You'd think that after suffering through the pure, distilled tedium of Tweenies: Doodles' Bones and that awful, awful *NSYNC game I'd have more sense than to play any more Game Boy Color shovelware based on franchises for children. Well, I don't. I must have suffered a severe head injury at some point, or guzzled a two-litre bottle of mercury. That's the only explanation I can come up with to explain my decision to write about DICE's - yes, the company that developed the Battlefield series - 2001 Game Boy Color "game" Diva Starz: Mall Mania.
They know what's up, apparently. I'm glad someone does, I'm still trying to figure out whether the Diva Starz wear enormous shoes to counter-balance the weight of their oversized heads of if their feet really are that big.
Mall Mania, because girls love the mall, you see, so much so that their love eventually morphs into a twisted obsession. I think we've all suffered from Mall Mania at one time or another - trapped in a busy shopping centre around Christmas, trying to force your way through the crowds as you browse through shop after shop full of tat that could never express how you really feel for a person if you gave it to them as a gift. You start fantasising about finding a loaded machine gun. You don't want to hurt anyone, not really, but climbing on top of an ice cream stand and firing a few rounds over the crowd would be enough to make you feel alive for one brief, shimmering moment.
Honey, when you're as stylish and dapper as me, you're always read for a fashion show. I am the fashion show. However, I will help you by going to the mall and performing several minigames - with a heavy emphasis on "mini" - so that all four of the Diva Starz are ready for the fashion show. Would you like to meet the Diva Starz now? Tough, here they are anyway.
The Diva Starz are Alexa, Tia, Nikki and Summer: four grey aliens who crash-landed at Roswell in 1947 and who are trying to fit in by wearing large wigs and lots of eyeshadow. It's the scene in E.T. where he gets dressed up as a bag lady, but with a more hip, glam-o-rama, way-cool style that resonates with the tweens at the turn of a new millennium.
You probably don't need telling this, but the Diva Starz were a line of dolls. Created by Mattel in the year 2000, according to Wikipedia they had changeable clothing and thanks to some metal contacts on the clothes the dolls "knew" what they were wearing, which is kind of a neat gimmick. Then Bratz dolls debuted a year later and became hugely successful, leaving the Diva Starz to fade into obscurity. It seems there's only enough room in the world for one group of funky fashion friends with grossly inflated heads and names that marketing types spent hours deciding on to make sure they had just the right amount of "street cred".
I chose Alexa, because she was the first one highlighted. All her fab stuff has blown away, probably because she was too busy rubbing a salmon fillet on her face to monitor local wind levels, and so the game begins with a mission to collect Alexa's scattered belongings whilst also making your way to the mall on a scooter. That's multitasking, that is.
There's an item to collect, dead ahead! It looks like a penknife. Why are you taking a penknife to the mall, Alexa? Please tell me Diva Starz is going to turn out to be a girl-gang-themed beat-em-up, like The Warriors but with more cute handbags. The Warriorz: Mall Mania. I could get behind that.
I can't get behind this scooter adventure, mind you - somehow, against all the odds, it's even worse than I thought it would be. The scooter moves from left to right, and you press the jump button when you're under and item to jump and collect it. I know it looks like the penknife - okay, I concede it's probably supposed to be a mobile phone - is on the other lane and you should be able to just press up on the d-pad to go and get it, but no, you're forever stuck on the same vertical plane as your scooter slowly trundles towards the mall. Imagine a version of Excite Bike that was programmed by a goldfish, that about sums this one up... and yet there's still some pleasure to be derived from this nightmare.
Specifically, you can make a fun game out of trying to work out exactly what the hell is wrong with Alexa's face. It's clearly not right. When they say "keep your eyes on the road," they don't mean have them fixed on a spot of tarmac three inches away from your front wheel, nor should both eyes be on the same side of your face. She looks like a planarian worm in a bike helmet.
Quick, someone make me a game about planarians who organise a fashion show to raise funds to save their local planarian mall, where they go for planarian pedicures and talk about hot flatworm boys.
Collect five items and you're free to head to the mall, where a selection of "exciting" and "challenging" mini"games" await the player and oh boy, I'm going to need a fresh shipment of sarcastic quotation marks to get through this one. Going clockwise from the hanger, the options are Style Spot, Pet Shop Spot, Snack Spot, Fashion Spot and Music Spot, but I can't decide on which one to select because once again I'm staring at Alexa in an attempt to fathom her bizarre, unearthly physiology. Oh god, I can't see her bulbous pink feet as anything but cartoon testicles, as though the sprite is intended to show a fake rubber penis that's been dressed in doll's clothing. Nope, I'm not going any further with that one, let's quickly head into the Style Spot and hope things are more decipherable in there.
Well, I can tell it's supposed to be a shop, so that's a step up. Alexa goes into the shop. She doesn't walk into it, nor does she stomp or flounce - her whole sprite simply slides towards the door with no animation whatsoever. That's always a sign of quality, when a game has the same amount of animation as a paper cut-out glued to a stick.
Once Alexa has finished sliding into position, your task is to dress her by choosing one article of clothing from each of the categories of hats, tops, bottoms and shoes. The abysmal graphics and the Diva Starz' stylised physical proportions combine to make all of the tops so small as to be indecipherable, while each of Alexa's shoes could comfortably house a family of four.
Those are clown shoes. The actual shoes of an actual clown. I would stake all that is dear to me that somewhere, lurking in one of the festering, gore-strewn pits that they call home, there is a clown who owns a purple pair of size 28 shoes featuring a fetching "pink hearts" motif. Sure, in the clown's case each heart is painted on using the blood of their victims, but on a basic level they're the same shoes.
There is no way to read that sentence besides in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
The pet store next, where you have to guide your Diva Star through a maze until they can catch their lost pet. It was handy of their lost pet to hide in the pet shop, wasn't it? Plenty of pet food about, at any rate, although it would have been embarrassing if they'd sold Alexa's pet...dog? I think that pink lump's supposed to be a dog - to another customer. Oh ho, can you imagine the farce as they try to prove who owns the dog, the poor mutt getting more and more confused as its new owner tries to give it a different name and yes, yes I am stalling so I can think of something to say about this maze minigame. There's nothing to say, though. There are no enemies, the maze is so small you can see almost all of it at once and while there is a time limit it's so generous that you could build your own sophisticated robot dog in the time allowed. This is a game for children, okay, but I'm not sure what species of children - a human child of any age older than about four minutes will find this insultingly simplistic and a small clump of frogspawn could probably get through it on the second or third attempt. This isn't a game, it's swiping the unlock code on your phone or briskly leafing past the adverts in a newspaper.
Oh, Fluffy Starz is a cat. Well, it was either going to be a cat, a dog or, as an outside bet, a rabbit. A horse might have been a possibility if it wasn't for the mall setting, but I was never going to be looking for the Diva Starz' pet boa constrictor, was I? Fair play to Fluffy Starz, though, I think she's the most competently-drawn piece of artwork in the entire game.
What makes a snack divalicious? Does it have insane demands on its rider? Does it order people to remove photos of its bowl from the internet, only succeeding in making more people want to see the bowl? Does it taste like Mariah Carey?
What we've got here is a dessert-based Tower of Hanoi - move the pudding from the left plate to the right plate, moving only one piece at a time and never putting a larger piece on top of a smaller one. When I figured out what this game entailed, I was a little worried because I am atrocious at spatial thinking - this is where my well-documented hatred of sliding block puzzles comes from - but with only three pieces of dessert to move even I could manage it.
A motif for the fashion show, I presume. I think I'll go with Fab-A-Licious, because looking at sugary snacks has left me craving a Fab lolly.
There's something that could almost be described as an honest-to-god bit of gameplay in the Fashion Spot, if you were feeling very generous and had never played a videogame before. Bags with icons on trundle along the conveyor belt, and your Diva Star has to pick up an accessory from the matching bag at the bottom of the screen and throw it into the corresponding bag, a packing method remarkably similar to the one employed by my local Tesco.
This is probably the least unpleasant minigame in Diva Starz, which tell you everything you need to know.
For the last event, the Diva Starz get to strut their funky stuff - sorry, their Funk-A-Licious stuff - by participating in a rhythm action game. Music plays as commands scroll along the bottom of the screen: simply press the right button as the marker reaches the line to succeed. Sounds fun, right? We've all played and enjoyed rhythm games over the years, but those rhythm games have something that the Diva Starz version does not: a connection between when you press the notes and the beat or rhythm of the song. That's right, in this music-based minigame there is absolutely zero correlation between the sounds you can hear and when you should hit the button. The music is one thing, the buttons are another, totally separate thing and never the twain shall meet. Listening to the music while you play actively makes the game more difficult, and not just because it sounds like a mechanical wasp furiously stinging the inside of an ancient synthesiser, but because you end up trying to press the buttons in time with the music and that is not how this works.
See? I managed to fail, because I tried to play the game that this was supposed to be instead of playing the irredeemable pile of garbage that it actually is. I took my headphones off and passed it on the second try. I did not put them back on.
Now the fashion show can begin. Alexa slides to the end of the catwalk, the only animation being her (and Fluffy Starz's) blinking at the bright flashes of the cameras in the crowd. It seems like the backgrounds and other details are based on the options you chose after each minigame. I think my fashion show looks okay, given that I just chose things at random. Don't put me in charge of your fashion show, is what I'm saying.
As the fashion show draws to a close, Diva Starz is over and I can spend the rest of my life pretending I've never played it and hang on, what's this?
Oh no. No no no. I have to go through this with the other three characters? How many fashion shows can one group of besties throw in a week? Run a bake sale or sit in a bath of baked beans for a few days, mix it up a little, christ. Okay, let's get this over with, shall we? It's not like a playthrough of Diva Starz takes long.
Things are a little different, however. More difficult, if difficult is the right word. A hair more complex, perhaps. This is Nikki, and not only was her scooter ride to the mall complicated by at addition of ramps - ramps that had no bearing on the gameplay, but ramps none-the-less - but now she's telling me that the outfit I've picked for her isn't totally wow-a-licious or whatever. I think the first time round I just got lucky and picked a suitable outfit by pure chance, but Nikki here is more fussy than Alexa and you have to keep changing her clobber until she decides that it's to her liking. There are no clues or anything, it's pure guesswork. If you ask me, Nikki's tracksuit-bottoms-and-bandanna ensemble makes her look like she's about to paint the ceiling in the spare room, not attend a fashion show, but I'll bow to her superior judgement on this one.
Now it's Tia's turn, and her scooter trip is getting dangerously close to including some actual gameplay. There are things littering the road that you need to jump over now. Obstacles! Genuine, progress-hampering obstacles! Hey, I'm going to have to take what I can get here.
Here you can see that the box-packing minigame has grown to encompass several more categories of accessories to be sorted. Now it includes sunglasses, squashed ladybirds, heart pendants and old socks! The Tower of Dessert also increase to a maximum size of four layers that need to be moved from the left plate to the right in a meticulous, ordered manner. The Diva Starz are brought together not only by their lover for fashion, but also by their obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The final Diva Star is Summer. Look at her closely and you'll notice that Summer is a large humanoid mouse. Or chipmunk. Some variety of rodent, at any rate. The other Diva Starz suspect nothing. Hey, there's nothing in the rulebook that says a half-human, half-mouse creature can't take part in the fashion show!
Here's the ending. The entire ending. I'm surprised they went with an Impressionist style for the artwork, but that's Diva Starz: Mall Mania for you - constantly revealing new surprises to the player. I'm surprised I managed to finish it without falling asleep, that's for sure.
Diva Starz is a terrible game, a slap in the face to anyone who paid money for it and an experience that contains all the excitement of staring at a blank sheet of paper for half an hour. Yet again it's a children's game that can be described in the same old terms: I know I'm not the target audience, but just because something is for kids doesn't mean it has to be shite. I still don't think it's quite as soul-searing dreadful as *NSYNC: Get to the Show, because there is a tiny sense of progression as the games get more difficult and I believe it was released at a lower price than most Game Boy Color games, but it's still probably the worst game I've played this year. On the bright side things can only get better next time, he said like a gullible idiot.