Most mothers with young girls know all about the Barbie movie series. Barbie stars as the heroine in each animated movie, and the latest movie, released just this summer, is "Barbie as the Island Princess" — the classic story of a young girl shipwrecked on an island, growing up and getting rescued (by a prince, no less), and being brought back to civilization. We follow her through various trials and tribulations: The young people fall in love, the prince proposes, she marries said prince and they live happily ever after. This time, there's the addition of talking animals. Can't have a kid's movie without talking animals, it seems.
There are two components to the Barbie as the Island Princess game. One is the single-player game, in which you journey through the story itself, and the other is the Dressing Room, in which you dress up Barbie. Items are unlocked as you play the minigames, as are Extras on the disc — musical numbers from the movie — such as the "Rat Song," "Here on My Island" and "At the Ball."
The game opens with young Rosella washing up on the shore of a deserted island. Well, deserted except for a talking peacock, a baby elephant, a raccoon (or was that a red panda? It was awfully red to be a raccoon) who takes care of her and raises her into a lovely, genteel young woman. The game takes you through the journey from Deserted Island to the Prince's Castle, and most games are small vignettes of various scenes from the movie. You play against or with a companion in each game, characters from the movie, ranging from the Peacock to the Prince to the Queen. Each new location is unlocked by playing the minigames to gain enough points — Island Roses in this case — to move on. Playing the games also unlocks wardrobe items.
There are a total of five locations you journey through, beginning at the Deserted Island, followed by the Royal Ship, the Harbor Village, Apollonian Castle and the Royal Greenhouse. There are six minigames to start with on Deserted Island, and playing each game will net you up to three Island Roses if you score high enough. Each location has location-themed minigames, such as catching coconuts, a stepping stone game and the Pearl Plunge, in which you move a net under water, catching pearls. This game surprisingly simulated swinging a laden net underwater. There was some latency and chance of over-swing.
Once you collected two-thirds the maximum of Island Roses, you were moved to the next level, accompanied by a scene from the movie. Prince Antonio persuading Ro to go with him to civilization, for example, before you got to the games on the Royal Ship, which included counting the stars, a tracing game and another "catch" game.
The Harbor Village found us catching butterflies and Running through a garden in a long dress that managed to catch on every bush, resulting in vines entangling and slowing you down. Never fear, though, the game catches you up with your companion by teleporting you close. We skipped stones in the pond against Antonio and designed dresses by cutting and sewing (tracing and pressing arrow keys).
The Apollonian Castle location was my niece's very favorite. I think it had to do with the "princess" dresses more than anything else. We gathered flowers for the Queen's bouquet, prepared to be a princess, danced at the ball, served a tea party and dodged guards while running through a maze.
Finally, we reached the Royal Greenhouse. We caught fireflies here. This was not a repeat of the butterfly-catching game. We had three differently colored fireflies and had to place them in the correctly colored cage — just a little more complex than the first. Then we sang a lullaby with the Queen by moving our icon to "catch" the colored notes on a stave.
The first and last location has six minigames, while the middle three had five minigames each. All were themed for the location, and although there were similar games in them — such as the "catching" games — they did not scale in difficulty, but there was enough variety in them that none seemed repetitive. Indeed, I thought some of the more difficult minigames were in the first location. In one, you tossed a javelin at banana trees and had to control the javelin in order to spear bunches of bananas, and another — also found in the first location — was the game of stepping stones. The stones would sink and rise periodically, so it was a game of timing to step on the right ones at the right time.
To move to the next location, you had to obtain two-thirds of the maximum number of Island Roses, and you can win a maximum of three roses from each game — so, 10 roses for the locations with five minigames and 12 for the locations with six minigames. Each game also can be replayed and each location revisited — and we replayed many of the games often; the first was a learning experience.
Some games appealed more, such as the one in which the two girls were running around hedges avoiding guards. What this game has done is whetted my curiosity about the movie itself as my niece chatted about each scene as we played through them. Many games were beyond her, as she's only 5, but she also acquitted herself well in many of them.
My only criticism of this game is the poor quality of the cutscenes from the movie. The same poor quality was found in the Extras that we unlocked. My niece didn't complain, but I do. As well as the games were made, it's a real pity that the movie scenes were pixilated and less than sharp. The Dressing Room aspect of the game gave little girls the opportunity to play "paper dollies" but unfortunately did nothing else. You did not clothe Ro in game, nor was there the ability to print the scene, although I did do a screen capture and print so she had something to show.
We had many hours of fun, my niece and I, and although my nephew complained that he wanted to be the prince, not the princess, he shoved her off the computer many a time. The chief complaint was that when we dressed Ro, she did not appear so dressed in the game. We come around full circle I think. There currently are a whole slew of games for little girls. Where are the little boy games?
All in all, this title was well-designed. Some games seemed more complicated than others as there were more than three lines of instruction, but my niece caught on quickly. Objectives were simple, and games were not tediously long. For once, "one more game" was short enough not to annoy their mother. Barbie as The Island Princess for the PC is definitely a well-written game with enough variety in the minigames to provide many hours of entertainment for children ages 8 and up and for younger children, as long as an adult is willing to read the instructions and instruct the child.