June 28, 2009
Yes! Barbie’s back! It seems that the initial outing for Team Barbie Detective in Barbie Detective (which I will probably eventually acquire so it can be entered into the database) was popular enough to warrant a sequel. So Barbie, Ken, and their wheelchair-bound friend — together comprising a formidable crime-solving force — take off on a much-needed vacation only to find themselves toe to toe with another tantalizing mystery at their resort destination.
So how bad could this really be, right? I’ve suffered through quite a lot, Barbie-wise, for the sake of this blog and MobyGames. What could this game possibly serve up to push me to the brink? How about this Barbie Detective theme song which forcibly plays during installation? Listen to it; listen to it all! Share in my pain…
It’s darn creepy, mind you, the male singer crooning inappropriately that, “there’s just one girl you need to call / and she will … ease … your … mind.”
I’m not afraid, though, so I pressed forth. And I’m glad I did because this is the kind of game I live for in this Gaming Pathology project. Games that elicit just the right combination of awe, bewilderment, and outright guffaws. Really, I haven’t laughed so hard at a game while being simultaneously stunned since… I don’t know, maybe Secret Agent Barbie.
Remember that one music trivia game I played, Radio Active, the one that stored a database of 761 possible player names so it could personally address you? Before I found the fixed database, I wondered if it might actually sound out the name you input. Detective Barbie 2 actually does just that:
Yeah, it’s a little weird when you first study the list. You can click on any of the selections and the game will cheerfully sound it out, though many of the adjacent selections sound the same. Throughout the game, Barbie will specifically address you by this name, although the pronunciation tends to sound a tad inconsistent with her normal speech patterns.
So, about the story: Team Barbie Detective arrives at the Inn at Lighthouse Cove for a little R&R. The Inn, it must be noted, was built by an eccentric inventor and is known to be loaded with puzzles. Before they even get a chance to check in and bring their bags in from the car, the team learns from the innkeeper that some long-forgotten antique jewelry has been stolen. This makes me wonder how they knew it had been stolen if it was already long forgotten. But that’s just what the manual indicated. The in-game narrative is a little fuzzier on the details. I just know I’m supposed to wander around the Inn and surrounding grounds in search of “clues,” ones that usually hang out in plain sight, as we’ll see a bit later. Some are only visible with the help of the magnifying glass that Barbie finds and takes a shine to:
When hovering the magnifying glass over the globe, a handprint glows green. I suspect I was supposed to care, but I couldn’t find a way to act on it.
Detective Barbie 2 was developed by Gorilla Systems Corporation. They were also responsible for Barbie as Sleeping Beauty as well as Barbie Magic Genie Bottle (and presumably the custom accessory that came with it). This game is based on a marginal 3D engine, perhaps similar to that found in Magic Genie Bottle. You guide Barbie left, right, forward, and back against a backdrop that scales in and out when going forward or back on the plane. It started to make me wonder if these were just straight bitmaps that were scaled in and out. However, Barbie can go behind and in front of objects. Further, she casts quasi-accurate shadows, so there might be some actual 3D work going on here.
When using the magnifying glass over a region, all the pixels are just made bigger and blockier.
Along the way, the player talks to a colorful cast of characters, each of whom is naturally a suspect. Take the chef above, for example. Personally, I found her most suspect characteristic to be her accent, which seemed to shift between French, German, and Russian. I would like to include a sample here but I can’t figure out the coding format the speech samples are stored in.
Here’s another nitpicky detail I got hung up on:
So teammate Kelly is wheelchair-bound. Fine, not a big deal. I’m just wondering how they managed to transport Kelly’s motorized wheelchair in Barbie’s pink convertible roadster:
And what kind of car is that, anyway? At first, it looked a bit like a Porsche. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a spacious Porsche convertible.
So, like I said, Barbie has to walk around the place and be spoon-fed clues and cues to advance the plot. Further, there are a few, more action-oriented activities, such as boat racing and hang gliding. I found the latter activity during my brief play. There wasn’t really any point (goal) to it that I could find; just a brief diversion. This is supposed to be a vacation after all.
I have to admit, the Inn was constructed beautifully enough that I rather enjoyed exploring the grounds, though I often had to fight with the awkward control scheme to do so (push the mouse cursor to extreme edges of the screen to make Barbie move). It’s just too bad I couldn’t bring myself to care too deeply about the mystery at hand. However, I got one last giant laugh from this scene and then decided I had reached my Barbie limit for the evening:
I must have tripped a plot point by visiting some other location because when I returned to this room, what do I find, but a phantom teacup just sort of floating there. This game isn’t supposed to have supernatural elements to it so I can only assume that this is merely an idiosyncrasy of the 3D engine. Anyway, I photograph it and feed the data into the portable crime computer. Kelly then notifies me via videoconference that it appears to be a teacup, most likely used for a garden party. She says this seriously as though it’s some kind of critical clue.
This game is just ridiculous enough that I’m tempted to play it again some time to see what other kinds of amusement might await.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Barbie Games,Girlie Games,Puzzle Games | Comments (17)
January 12, 2009
I do apologize for this brazen oversight — my master spreadsheet claimed that Barbie Beach Vacation already had corresponding screenshots in MobyGames when it clearly does not. That means I have to extend the Barbie coverage another night.
The first thing I notice about Beach Vacation is the different — and dare I say, creepy — art and animation style:
It's Overtly Sinister Barbie! New from Mattel
I’m a little surprised that Barbie’s appearance varies so widely between the assorted titles in her gaming oeuvre. This is the kind of thing I would expect Mattel to keep tight control over. But maybe only Disney is that strict, which is perhaps why they keep most game development in-house nowadays.
Barbie and her friends hit the beach, apparently one on a remote, private island. As I was jotting down notes to that effect, it dawned on me: Isn’t Barbie’s canon backstory that she lives in Malibu, California? Is it really necessary to cruise to a remote island to catch some rays?
Moving right along, the game is a collection of 7 minigames/activities. Actually, “minigame” pretty well describes all of the components since there are usually very concrete goals and you are basically prohibited from proceeding until you satisfactorily complete the task at hand. Tasks include surfing, water skiing, diving, and photographing marine life.
In the foregoing activity, Barbie — and when I say Barbie, I mean you, the player — is tasked with creating sand castles for a sand castle competition. At first, I tried to let my limited creativity flow with the tools at my disposal. That effort was dashed when Barbie kept reminding me that she didn’t think what I was doing was a good idea. You see, on the top of the screen are the components you absolutely must use to create a castle during this round. Look, Barbie, let’s not forget who’s helping whom here. If you tell me exactly what components I need to use in the sand castle, then you’re going to get letter-of-the-law nonsense as shown above so that I can keep the screenshot recon moving.
After winning the grueling multi-round elimination sand castle tournament on the beach, Barbie walks in on her similarly malevolent-looking pal practicing her dance moves for the big party. Barbie dons a new outfit (it’s important to note that Barbie gets to choose from a selection of new outfits prior to embarking on any activity) and practices her own dance. As she shakes it, it is your job to… I’m not sure, something about clicking on the left and right mouse buttons as musical notes move in to assault Barbie.
This minigame baffled me more than perhaps any other game played for this Gaming Pathology effort. But the game was sympathetic to my plight as it chose to just randomly end the dance after awhile.
Then it’s on to plan the big beach party. Choose from 2 locations, a number of hanging decorations, as well as a number of sitting decorations that were hidden in bottles recovered throughout other activities. Decide where to place the DJ and every single one of your friends. Be sure to place Ken near you and not near one of your girlfriends, and press the button to make the party transpire.
I have heard the horror tales about brides who try to micromanage every finest detail of their weddings. I think it’s obvious that these women got the idea that such fine-grained control over a party is even possible: they played computer games like this.
Tanned, rested and ready to tackle another wild adventure, Barbie and her friends depart from the island. I can’t be sure, but I think that this crab — an extraneous prop that is generally a filmmaker’s shorthand indicating that the action takes place on a tropical island (see also: scorpion as shorthand for desert) — is actually flipping them the claw.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Barbie Games,Childrens Games,Girlie Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
January 10, 2009
You’ll be happy — or saddened, depending on whether you have the same twisted idea of entertainment that I do — to learn that tonight’s game will be the last Barbie game for awhile, until such time that I happen to procure another Barbie game that A) is not yet in MobyGames, or B) is already in the database, but that I genuinely want to play. What?
Yeah, you read that right — unless there’s a Barbie game that I actually care to try my hand at. Tonight’s game — Secret Agent Barbie — already has a very complete record with a good description, diverse set of screenshots, and complete credits. But I admit that I want to see what this is about. After all, I’m a moderate fan of sneaking games like Metal Gear Solid. And after a week of metaphorically eating my vegetables by playing Barbie titles for MobyGames, I hope this tastes like dessert.
It's Sky Diving Secret Agent Barbie! New from Mattel; seriously, though, the game implies that Barbie deploys to all of her secret missions via parachute, in broad daylight, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower
As the name implies, Barbie does a stint at an espionage agency. The agency goes unnamed. And they don’t really fight international threats. Mostly, they seem to investigate theft incidents that occur in the world of high fashion. Really, the organization seems more like a private investigator’s office with an extravagant clothing budget.
Clothing, you should know, plays a significant role in anything Barbie. This game is no different. Barbie has to change clothes every time she switches into a different game mode. There are 3 such modes — action (where Barbie can run and jump, onto crates, for example), adventure (where Barbie can walk casually and talk to people), and stealth (where Barbie can crouch as she walks and can also do a roll).
Clothing and guards– guards also play a significant role in the game. The game features extensive VR training for all 3 modes in which much of the focus is how to deal with guards. In stealth mode, the player is taught to perform a tumble-roll directly in the guard’s field of vision. Sure enough, he doesn’t notice you. In the adventure/talky mode, the player is instructed to use the makeup compact. After the guard gruffly warns that you are not allowed to pass, take out the compact and blow the contents in the guard’s face. Then casually wander past him. I guarantee that Barbie has never been more reprehensible than when she executes this maneuver.
But I wanted to give this game the old college try. After the cursory, hand-holding training, the agency receives word that a famous fashion designer has had her designs stolen from the major New York fashion show, apparently held in Central Park. So Barbie ‘chutes in to investigate. The game immediately goes to action/jumping mode. In Central Park. Why?
Yep, crates in a park
Crates, that’s why. Stacked meters high in central park. Amidst fields whose “keep off grass” signs must be backed with deadly force. Old Man Murray would be proud (see Crate Review System).
So I wandered around the high fashion tent in Central Park and immediately found an invitation to a fashion show in Paris. This meant that Barbie had to go make a trip to that fashion mecca. Which is about the time that the banality thwarted any further interest. Obviously, all the missions are going to be extremely cut & dried– go to this location, avoid guard, find item; go to that location, use gadget, distract guard, find code; keep repeating. I mean, this is is so unlike Metal Gear Solid where Solid Snake is instructed to go to some location, avoid the guards, gather some item; then go to another location, use gadget… wait… ummm… well, at least Solid Snake doesn’t change his outfit all the time… no, wait, in parts 3 and 4, he is constantly changing camouflage as a key aspect of the game.
Look, at least the Metal Gear Solid series has big, cool robots, a feature notably missing from this game… probably. I didn’t really play far enough. Frankly, if this game featured a final fashion contest against a giant fashion robot, I might have to qualify it as being even better than a Metal Gear Solid game.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Action Games,Adventure Games,Barbie Games,Girlie Games,Windows Games | Comments (6)
January 7, 2009
This is an exceedingly bizarre Barbie title and I think you know that that’s saying something. You see, Barbie Magic Genie Bottle actually requires a peripheral that was packaged with the game. Much like the Steel Battalion series for the Xbox which featured its own custom controller, this game is not very useful without its special attachment.
The Magic Genie Bottle is a curious artifact that is surprisingly easy and relatively cheap to procure via eBay. Not that I have tried. Until tonight, I wasn’t sure if it was strictly necessary for playing the game. Further, you would be hard-pressed to find a modern computer that is equipped to use the device. The Magic Genie Bottle interfaces via the classic-style 15-pin PC joystick port.
So I fired up the game, hoping for the best, where “best” in this narrow case translates to “playable without offbeat peripheral”. The first screen is the one shown above and instructs me to wave my hand around the bottle. The game asks if I can see an animation (to be triggered on-screen, I presume), and has yes or no buttons to click. I thought I was sunk until I realized I could easily lie to the naive machine. So I got to the start of the game, where the player is walking into an antique shop holding the bottle. The storekeep asks if you know the secret of magic bottles, implying that all bottles are magic. She encourages me to rub said bottle. Uh-oh. Looks like I’m sunk. As I was scribbling notes about how much this game disappointed me, Barbie-Genie pops out of the bottle anyway, advancing the setup. We are then transported back in time to wherever it is that genie stories take place.
The thrust of the game is that Barbie is a genie who had her powers stolen by some evil genie in the employ of a rotten sultan. You are to assist her in getting her powers back. This involves visiting 5 lands and procuring 5 gems. Each gem requires solving a puzzle and to solve a puzzle, you must find 5 puzzle pieces scattered about the land. Fine. At least this game exhibits a slightly more competent 3D engine than seen in the maze portion of Barbie as Rapunzel, which was developed sometime after this game, by a different house. You can walk around and mount your trusty flying carpet to fly on a slightly higher plane as shown above.
Barbie-Genie is always in tow, squealing instructions in your general direction.
It's Severely Aliased Barbie! New from Mattel
Indeed, she can get a little too close.
So, great, it seems that the genie bottle peripheral is optional. Well, no, not quite. I spied this shy puzzle piece hidden behind a barrel:
Clicking on it only earned an explanation from Barbie-Genie that the player needs to rub the magic genie bottle in order to get heavy objects to levitate.
Game over. At least until such time that I can perhaps figure out how to dupe the input logic. I know a bit about how those old PC joysticks operated and they don’t have a lot of bandwidth for a complicated protocol. A project for a day long from now. I have plenty of data for a MobyGames entry.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Barbie Games,Girlie Games,Windows Games | Comments (4)
December 30, 2008
Since the last 2 discs I tried were kind of a bust, I moved swiftly on to another recent procurement: Scooby-Doo: Phantom of the Knight. This is part of a series of 3 mystery adventure games published by The Learning Company circa 2001. The other 2 are Showdown in Ghost Town and Jinx at the Sphinx (I bought the latter at the same time as Phantom but carelessly forgot to verify that a CD-ROM was in the sleeve; missing media is a real problem at this thrift store).
The game begins when the Mystery Van has an encounter with a fireball. Deciding to pull over and assess any heat damage, the gang takes refuge in an old castle nearby. The castle is named Joust For Fun and is sort of a medieval theme park. They quickly learn that the place is being haunted by the Black Knight, believed to be the spirit of the castle’s original owner (which, BTW, was originally built in Scotland and later disassembled and reassembled over here, where “here” is presumably the U.S. or possibly Canada).
Anyway, the player meets a colorful cast of characters including the owner, one Jane McHaggis who, surprisingly, is not a crude Scottish stereotype despite her name. It seems that Pizza Palace is very aggressively trying to buy up the property but Old Lady McHaggis is holding firm in her choice not to sell. I’m sure that’s just a red herring regarding the true motivation behind the Black Knight.
So the game has the player wandering around the castle, interacting with random objects during the traditional adventure game pixel-hunt, and engaging in various minigame puzzles. This is the first such puzzle, necessary to gain entry into the castle:
It just entails clicking on the flags down below in order to cycle through the flag patterns so that they match the patterns on top of the drawbridge. Pretty straightforward. Night quite as odd as the minigame that requires solving when first meeting Sir Lacksalot, a surfer-accented actor who is just trying to make ends meet with this knight acting gig:
You have to move all the armor that has fallen on the klutz, but the armor is an entangled mess. You have to tug at various pieces with the mouse cursor until something finally gives. At various junctures, Lacksalot has the temerity to address me as “dude” with the utmost incredulity. That made it all the more satisfying to exit the room with the whole gang and leave him trapped. However, I had to come back later and give it another shot when I realized the game wasn’t going anywhere until I dug him out.
Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when I finally got the armor off because it meant that I had to continue playing the game. But it wasn’t much longer before I was very, unequivocally stuck and thus had an excuse to put the game down and start on this post and my first new MobyGames entry in months.
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Windows Games | Comments (0)
November 30, 2008
I remember when I first set out on this Gaming Pathology journey. According to my master spreadsheet at the time, I had around 80 games in my collection that were not in the database. My MobyGames records state that I contributed 106 games in 2007 and 30 games so far in 2008. Yet, my spreadsheet currently reports that I possess around 110 unentered games. Therefore, I recently resolved to not purchase anymore games until I have made a significant dent in the unentered games in my stock. And then there’s all the screenshot recon to be done!
So I have been reorganizing my computers recently. Most notably, I have decommissioned my Windows XP machine that was my central hub for this Gaming Pathology experiment. In its place, I have created a Windows XP VMware session on my Mac Mini. VMware Fusion for the Mac is supposed to have some nifty features for emulating DirectX so that gaming in a virtual computer won’t be such a drag. However, the virtualization program was quick to tell me that my budget-minded Mac Mini, with its economy class Intel graphics chipset, does not necessarily support all the latest and greatest features.
Somehow, I don’t think that this will be much of a problem given the types of games I often play, the bulk of which seem to be based on Macromedia Director. In fact, I thought I would eschew covering a new game for the time being and try one that I have been wanting to play for awhile: The Lost Island of Alanna, a Cherry Coke promotional game.
Unfortunately, as a result of my recent attempt at a full-on Mac conversion, I am still at a loss with regards to a decent graphics workflow. At the same time, I am also fighting with the newer image capabilities of the WordPress blogging software driving this site. Please accept this single screenshot that highlights what happens when running this 1998 vintage title on Windows XP without setting the compatibility mode to Windows 95:
X, not marking the spot in the cola-themed adventure
As mentioned, this game came out in 1998. I was excited to snatch this up for cheap on eBay, even though the game has a decent entry already (refer to said entry for better screenshots, which do not vary significantly from the ones I could post). I should have read the MobyGames entry a little more thoroughly. It seems that this game was heavily dependent on materials available at a now-defunct cherrycoke.com URL. I can certify that the game’s eponymous island is pretty much impenetrable without the clues on that website. The Wayback Machine doesn’t help much since I can’t find any front pages for the site that mention Alanna.
Again, though, I should have done a little more homework before my purchase, for there is a complete walkthrough available, listed through MobyGames. Not only that, but the walkthrough author saw fit to post an entire copy of the game at the top of the walkthrough. So, by all means, download it and give it a whirl, especially if you thought Myst was an unparalleled masterpiece.
While the walkthrough reveals every single detail needed to complete Alanna, it also contains a specific deep link into the old Cherry Coke website. This is invaluable for web forensics via the aforementioned Wayback Machine and thus I was able to locate the original online companion materials for this game. Behold: The Standlake University of Cultural Anthropology project on Alanna.
The Standlake University research notes appear eerily authentic. This represents a marvelous impersonation of a dry, boring academic website. Keep in mind that there are some people who believe that video games are supposed to be fun.
I’m ecstatic to report that I finished this adventure game, including the sliding tile puzzle, and I am unashamed to admit that I followed the walkthrough to the letter. I wasn’t going to bother until I noticed that the walkthrough actually had a 71-step process for solving the sliding tile puzzle. The same website, apparently specializing in adventure game walkthroughs, even has software for solving sliding tile puzzles.
- Myst, Alanna’s most obvious influence
- Taco Bell Tek Kids– now here’s a company that knows how to do promotional tie-in video games
Posted by Multimedia Mike under Adventure Games,Licensed Schlock,Windows Games | Comments (0)