Barbie NES Review

Imagine this conversation back in 1991 in the school yard as exciteable school children:

A: Hey, wanna come over to play some NES after school?

B: Sure! What we gonna play?

A: How about we go on a glamorous quest full of magic, fun and adventure?

At this stage, I bet your salivating, licking your lips thinking perhaps some Zelda 2 or Gauntlet 2 or in fact Cheetahmen, right? Well, imagine the disappointment when you get round your friends house, and he pulls a copy of Barbie, on the NES. It’s good that Nintendo were trying to cater for girl gamers, but for your average male gamer used to stomping on goombas, whipping bats and shooting ducks, its not the usual game for a usual gamer. So how does the game fare up since its release in these fair shores in 1992?

The game starts as all good games start, with “Once upon a dream”, and we all know quality games like this and Day Dreamin’ Davey starts with dreaming. The premise of the game is that Barbie falls asleep, dreaming of such exciting activities as lunch as the soda shop, swimming at the beach and *yawn* meeting Ken at the party tomorrow. She drifts off and your transported to the first level of the game – where your greeted by the sight of balls. Lots, and lots, of balls. And thus begins one the finest scrollers on the NES…*ahem*

The pink colour scheme and roses indicates this is definately a game for the boys…

This game is about as simple as you can get – you go from the left hand side of the screen, scrolling to the right and not stopping, jumping on platforms as you go. You are assisted by simple controls, A to jump, jumping with an arched knee as though there’s no gravity, and B to throw your fearsome weapon of….balls. Zelda had his sword, Mario has his jump, and Barbie has her balls. I’m still unsure as to whether there is some deep seated innuendo or hidden meanings in this game, but to an 8 year old girl playing the game would they notice balls and make tenuous links? Well nevertheless the enemies you encounter in the game range from beach balls scrolling across the screen, tennis balls hit at you and clothes flying over the screen, so in essence its a question of timing and dodging. What makes this even more difficult is the lack of ducking, but at least its not a game where pressing Up to jump, so it does have some redeeming features. So you get to the right hand side of the screen and you get…the next screen, and thus continue.

So you collect the B for Barbies for more points dodging balls, jumping on platforms, dodging upward squirting fountains, so its not the most difficult of games but no one was expecting this to be, was they? You can call the help of animals along the way, in the first level a cat that you throw your ball at and it attacks the boss, in this instance something remaining hidden behind curtains. You’ll also seek assistance from dolphins and other such creatures to aid you in your glamorous quest, trying your hardest not to lose your health bar. Well, you say “health bar”, but more as a dream “Z” meter. You start with 5 Z’s, and if you lose all of them, your treated to the most quirkiest continue game screen you’ll ever find. Should you choose to go back to sleep, you’ll start off at the start of the level with no points.  Should you wake up, then, erm, you wake up, and you go right back to the start. Its not quite the frantic paced music and countdown on Street Fighter 2. But without any passwords to help your progress, or a battery back-up memory then it’s the best you’ll get, though it was common back in the day to sit in front of your TV playing the game straight through without any breaks. Its how we rolled, not today with auto-saves and checkpoints. The kids today don’t know stamina unless they’ve played this with one life. Take that Contra.

If looks could kill, she’d be in Alcatraz

The levels are as as girly as can be, with you scrolling through malls, through fountains, gallerias and other such treats. The water levels later in the game is reminiscent of the Turtles water stages (just without the dreaded electric purple plants), and the underwater Mario stages where you control Barbie as she dreams she is a mermaid and swim past the jellyfish and fishies. The bosses are challenging for those young enough who are lucky enough to play this, but not quite the difficulty of Contra that gamers may expect, nor have the luxury of upgrading any items you have to defeat the boss any easier. Just you, some balls, and an animal if your lucky.

So aside from the VGA style purple and blue colours, and the simplistic controls, what else does this charming game have? Well, its playable. It may sound strange for a game exclusively aimed at girls to have a playability factor, but once you get used to shooting balls at creatures, at invisible clothes men and at water creatures, it actually resembles a half decent game. There splenty of male-centric games that played worse than this. The music is typical 8-bit fluff which suits the style of game, is jaunty and upbeat, but the sound effects, for example when you jump can start to jar after a while. However its not terrible enough to turn it off and put on a Less Than Jake CD, or whatever the youth of today listen to.

So all in all, being a non-Barbie fan will this convert me, to purchase Ken and obtain that exquisite Malibu House to house them in? Well, no. For a NES game, its very standard, but very, very pink. And very very dull. It was nice that this game catered for the girl contigence, but I don’t think this would have done much to convert those girl gamers who play this to become hardcore Nintendo fans. The fish flopping and water upskirts do little for the guy gamers so  I wouldn’t expect this in every gamers collection. To be honest, it was the one aspect of the game that stopped me completing it. The pastel colours start affecting your eyes for a while so who knows what treats are in store for the later levels, maybe going to a prom, or seeing even more pictures of Ken selling milk for 10c and soda for 5c? Though don’t go believing the description of this being a glamorous quest full of fun magic and adventure, you might try to sue Mattel for breaching the Trades Descriptions Act.  If you want that I’d suggest starting with something much more magical like Festers Quest…


Rating – 2 out of 5

Goal! NES Review

With Euro 2012 in full swing, what better way to celebrate this footballing feast than going way back when to 1989 with this slice of retro football, or “soccer” to our friends over the pond. Nowadays, the only choice for football fans is a decision of FIFA or Pro Evo, but back then oh we had choices, including this game from Jaleco, the same guys who published Maniac Mansion of all games, so a diverse company they were.

So popping this sucker into your machine your greeted with one of the few games not Japanese that gives the player an epileptic seizure-inducing title screen with its purple and pink letters flashing away letting you know what your playing. As if the burgundy man on the front practicing his side kicks isn’t a big enough clue. However after deciding 1 or 2 players, your presented with 4 options which will be described in greater detail; World Cup (Not quite the European Championships but good enough), Tournament. Shoot (Competition) and Continue, which i’ll tell you now is the longest password i’ve ever seen for a game, with a hefty 16 characters of mindless up and down pressing on your controller.

The World Cup is exactly that, a replica of a World Cup tournament but not based on a specific World Cup in particular. You can choose from 16 teams, including the might of the Soviet USSR, which anyone who plays retro sports games from this period will know is a great treat for those not accustomed with the Soviet era. The first 3 matches are played in a round-robin group stage before progressing through in a knock out to the final. The Tournament option from the main menu takes you to a knock-out only competition involving 8 American teams – yes American football/soccer teams. With no ratings and no knowledge of American soccer teams, your best bet is to pick any team you like the sound of and go from there. Its a nice feature for those back in the day who are not use to other nation’s football to play as these transatlantic teams but somewhat confusing for a boy in London wanting to play as Manchester United to be greeted with such delicious options as Atlanta or Miami.

If tournaments are not your bag, you could always go for straight out shoot-out competitions, the third and final playable option. By choosing from one of three exotically named players, Hansen, Roko or Juarez, you get 5 opportunities to score from dubiously placed set pieces. Score and you get a gold star, failure brings a silver star. These offer nothing more than just practice but is a nice break if you don’t have the time or patience to go through a whole tournament, however it is surprising there is a lack of an option to play one-off friendlies as in most football games.

The team in green ensured their kit didn’t camouflauge in with the pitch

So as to the gameplay, with the view from an overhead angled view like Pele on the Mega Drive, which in a way is nicer than sideways on gameplay. The graphics are bright, with the players’ kits well defined and bright, and vaguely reminiscent of the countries they are  representing. Just without today’s fancy sponsors and manufacturers plastered all over the kit. Games are played in 15 minute halves, though not 15 real life minutes, just in-game minutes. Controls are crisp and simple – the A button shoots and tackles, B button changes player and passes, and A+B does a more powerful shot, which admittedly was only discovered 20 years later from when I first played the game. Unlike other retro games *ahem* Pele on Mega Drive * ahem * terrible * ahem*, its not impossible to score a goal, which may sound odd for a football game, but in essence the only way to win is to score, so if you can’t score then why play? There is no difficulty setting for matches which is a shame, however is a decent learning curve so not impossible for new players and not a complete whitewash for veterans of the game. Though for a challenge try completing the World Cup as Algeria!

What is peculiar for a football game is that there is music in the game, reminiscent of a Mega Man game. This strikes as peculiar for a football game, its one of the few games you would expect that would not need or want a soundtrack, so unless you want the whistles from the referee and crowds drowned out by 8-bit tunes in its glory then whack the volume up to 99 on your TV. Its not neccessary to enjoy this game with the sound on, but the tunes are quite catchy for a football game.

So how does this game fair up? Well, what makes this game unique and individual is the little touches, which goes a long way in a smorgsaboard of football games for the time. For instance, when you score, your player streaks across the screen past the crowd punching the air. As well, at half time your treated to a display from cheerleaders. I don’t know about anyone else who has been at the local stadium on a wet Tuesday night, but I don’t remember cheerleaders at Bolton’s stadium. It’s not as grand as choosing your own goal celebrations like now, or holding down different buttons to have different images on video-walls like FIFA, but still a nice touch. Finally, the game has features not seen often before in football games at the time, like swerving a shot after its kicked and on screen linesman.

Although this game is not perfect by any means, it’s still one of the better football games on the NES, with the small touches mentioned above making it more refined. It would have been easy to do a simple review of the first football/soccer on the console, ingenuiously entitled “Soccer”, but wanted to show something of substance, something of style…and at best we have this. Its hard to pick out flaws with the game as being a football game fanatic its difficult so the best thing I can suggest is to pick up a copy, going cheap on eBay and all good retro outlets, and help the USSR er I mean England to win the World Cup – it’ll be the closest thing England get to winning anything since 1966…

Rating – 4 out of 5