Publisher: Hi-Tech Expression
Total time played: 3 hours
Short review: A stiff platformer aimed at young girls that would have been a piece of cake if it weren’t for the broken controls.
Interesting links related to Barbie
- Speedrun (12minutes 42seconds)
- Video Review (CG Undertow)
- Video Review (Angry Video Game Nerd)
My History with Barbie
I grew up with a brother and most of my friends didn’t have sisters who were into video games so as a kid I never ran across Barbie. When I was 14 I met a kid named Andy in Freshman year French class. We became good friends, played on the school baseball team together and ended up living together in college. But one of the first interactions we had was talking about video games.
Andy kept talking about a game called Earthbound on the SNES that came in a huge box that he got for Christmas one year. He said it was the best game ever made. I had never heard of it. Andy’s parents were divorced and his mom lived a few hours away, and that is where his copy of Earthbound was. To this day, I have never played through it. I did play about an hour on an emulator once and was digging it but hated using the computer keyboard as a controller so ended up quitting.
Anyway, back to Barbie. Andy found out I collected NES games and gave me all of his games as he no longer was playing them. Among the games was Barbie. I’m not sure why Andy had Barbie as he didn’t have a sister.
I popped in the game just to make sure it worked, and it did, so after no more than 2 minutes I turned it off. I didn’t play it again until this week when my friend Jason beat it. The same Jason who beat Ninja Gaiden a couple of weeks ago. I asked how hard Barbie was and he said “easier than Ninja Gaiden” which was all I needed to hear.
Jason was right, Barbie is easier than Ninja Gaiden, however, it isn’t as easy as it should be. The game consists of 5 levels, none of them on their own are hard but there are several places where I could never find a way to get past an obstacle without getting hurt. On top of this, you only get 1 life per continue and 2-3 continues (I’m not sure how many as I played the game so many times one play through ran into the next). There are never any holes to fall into that kill you instantly like almost every other platformer on the NES but even without the instant deaths the final level is a nightmare, more on that later.
How to Play
Basically you just move left to right until the stage ends. Barbie wears a charm bracelet that features 3 charms. You can throw one of the charms by pressing the B button on the controller. The longer you hold B the farther you through the charm. Each of the 3 charms do different things but I couldn’t ever figure out which charm would work on which in game object so I just threw all 3 until one worked. All charms look the same and they were unlimited so there was no reason to not just throw them all.
Some charms would cause in game items to do different things. In one stage throwing a charm to a dog makes the dog grab a ball or a newspaper and run off with it. If you don’t do this the ball/paper will hit you taking one hit point away. Other charms make birds or Cadillacs fly creating a platform for you to jump onto and over an obstacle.
The rest of the levels typically consist of fountains or trays of food spewing projectiles that you have to avoid as you move through the stage. You start with 5 hit points which are represented by Z’s, if you lose all your Z’s you wake up and it is game over. Throughout each level you collect items such as giant letter B’s which sometimes will give you an extra hit point. You can also grab a bubble to make you invincible for a short while. Each stage has a collectable item that gives you points. Points do nothing so they aren’t worth getting. These items include pearls, starfish, music notes and records. Barbie is about as basic as it gets for gameplay.
Visuals and Music
Barbie is large and wears several different outfits throughout the game which would probably have made me happy if I were a small girl and it were 25 years ago. The level design leaves a bit to be desired though. Each level features a minimal color palette and way too many things going on in the background.
The plot of the game revolves around Barbie falling asleep dreaming about all of the shopping she has to do the next day. I have no issue with the story or the levels. But, the bosses are a little underwhelming.
The final boss, which I didn’t take a photo of is a juke box that spits out music notes. To beat the juke box you must jump on the 3 coins that are placed on the floor. When you jump on the coin about 15 times it begins spinning really fast, make all the coins spin at once to beat the game. Wow, what a final boss!
I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to what Barbie was wearing, but I do know she changed several times throughout the game. At one point she was a mermaid, and the game play on that stage was not nearly as good as the gameplay in The Little Mermaid. She also wore a poodle skirt at some point and when you beat the game she puts on the ballroom gown. But, I’m sure no little girl ever saw the ending due to the nearly impossible final stage.
The final stage
The final stage consists of a staff of music with notes strung along it in a seemingly meaningless pattern. I can’t read music but I am pretty sure it would not have played a pretty tune if if someone actually transcribed the notes. The stage features the only real platforming in the entire game. You must jump across about 30 music notes, spinning records and some yellow balls. The notes do nothing when you land on them, the records spin so if you stay on it too long you will fall off and the yellow balls begin falling when you land on them meaning you must jump to the next platform immediately.
If at any point across these 30 jumps you falls you land on a blue path below that pushes you back to the start of the level. You don’t die, but you are forced to make every single jump again. I fell off with the end in site more times than I like to admit. On top of this, there are a few flying projectiles that you must dodge while jumping between the notes, a couple of them I found impossible to dodge which means you only get a finite amount of attempts before it is game over and Barbie wakes up.
If this were Super Mario Bros., Mega Man or a Bucky O’Hare game this level would not have been hard. But, because the hit detection in Barbie is awful this level became a nightmare. I would, more times that not, jump and land directly on a platform and fall right through it. I eventually discovered that not only did it matter where you landed, it also matters where you jump from on the prior platform. This stage was all about trial and error and even then I still fell a lot. If I landed on the platform every time I should have this final stage would have been a breeze. But, I wasn’t going to give up right at the end. Much like Ninja Gaiden, I spent more time on this final stage than all other stages combined.
Barbie is not a good game, not even for little girls. It is short and playable which is why I stuck with it. I see what the game designers were trying to do and if it had been a bit more polished it wouldn’t have been bad. But, because they appeared to rush it to market the game is worse than average.