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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Barbie Vacation Adventure SNES

So far in my retro reviews we've only done reviews of good games, and if not good they've at least been classics. Today changes all that, today I'm reviewing a game that has got to be one of the poorest excuses for game to have ever made it to a system as glorious as the SNES, a game that makes me ashamed to be a girl and even more ashamed to have enjoyed barbies, ever. Today I'm reviewing Barbie Vacation Adventure it was released on the Genesis and PC as well , but I chose to suffer through the Super Nintendo version.

***Introduction***

For many years game producers have had themselves convinced that girls are incapable of playing "normal" video games. No one with two X chromosomes has ever had any real interest in anything like Mario or Megaman, and forget about any fighting games or war games. Oh no, that's far too scary for us. So we were forced to play puzzle games maybe a few RPGs or a Kirby game if we were really adventurous, but mostly we just played Tetris. Soon, Tetris became synonymous with girls and video games. Producers saw this and thought to themselves Oh no! we can't have this, those girls could be providing us with a market share! We have to break them from their Tetris induced trances and get them playing other games! Other games we can profit from! Thus the genre of "girl games' was born. Games designed specifically to appeal to the female audience, with themes so cliched and fluffy they make magical girl shows look like serious drama. They usually center around dress up, care taking or puzzles and generally are borderline unplayable. The Barbie games fit right into this mold with vacation adventure reaching a special low. Not only is this game full of insanely boring cutesy family friendly tasks to do, you can't actually lose at any of them. Apparently the makers thought that given this game has the bare essentials of gameplay elements, that it might prove a bit difficult for the inferior female gamer and didn't think we could deal with the rejection of losing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Let's step back and take a deeper look at this poor excuse for a video game.





***Overview***

I don't have the booklet for this game so I can only go by what the cartridge gives me. Your basic story seems to be that Barbie has decided to take a vacation (a very patriotic US vacation if the map is any indication). The object of the game is to go on vacation and then go home for a party. Yeah, that's seriously it...

Graphically, this did not utilize the capabilities of the SNES at all.The best looking parts of the game are the title screen and the map, they fool you into thinking this might have at least standard SNES graphics, it all lies. It's not really much better looking than the NES Barbie game release. Though there are more colors and there's slightly more background animation happening. Barbie's overall look and animation, though she's little more than a stick figure, is OK but, on the whole the character sprites are definitely lacking, there are scores of NES releases that look better than this.



As for the sound, the music, is well, music for a barbie game. That's a better description than anything else I could say, but I'll try. It's certainly not good, but it could be much worse. There was at least an attempt to make it seem interesting and complex though in reality it's a collection of midi music that represents rejected theme songs from a mid-eighties sitcoms and standard repetitive uninspired video game tracks. I can say one completely positive thing about the music, it can be turned off in the options screen. The other sounds are just kind of there, they don't really detract from the experience, but they don't really add to it either. They can also be turned off in the options menu.

The controls for this game are pretty crappy. You've got the entire SNES pad worth of buttons to work with, but A, B, X, & Y all do the same thing, a generic action button that makes barbie do the selected action depending on what she's currently engaging in. D-pad makes her move back and forth, though when you're Barbie she won't move up and down at all. When you've got a cursor, you can move in all four directions, Exciting! Start pauses, select doesn't do anything except when you're putting together the tent and the L and R buttons don't do anything I noticed. Barbie doesn't respond particularly well and when you couple that with the poorly rendered environments and elements she's supposed to be interacting with, it can get very annoying though there's very little gameplay to speak of so it could be worse.

***Gameplay***

The game starts and you see barbie on the title screen sitting on her pile of suitcases from here you can either start right away or hit the options menu. In the options menus you can change the difficulty from blocks to mortarboard, that's kind of unclear, but I think I can safely assume that it's changing it to easy or hard. You can set the game to one or two players adding in Teresa or maybe it's Midge(I'm not sure I haven't actually played it with a second player)and you can turn the sounds and music on or off. After changing whatever options you like you can start game.


When you start the game you put in your name and are then greeted with a map. The map gives a very rough outline of the US conveniently patterned with the American flag just in case you were unsure of which country you were looking at, and positions the sun right on top of the great lakes area. The sun crashing into the earth hasn't seemed to put a damper on Barbie's vacation plans, she even seems unfazed that the calamity seems to have moved the state of Iowa into where Illinois used to be. Moving on, you can chose one of the following locations: Iowa to go the county carnival, Florida to hang out at the beach, Texas to hit up a local horse ranch, Wyoming to go camping and finally back home to your California mansion.


I choose to go to Iowa/Illinois first as I couldn't take my eyes away from the terrifying clown head used to demarcate it on the map. Let me stop for a moment and ask what kind of vacation destination is Iowa? I can't knock it too heavily because I went on vacation there just this year, but seriously there are no county fairs in the entirety of California that would have made a more sensible stop? Anyway, before you can send Barbie to the carnival you'll have to make sure you take time out for the most important part of any woman's vacation plans, giving her the proper outfit! This happens in every location, Barbie has a preset outfit and you choose the colors of various parts of it. I have to say, for a game that's supposed to be fashion conscious the clothes are pretty awful, even when taking the time period into account and it is incredibly annoying that the "same" colors never match.

After taking care of the business with your outfit you make it to the carnival and find that a prize pig has escaped. Barbie is asked to help them catch it, why I have no idea, I'd think a bunch of farmers who are likely to be at least sort of familiar with pigs would have a much better chance of catching it than a super model. Apparently though I'd be wrong as the pig runs around the screen until barbie hits the action button at the appropriate time to catch it. It then follows along behind you and then you're able to play carnival games because you caught it. HOORAY for perfectly reasonable coherent story lines, there's no flaws in that logic!



The carnival games are: knocking down cans, throwing balls in clown mouths, and ringing the bell on a strength tester. They're not actually horrible, but they aren't great either. When you're all done you walk off the side screen, Barbie will then talk about leaving and sends "you,"(whatever name you put in at the beginning), a post card talking about what she did there, yay! Then the game tallies up all the points you received in that level and others if you've played them to give you a total. Then it's back to the map to choose a new destination.

Next I went to Florida after carefully choosing Barbie's outfit (which looks nothing like what she ends up wearing during gameplay), you can choose to have her play "volleyball" with Midge or search for pirate treasure. I start of with "volleyball" I put it in quotes because last time I checked volleyball doesn't use a beach ball bigger than either of the participants to play. However in Barbie's world things are rarely as they are in the real world. In any case, you play with Midge until one of you gets to 10 points. If Barbie loses, it's no problem because she can just play over and over until she wins. The controls are especially horrible here and it's very easy to miss the ball, but you should be able to pass it without too much trouble.



After that annoyance I went to search for pirate treasure. Funny thing about pirate treasure is that in this case it's not only been discovered, but cataloged as well as Barbie knows the exact number of pieces, lucky her that no one else seemed to want to bother to pick it up. Some other interesting notes about this treasure is that it seems to float completely stationary and consists of cut diamonds bigger than any the world has seen, a few red diamonds a bunch of gold stars, a couple of treasure chests and some blue things I can't identify. While you're collecting all this conveniently located treasure, Barbie is slowly losing air so don't forget to pick up the perfectly safe and intact oxygen tanks that are littering the sea floor. After you collect all the treasure, you get a bunch of points and can leave the area. Then you can head to the sign in the middle of the level to exit. Barbie says a few words, sends her postcard, and you see your points and can select a new location.


Next, I went to Texas, to the Western ranch to be exact. I picked my outfit and then picked a horse to do jumping with. There are three different horses, a white horse, a bay horse and a black horse to choose from. I tried them all and they didn't seem to move any differently than one another. So pick whichever one you find the most aesthetically pleasing (that's like totally the most important thing anyway right?) and start your race against the clock on the jumping course. The clock starts as soon as you get on the course, no need to worry though, the horse runs at a steady pace by itself so all you have to worry about is hitting a button at the right time to jump over the bars, you'll gain 10 seconds every time you hit a bar and if you hit too many bars you'll have to quit. Though you still get some points even if you have to stop, so it's OK, you can try again, as many times as you like. Also note how when you're jumping, you can see the fabled misty mountain ranges of Texas in the background (yes there are mountains in Texas, but not like that).

When you're bored with that you can go play horseshoes by walking off to the right of the screen. Barbie aims like she's drunk, but you should still be able to hit the spike without too many issues. Be sure to take a look at how absolutely crazed Barbie looks when pitching them as well, it's quite frightening. When you decide it's time to move on you walk off the left side of screen and barbie says her words and sends her card, you get your points tally and choose the next destination.



Before heading home, I decided to send Barbie to Wyoming to do her camping. As usual you choose an outfit for her before starting. She then starts off by setting up here tent, which is an insanely simple puzzle set up kind of like Tangrams. Once you've finished that barbie goes for a walk through the woods.



This is the only part of the game that really feels like a video game. Barbie has to cross several streams by jumping from rock to rock, but she has to be careful as if she slips and ends up in the ankle deep water she'll have to go back to beginning to dry off. As we all should well know, it's unreasonable to even considering being wet while you're out camping and hiking by the stream. Making matters worse are the animals that get in your way and can knock Barbie off the rocks, causing her to get wet. Especially heinous are the butterflies, the cruel aggressors will mercilessly toss barbie into the water if they touch her while you're standing on a stone. Once again the poor controls/interactions can cause this to take longer than it needs to. After you get through the jumping trials Barbie decides to take some wildlife pictures.


This basically means that barbie will keep walking along while you use cursor shaped like a camera viewfinder to take pictures of the animals. Every animal you snap gets you more points though you can only take each individual animal's picture once. When Barbie's done, she sends her post card, you get your points tally and then move on.


Now it's time to head home after so many not-so-exciting adventures! If you're playing on the harder difficulty you have to have enough points to do so. Otherwise, you can't select California and you'll have to keep endlessly vacationing until you have enough points to go home. Once that's cleared up you choose California, pick out Barbie's dress color and then you find yourself in Barbies beautiful, ugly and insanely tacky mansion. As soon as you arrive Ken will tell you that there are gifts hidden for you to find, and then walks off...seems sort of suspicious but whatever, it's present time! If you're playing the harder level, Ken tells you where they are but, excluding the first it's via a series of annoying rhyming clues.


When you find a gift you try to figure out what's inside it, as that's way more interesting than actually opening it! If you choose incorrectly you just try again, if you choose correctly you get points and get to continue. Ken shows up again, tells you more presents are left or gives you a stupid riddle and then walks off again (he does this in rooms where he couldn't escape, but he's just gone! It's kind of eerie really). This happens until you find all your presents and then Ken says there's a knock at the door.


Barbie makes her way to the door then you stand outside with Ken and your pink convertible and...nothing happens. It's stationary scene with no dialogue or explanations or anything. You just sit there until you hit a button. I'm not sure if the implication is that Ken got you new pink convertible just like the one barbie has always had or what. Anyway after you hit the button you get a scene of Barbie and Ken on a balcony, where nothing still happens... Then you see a one page credits list, before it kicks you back out to the main menu. That's it, that's the game. All those points you collected? Worth pretty much nothing, especially the ones you got for guessing the presents.



***Conclusion***

This game is such waste that you can't lose and you can't really win. You can just play it, if you can call subjecting yourself to these mindless digital tasks playing. The concept is bad, the controls are bad and the sound is bad. The only time you'll feel good about this game is when you turn it off and swear off ever playing it again. If you want to play one of the worst games to ever hit the Super NES console, by all means play this game. If you want to actually get even a small amount of enjoyment out of what you're playing just about any other game will do. OK, maybe not Bebe's kids, but even Shaq-fu is more satisfying than this piece of crap. As a true gamer girl who has played everything from doom to pokemon, I can admit that I am in some ways a sterotypical girl and I do still enjoy dress-up and puzzle games and barbies. I'm still disgusted that such a horrible piece of crap was ever supposed to appeal to me. After all, in these modern times, a woman can buy her own pink convertible.

~Stephanie


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1 comment:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Patricia

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