Nintendo Entertainment System
There have been a number of Barbie-related games for nearly every console imaginable. The Nintendo Entertainment System release was one of the first, and is either a cult classic or a train wreck -- it depends entirely on who you ask. This game, simply titled 'Barbie', was released in December of 1991 and was developed by Hi-Tech Expressions. The game begins as Barbie is going to bed and thinking about her plans for the following day. Players can see into her mind thanks to thought bubbles; she looks forward to a trip to the beach, shopping for a new dress, and a date with Ken. She drifts off to sleep and dreams of the shopping spree from hell.
The playable part of the game takes place in a rather bizarre mall; the player must navigate Barbie through the sports store, the food court, a pet store, a toy store and a jukebox. This is a rather bizarre nightmare, however, and the mall is completely empty except for Barbie and a large number of possessed inanimate objects. The objective is to get Barbie through the mall so she can find her dream dress for her date with Ken (apparently there's a date with Ken within the dream, as well). Barbie has to get from one end of the level to the other (this is a side scrolling game) without depleting her Z meter. Each hit she takes from one of the inanimate objects of death removes one Z from the meter. She can, however, freeze the movement of these objects by throwing charms from her charm bracelet at them. She has three different charms at her disposal and certain charms work on certain objects. The charms can also be used to modify elements of each level; sometimes charms must be used to move parts of the scenery (thus enabling Barbie to complete the level). Let me tell you, though, it's kind of scary to lead a character through a mall where sports equipment and fast food are conspiring against you.
The gameplay is extremely rigid. This game requires precise timing in order to avoid certain death, though the game takes a reasonably long time to respond to the player's commands. The A button is used to jump (which happens extremely slowly) and the B button is used to throw charms. The arrow pad is used to toggle between the different charms and to walk. Throwing charms is also often difficult because the game doesn't respond to use of the B button too quickly. These seemingly small 'problems' can mean the difference between making it past part of a level and losing several Zs. Another reasonably annoying features lets the player 'control' how far and high the charms are thrown. This is a necessary evil, as some of the targets are higher or further than a normal charm's throw away, but the actual aiming takes a while to get used to.
The game's graphics are generally what one can expect from an 8-bit video game, however the specifics of the mall don't exactly make a lot of sense. The mall's specific areas don't seem to flow into each other like those of a real mall, and the food court isn't in the middle of the building. Accuracy isn't one of the main objectives of such a video game, however, so the geography of the mall probably wasn't the programmers' biggest concern. The sound is also what one might expect from an NES game. The music is not spectacular though it's not quite as obnoxious or as repetitive as that of other NES games.
The major problem most people (including myself) have with this game is its subject matter. The entire storyline revolves around Barbie attempting to find the perfect dress so as to make herself "look pretty" for her boyfriend. It also places a lot of emphasis on rather frivolous elements of life (like the mall and shopping) while ignoring things like education and self-improvement. Come on, you say. This is a video game. Does anyone really care? Well, yes. This game was released when I was six. It was targeted at young girls. You have to wonder what kind of effects it had/has on the people who played it. Now, mind you, I was somewhat disturbed by all the pink at the age of six. Others might not have been so cynical. As Glowing Fish points out, there was also no point in targeting such a lame game at girls; many girls were just as taken with The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario and Final Fantasy series as their male counterparts.
Some people, however, look back on this game as one of those games that makes absolutely no sense but has some historic value.
According to one independent game reviewer1, this game was not met with much enthusiasm by feminists and members of the women's movement. Mattel allegedly attempted to save face by making Barbie a biochemist in their next video game. They included an awful lot of pink and indicated that Barbie wouldn't really take a biochemical position too seriously, though, and didn't really make the situation much better.
The cartridge itself is quite rare. Should anyone want to find it for whatever reason, I suggest they try an online auction site. I haven't looked for it, though, so I don't know how much luck you'd have.