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Barbie as the Island Princess

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Ivolgamus
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Themed/ Family/ Party

Graphics & Sound:

Barbie as The Island Princess is the kind of game that requires a mental "separation of Church and State." Parents won't always understand why their children are fascinated in some things, but you generally just go with it. My son has in the past vacillated between playing pretend-games with rubber-bands and playing with themed toys like Diego and Bob the Builder. Some of the themed toys we've bought in the past had the world's crappiest construction and broke within about 72 hours after we purchased them. Others were sufficiently well made to last until the return policy expired from Target, or wherever... As parents, we become accustomed to applying a different type of logic to the purchases we make for our children, compared to the things we buy for ourselves.

Keeping that in mind, Barbie as The Island Princess isn't a terrible game. It looks passable, in a Past-Gen kind of way, and has lots of pink trappings that Barbie fans will appreciate. Barbie looks great in her Island Princess costume and you can play around in a dressing room that features outfits and accessories. It was disappointing that the costumes you choose in the dressing room aren't carried over into the main game. It seems so obvious that this would be a feature, but the dressing room is just a bauble, a place to play around with Barbie that doesn't have any connection to the rest of the game. There is a firm connection throughout the game to the Barbie as The Island Princess theme, which transcends this game and goes into a new show and line of toys on the market. Think of the game like any other toy and you'll be fine. The quirks that may even annoy children are some very uneven audio - the cut-scenes are inaudible and when you turn up the TV enough to hear the dialogue during these scenes, you'll find the normal game at an ear-splitting level. The other annoying thing, maybe more to parents than kids, is that characters repeat the same things over and over, repeat the same things over and over, repeat the same things over and over... It pops up in all the mini-games and can be quite a distraction. It's a shame, because the voice acting isn't terrible and what they're saying is usually on point with the action in the mini-game. There is some decent music during the mini-games and accompanying videos that can be unlocked by scoring well in the gameplay.


Gameplay:

Barbie as The Island Princess is a collection of 28 mini-games and a few extras like the dressing room and the playable videos. There's a trailer for the Barbie as The Island Princess show as well that kids can watch again and again. Mini-games have some intrinsic fun value and when you add the multiplayer component, it isn't hard to see how kids will enjoy Barbie as The Island Princess. There are gaps in the fun as some mini-games are more fun than others, but that's true of even the best mini-game collections. The way things work here is that Barbie works through specific locations and unlocks new ones by succeeding in the mini-games. Depending on how well she scores in a mini-game, she can earn roses - gathering a specific number will unlock the new location. Only a handful of locations are available, so you can imagine there are about four to five mini-games per location. As the game opens up, you can return to any of the previous locations and try to improve your score or just play a mini-game for fun. The single-player experience isn't nearly as much fun as multiplayer, especially since some of the mini-games really require cooperative gameplay. The CPU player is usually pretty clueless, which works in your favor as you try to compete for points in the single-player games.

The mini-games in Barbie as The Island Princess alternate between a few simple styles. The developers are to be commended for actually making an effort to utilize the Wii controls. Many games are simple enough that the only effort required is moving the Control Pad or the analog stick on the Nunchuk. Others require a combination of both controls and two or three distinct actions. In the latter case, the only gripe is that kids aren't likely to absorb the instructions before the game starts and end up flailing around. The manual includes instructions on how to play each mini-game, so parents or kids can fill in the blanks quickly if they miss the on-screen instructions. As an example of poor design, the on-screen instructions don't include a "Ready to play?" option, they just disappear when the mini-game loads and you are off to the races. This makes things harder than necessary. Luckily, the mechanics for most of the mini-games are simple enough that kids can succeed by swinging the Wii-mote or stabbing at buttons experimentally. Barbie as The Island Princess seems to do a lot of carrying items from one place to another or grabbing falling items. She also enjoys mazes, tracing shapes, and matching colors. Themes like sewing, waiting on tables, cooking, and making floral arrangements will no doubt create a new generation of girls well on their way to being liberated women... Okay, the mini-games are themed along the lines of what Barbie enjoys doing, and who can fault her? Games like the one that involves serving tea and cakes are actually the most interesting. You'll run up to a table, press the (A) button to take an order and then see a visual list of the items that patron wants. Running over to the serving table, you collect the items in the proper order and then return to serve the happy patron. This is a competitive game that doesn't require any motion controls. A good example of one that does use motion is the game where Barbie is working on a factory line (not kidding) sorting jewels, crabs, and seaweed. Shaking the Wii-mote is what you do when a jewel comes down the line, and shaking the Nunchuk pushes the crabs and seaweed off the line. Not sure how we feel about Barbie pulling a Laverne & Shirley, but it makes for a fun game. Let's hope Barbie is making union wages...


Difficulty:

The level of difficulty is clearly watered down to the point that it is very difficult to not win. Barbie as The Island Princess is likely targeting new gamers lulled by the high profile of the Wii and the brand, or younger gamers. It's a nice touch to have both cooperative and competitive mini-games, but the majority are competitive. There are some issues with poor controls and very... slow... reaction... times that make certain games more difficult than necessary. Only a few of the mini-games have obscure rules or approach anything like frustration. The take-away is that the design of the games works well enough that most are pick-up-and-play quality. The few exceptions are still easy enough that kids will get through. The threshold for opening new levels is just to gather a certain number of Island Roses. Since there are up to three roses available for each mini-game, it will often be the case that kids play the harder mini-games and only earn one rose, then earn two or three roses in the easier games. Things balance out and unless you are completely inept, you'll have unlocked everything after just a few hours.

Game Mechanics:

Almost every aspect of the Wii controls is used for Barbie as The Island Princess. One strange decision was to have different controls according to whether you are playing single-player or multiplayer style. Not sure why this was chosen, but it seems like something in response to technical limitations rather than a conscious choice for the benefit of gameplay. Another thing you'll notice is that the controls are very mushy and slow. Moving Barbie in any location feels like pushing a stroller through sand (parents that have tried taking a stroller to the beach will totally understand this reference). Hard to know if kids will notice the difference, but they probably will if they're playing other titles with snappy, sharp controls like Super Mario Galaxy. It doesn't feel like the same audience but you never know... Allowing for spotty implementation, you have to respect the fact that Barbie as The Island Princess at least leverages the Wii's capabilities rather than just pushing the same style of game out to every platform.

The final analysis on our side is that Barbie as The Island Princess will probably delight a young kid (likely a girl) that already loves all things Barbie. If we want gaming to appeal to a wider audience and not be so male dominated, this is as good a place to start as any. We'd love to see a game with tighter controls and more depth, but that just doesn't typically match up with licensed fare. Certainly we've played licensed games that were far, far worse than Barbie as The Island Princess. If there were just a pink Wii to go along with this, the Barbie as The Island Princess Wii bundle for $299.99...


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Windows Space Ace HD Sony PlayStation 2 Dancing with the Stars

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated