is an early failure for the line.
Most of your activity while playing with a Barbie doll (as far as I understand it) consists of outfitting her in different sets of clothing. Naturally, when you begin a level in Barbie’s Vacation Adventure, your first task is to dress her up appropriately. According to Aqua’s pop hit “Barbie Girl,” you can brush Barbie’s hair and “undress her everywhere.” Unfortunately, the undressing feature was not included in this game, and thus outfitting Barbie for her excursions is not at all interesting. In each case, Barbie is already dressed in appropriate clothing for the upcoming acitivty: a riding skirt for a session on the horses, a swimsuit for the beach. All you can do is switch the color of her garb among a few pastel choices -- pink, lavender, and the like. In some levels, there are two pieces of clothing for which you choose a color, and can mix and match for a nice combination, but in almost half the areas Barbie is wearing one piece of clothing, giving you a powerful four choices. The selections you make have no effect on the game. Or, to invoke some sarcasm, the “game.” You’ll need to picture me doing some air quotes on that one, but you get the idea.
The actual Vacation Adventure takes place in five locations that seem to sum up the whole of Barbie’s remarkably shallow existence. She head from the beach in Florida to a country fair in Iowa, down to Texas for some riding, up to Wyoming for a camping trip, and finally home to California. Of course, Barbie can travel among these places at her will. The whole game, what little there is of it, is open to you at the start. At each location, you’ll spend time doing starkly different activities. The only thing these minigames have in common, you’ll find, is their terribly wearisome monotony.
To begin with, you will immediately notice that some minigames are stupidly easy. For instance, there is a horse-jumping game which even the most disadvantaged simpleton will master in a few tries; your horse runs automatically, and all you do is hit a button at the appropriate distance from the hurdle. A puddle jumping game offers a similar experience. Other challenges seem potentially more challenging, like a scuba-diving excursion in which you must gather over a hundred pieces of treasure. However, there’s no time limit on this minigame, so it’s literally impossible to lose. When the games are difficult, it’s only by virtue (or in this case, by vice) of horrendous controls. For instance, while in Florida you’ll have the chance to play a volleyball game, in which returning the ball is incredibly hard because you must be in perfect position, and jump for the hit with insanely precise timing, simply to get the ball back over the net. Controlling where your return goes and making winners seems nearly impossible. Fortunately, after my 10-0 defeat on the volleyball court, my gracious opponent congratulated me on my good game. Barbie certainly lives in a world of panderers and flatterers; those long legs apparently win over both men and women.
Visually, I was obviously hoping that Barbie would be hot so that I could play vicariously as a gorgeous, gorgeous woman. (It had been awhile since my last game of Dead or Alive 3). Barbie looks pretty much just like the doll, however -- tall, blonde, and leggy. Yet I don’t think I’d even want to date a woman who moved so jerkily. The world around Barbie is actually quite nice looking, and is the game’s redeeming -- or shall I say, mitigating -- factor. The variety of locations give the designers a good chance to show off a wide range of visuals, and they do this well; I especially appreciated the bright undersea level. Every region Barbie visits feels friendly and welcoming upon first sight, and certainly that’s a feeling a child-friendly, simplistic game like this has to create.
The aural side of things is a bit more enervating. It’s not so much the quality of the music or sound effects, it’s the weird and inappropriate way they are employed. For instance, in one minigame Barbie jumps across a stream from stepping stone to stepping stone. All’s well so far -- until you hear the strange beep she makes as she leaps. What kind of jumping noise is a beep? This might seem like a stupid example, and indeed it is, but it’s typical of the game. It seems there was no effort to match sounds with appropriate actions or events.
There are few things more annoying to a serious game player than a title with a great concept that is poorly executed. One of those few things is a game with a crappy concept and mediocre execution, and unfortunately Barbie’s Vacation Adventure captures that description wholly. It also throws in the always unappealing taste of shameless brand-name capitalization. Stick to your real Barbie dolls, girls. Guys too, for that matter, I don’t judge.
Community review by denouement (April 24, 2004)
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