Secret Agent Barbie

Year: 2001
Platform: PC
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Gigawatt Studios
Genre: Adventure
Review Date: 2/6/02
Rating: **

She's got James Bond's gadgets, Solid Snake's stealth, Lara Croft's figure, and an outfit for every occasion. She's Secret Agent Barbie! I actually received this as a gag gift, and it turned out to be quite enjoyable to play. It's essentially "Tomb Raider Lite" aimed at the vast and relatively untapped young girls market. When a fashion designer has her hot new fashions stolen, it's up to Barbie and her friends to track down the thieves and recover the goods before they can be used for evil purposes. (you never thought fashions could be used for evil, did you?) As Barbie, you walk, run, jump, roll, and sneak your way through New York, Tokyo, Paris, Egypt, Rio, and the Himalayas. (too bad she doesn't dance like Allison Huxter does in "Space Bunnies Must Die") At her disposal she has pink vision goggles, a stealth compact, a perfume tracker, a wrist glider, a lipstick recorder, a telephoto camera, a PDA for solving puzzles, and an adorable robot spy puppy. (these absurd gadgets reminded me of some of the wacky Japanese movies I watch, like "Cat's Eye" and "Sukeban Deka") After outsmarting the bad guys and making the fashion world safe once more, it's time to party!

Not surprisingly, the tone and execution of the game are very juvenile and kid friendly. There's nothing wrong with that, except that the warm and fuzzy dialog and the super sugary voice acting really makes you want to puke after a while. The gameplay and production values are also a bit low budget, but I wonder if the target demographic even cares. The controls are a bit sloppy, but fairly forgiving when it comes to precision jumping. The 3D engine is rather crude and choppy, but the levels are attractive and functional. Gameplay is certainly an interesting topic, and as you would expect, there's no violence of any kind in the game. No harm ever comes to Barbie, and failures to perform objectives are met with gentle encouragement to try again. I was actually taken aback when I had to use Barbie's compact to blow powder in people's faces in order to sneak past them, and thought "How rude and inappropriate!" But then I thought about how other adventure games would have you kill the person or physically render them unconscious to achieve the same goal, and I accepted the paradigm much easier. The terrifying realization was that I found blowing powder in someone's face or spraying them with a perfume bottle more morally objectionable than shooting them with a sniper rifle or beating them over the head with a blunt instrument. Just what does that say about myself, and about society?

Apart from the aforementioned technical issues, the biggest disappointment is with Barbie herself. Her character model is crude and unattractive, and her animation cycles aren't very sophisticated. She also walks funny because she's so top heavy, which I have rather mixed feelings about. (just what affect are these big boob messages having on impressionable young girls?) Her wardrobe is also somewhat lacking. Come on, this is Barbie - if nothing else she should at least have some killer outfits to wear. She has eight outfits that she wears depending on where she is and what she's doing, and certainly isn't shy about changing clothes anytime and anywhere (I'm sure the Egyptian cart vender got a thrill out of that). The player can choose from a small selection of color schemes for these outfits, but they're all rather dull and uninteresting. I personally would have preferred a wider variety of outfits and fewer costume changing points. I see nothing wrong with performing stealth or action missions in a formal evening gown, but maybe that's just me. And what is up with Ken? Why is he two feet taller than everyone else in the game? Is he a giant, or are Barbie and her friends just really, really small? Regardless, this game was a fun and enjoyable distraction from all the other stress and chaos in my life. With all of the latest and greatest high tech games available in the popular market, it's important to not ignore or overlook what other genres and other market segments have to offer. You might just learn something.