Last time out, I wrote about a game called Heavy Smash, and it was pretty good. Maybe a little too good: that banner up there says "VGJunk" and not "VGPrettyGood," after all. So, in the interests of balance I decided to play something that's definitely not pretty, good or pretty good. If you're after a terrible videogame experience there are plenty of places you can turn - arcade fighting games mangled into single-button home computer ports, bible games, anything with the letters "LJN" attached to it - but for the most truly wretched games, there's the world of licensed Game Boy Color shovelware. I refer you to Diva Starz, The Mask of Zorro and the legendarily abysmal *NSYNC: Get to the Show, and today I managed to find another GBC game that matches that amazing level of ineptitude. It's Hyperspace Cowgirls' 2000 vanity-em-up Barbie: Fashion Pack Games!
It's rather telling that "games" is by far the smallest word of the three shown here. That said, having seen what passes for fashion in Barbie: Fashion Pack Game I would not have been confident enough to feature the word "Fashion" so prominently, either. "Pack" is fine, though. This is definitely a pack of something.
I'm smashing through the gender divide with this one, folks. "Software for Girls," it says, but don't forget that Barbie: Fashion Pack Games is from a strange and mysterious country whose language is almost identical to English, but their word "girls" equates to our "brain-damaged earthworms."
Before you get into the fun - the brain-addling, spirit-crushing fun - you have to choose a friend from this ethnically diverse group of human-giraffe hybrids. Races accounted for: white, "Asian," black, carrot. I'll be using Barbie, because her name is on the game, but if you're interested the other young women are called Kira, Christie and Teresa. They're all wearing sunglasses to protect their bleary eyes from the harsh light of day. Barbie in particular looks like she hit the sauce pretty hard last night, but I'm sure the glamorous and multi-talented idol of millions of young girls will look much better up close.
I lied. Barbie is looking kinda rough; her eyes are surrounded by dark circles, the shading meant to imply cheekbones makes it look like she needs a shave and her tiny head perched atop a neck so tall you could lop her head off and use her as a telegraph pole. It's a good job I'm here to get this train-wreck back on the rails, really, and the aim of the game is to increase Barbie's fabulousness quotient by completing the seven minigames denoted by the icons surrounding The World's Ugliest Mirror. I guess I'll start with the lipstick, even though lipstick is the one thing that Barbie already has plenty of. Well, lipstick and neck.
Game number one: Cosmetics Gunfire. Imagine Space Invaders, only the aliens weren't so much invading as they were just hanging around at the top of the screen, moving back and forth. Space Tourists, maybe. The aim of the game is to use your lipstick to shoot the corresponding hearts as they pass by. I have a brown and orange lipstick at the moment, so I'm aiming at the matching brown and orange heart that's lazily floating at the top of the screen, see? Did you get all that? Good, because here's where it gets really complicated.
The colour of your lipstick keeps changing! It usually changes just as you've lined up a matching shot, possibly intentionally programmed that way to prolong the minigame by a disgruntled developer with a real hatred for anyone who might dare to play Barbie: Fashion Pack Games. Aside from that, it's a simple matter of hitting six correct targets in order to move on to the next stage, where you do the same thing again. As you make your way through the levels they do get more difficult, with faster-scrolling hearts that change direction, and after a few rounds it can actually be quite a challenge to hit any hearts on the top row. Fortunately, you never need to hit any hearts on the top row. You'll always be able to make your match from the bottom row, making the top two rows completely irrelevant to the gameplay experience.
For every level you complete, a different colour of lipstick is made available for you to smear across Barbie's unresisting face. Here I've gone with a rich purple, because I like the way it contrasts with her mouth: a mouth that seemingly contains a single oversized tooth, like the mouth of a cartoon Old West prospector called something like Grandpappy Zeke.
This is the point of all these minigames, then: each one corresponds to a different aspect of Barbie's beauty regimen, and for each stage you finish, a different item in that category is unlocked. Given how terrible Barbara looks at the moment, it could take some time to get her up to a standard that will make Ken take a second look.
Game number two: Jewellery Deluge. In this game, Barbie packs her purse by throwing her vast collection of earrings, bracelets and, if this screenshot is anything to go by, tiny television sets and Portuguese Man o' War jellyfish into the air. It is then up to you, the player, to catch the falling items which match the colour of your purse. Your purse has two colours, which you can switch between by pressing a button. You also have to hold the other button down to keep your purse open, a control scheme that might well go down as the most pointless bit of busy-work I've ever encountered in a videogame. It's not like non-matching items can land in your purse anyway, so why would you want your purse to be closed at any point? My advice is to tape down the "open purse" button and leave the game for a while: eventually enough items will fall into the purse through random happenstance for you to win, and you can spend your newly freed-up time doing something more interesting, such as literally anything else.
Game number three: Footwear Line Prison. Now, Pac-Man has been cloned, copied and bootlegged more times than probably any other videogame in history so this might sound like an unsupportable statement but trust me, this is the shittiest version of Pac-Man ever devised. Playing as a living and ravenously hungry handbag, you're shown a picture of your target shoe and then dropped onto a field of green stars. Then you have to chase down the shoe and eat it. To give this game a level of challenge beyond "moving a cursor," dotted white lines randomly appear on the field of play, and you can't travel through them. In the screenshot above, the grey boot is perfectly safe from the pink handbag, because of the line between them. Software for Girls, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of this game's developers, I'd like to apologise to girls everywhere.
Game number four: Impractical Necklace Management. You might think that Barbie needs a necklace like a hole in the head - anything that draws attention to the serpentine column of flesh below her head seems like a bad idea - but she's determined to have one and she'll only accept artisanal craftsmanship put together by the hands and lungs of a skilled worker. Lungs? Yes, lungs, because in a truly baffling piece of game design this necklace is assembled through the power of air. Gems fall from the sky, and you have to thread them onto the necklace in the correct order by nudging them from side-to-side using little toots of air from those blue whistle things on either side. Hang on, what? I don't know why this seems so much more bizarre to me than collecting shoes by chasing them down with a hungry handbag, but it really, really does.
Someone, anyone, please video yourself trying to thread beads onto a string by blowing at them and send me a copy. I bet it'll be much more fun than playing Barbie: Fashion Pack Games, although having said that this is probably the best minigame of the lot because it requires a level of effort above "press A sometimes" to complete. Getting your beads in the right place requires some delicate manipulation, and if the wrong bead slides into place it removes the previous correct bead on the string, so you even have to defend yourself a bit from fast-falling rogue beads. Don't get me wrong, it's not Tetris or anything, but if any of B:FPG's events could be expanded into a reasonably-diverting mobile game useful for wasting ten minutes while you're on the bus it would be this one, thus setting a new record for "thing most damned with the faintest possible praise."
Game number five: Pipe Mania. Atlas called Barbie and said "would you kindly arrange these pipes so perfume can travel from the entrance of the maze to the empty bottle at the bottom?" and, well, here we are. It's a simple concept: using the component tubes on the left of the screen, build a pipe that stretches from entrance to exit. If a drop of perfume reaches the end of the pipe before you finish, the end-most piece of pipe will be deleted. This will never, ever happen to you unless you're playing B:FPG during a high-tension situation, such as an attempt to take your mind off things when you're stuffed into the boot of a car during a kidnapping. In that case, I would definitely recommend playing this game. It will make whatever your kidnappers have in store for you seem like a breath of fresh air.
Game number six: That's Not How T-Shirt Design Works. T-shirts bounce around the screen. Using your magic paintbrush, press the fire button to launch a glob of paint towards any t-shirts that match the symbol at the bottom of the screen. Hit enough of the same t-shirt to unlock that t-shirt for Barbie to wear. I'm sure she will be thrilled with a "lizard roadkill" shirt.
Or maybe she'd prefer a shirt with a Rafflesia flower on it. Nothing says fashion like white t-shirts decorated with giant stinking corpse-flowers.
This is the Marianas Trench in a game that's 100 percent low points, the incredibly simple concept mangled by some astonishingly bad hit detection, having only one target at a time to shoot at and background art so unpleasant - and more "nineties" than X-Files erotica posted on Usenet - that I'm going to have it painted on the inside of my coffin when I die. That way I will immediately return to life, possibly as a lich of some kind, because there's no way I could spend eternity laying there with that image hanging inches from my face.
Game number seven: Skirt Chunks. Here is a skirt. A very ugly skirt, because everything in this game was seemingly designed to be as ugly as possible in mocking defiance of Barbie's status as a fashion doll.
Here is the same skirt, but mixed up in a four-by-four grid. It's your job to put it back together. For a moment I thought this was a sliding-block puzzle, my second-most hated gameplay element, just behind "a controller that periodically squirts skunk odour into your face as you play." If it had been a sliding block puzzle then Barbie would have been in for some very cold legs as I steadfastly refused to build her a skirt, but it's not a sliding block puzzle after all. You can freely swap any two squares with each other, making this minigame not quite as horribly dull as a sliding block puzzle but also making it extremely easy, especially since you always have the belt and the edges of the skirt right there and that's half the "puzzle" donestright away.
Right, that's it. All of the events have been suffered through, and Barbie's wardrobe must be full to bursting, so it's time for a makeover.
Why Barbie, you're beautiful! The grey boots really bring out the smudges where your eyes ought to be, and that skirt means you can go walking down dark country lanes at night and you'll be clearly visible to any passing cars. The lump of gravel sitting atop your head is a fairly avant-garde fashion statement, but we'll just pretend you're a trendsetter living on the bleeding edge of cool and not a mad person.
Things are not any better once you get up close, although from this viewpoint I can see that the lizard on Barbie's shirt is wearing shades, possibly as a disguise to prevent people from recognising him and associating him with this game.
But wait, there's more! No, get back here - I said wait, if I'm suffering through this then so are you. One final minigame has been unlocked, and against the advice of my doctor I'm going to play it right now.
Game number eight: Coathanger Nihilism. Okay, so here's the thing: I have no bloody idea how this one works. I know the aim is to get rearrange the coathangers so that the bottom edges of two coathangers of the same colour touch, causing them to disappear, but I'm not sure how or why this works. You move them around with the control pad, and when I say them I mean all the coathangers. I think. You're definitely not just moving one hanger at a time. Admittedly, by this point I was so far past caring that if you'd sat me down and patiently explained the mechanics to me I still wouldn't have been able to take it in, but in my defence if your puzzle game's mechanics aren't easy to pick up then you haven't made a very good puzzle game.
In the end, I beat the minigame by wildly flailing at the d-pad with no rhyme or reason, the whole thing devolving into the neon ghosts of manta rays spinning through a black void and occasionally annihilating each other. Then I had to do it another two times.
My reward? I unlocked Barbie's backpack. See, she's carrying a backpack now. It's not on her back and it doesn't go with her outfit at all, but she has it. If there's anything else I can gather for Barbie's closet - a selection of goofy hats, gang tattoos, haircuts that don't look like a Halloween store's "70's Wig" item - she'll have to make do without them because I can't play this any longer.
If you want to carry on where I left off, here's a Secret Code. Or, as I've just broadcast it across the internet, a Code.
Barbie: Fashion Pack Games is exactly as terrible as I knew it would be from the moment the phrase "software for girls" was used, another rotting fish skeleton on the garbage heap that is the Game Boy Color's licensed game library. Aside from the air-blowing necklace maker, which was merely "bad," every minigame here is a strong contender for the most boring time I've ever experienced while playing a videogame, and I'm including all the time I've spent waiting for ZX Spectrum games to load in that definition. You can trot out the usual "it's aimed at kids, you're a grown man and thus, theoretically at least, old enough to know better" argument, followed by the usual "even the most pleasure-starved child would realise this is utter shite in moments" riposte. If you could get a videogame as the prize inside a Christmas cracker it would be this, a miniature sewing kit of a game: small, cheap, and pointless. Surprisingly ugly, too, given that the whole point is to make Barbie look better. In fact, you cannot make Barbie look better, and no matter what combination of items you put her in she always looks like a red-eyed vagrant who fell into the bins behind a charity shop.
The only interesting thing I can take from this is learning that Mattel have trademarked the colour "Barbie pink." That's this particular shade, which means I've got a long day ahead of me repainting the upcoming line of VGJunk-brand novelty marital aids if I want to avoid a lawsuit.