If there's one thing truly great thing about rescuing puppies in Barbie and Her Sisters Puppy Rescue, it's not the satisfaction of doing a good deed, or the subsequent obedience training you can do to ensure well-behaved canine friends. No, it's the sweet bicycle ride Barbie has on her journey to puppy saving.
Barbie and Her Sisters Puppy Rescue is as its name implies. In the American icon's latest career whimsy, Barbie and her sisters run a rescue canine shelter and clinic to clean up the streets of the lost, hapless puppies. Each of her sisters plays a different role as puppy rescuing is a multi-tiered process - plus the game wouldn't be that engaging if you simply had to pick them up off the street and call it a day.
Puppy rescuing usually begins with Barbie hopping on her bicycle and riding away from the clinic, where she quips that "puppies aren't going to rescue themselves". Sometimes, without a case to work, she'll make note that she's headed in the right direction. These baffling audio remarks are triggered at moments which might confuse players as to whether they should be doing something, when nothing has actually happened yet. Soon thereafter Barbie receives a call on her mobile, and one half-way garbled conversation later she's on her way to saving a puppy at one of various locations marked out by a puppy icon on a map.
One of the most surprising things about Puppy Rescue is the neighbourhood the game is built around. Basically, the town is modern and speaks to the ever-changing lifestyle of Barbie's fashionable, American life world. The 3D environment is a believable, clean, up-kept and relatively bustling town with surrounding suburban areas, interesting parks and colourful shopping districts. It also has a travel infrastructure that's bicyclist friendly with lanes for both cars and cyclists. People go about their daily lives, usually by walking or biking in a square block pattern as part of their routine. The AI aren't always so smart and these recognized patterns will be glaring if you pay enough attention, but as puppy rescuing is the name of the game the town and all its inhabitants are just there as additions to keep up appearances, which help sell the game on having a level of personality.
Taking Barbie on a cycling tour is actually decently fun. A direction marker makes it easy for Barbie to navigate the town. It's not a huge area, and public areas like parks bar bike entry. The cycling itself is easy enough too, and the attention to detail in her taking her legs off the pedals as she goes down slopes, is pretty cool. If she runs into someone the game also veers her off-course, which is funny to see. What makes it fun is how simple and 'real' the experience feels while riding in the neighbourhood. The townspeople may loop in suspicious ways, and play the game long enough and you'll discover it's rather robotic and creepy. However, the cars lining the streets and the look of the town with accompanying points of interest are not overly offending to the senses at all.
Unfortunately, there are lots of other things in Puppy Rescue that will offend. The pop-influenced soundtrack that blasts whenever Barbie leaves the clinic is one that might. The game is designed for a particularly young audience, so the soundtrack may not be so hurtful to ears that enjoy these things. It's upbeat, overly enthusiastic and too sugary. This can basically be said of the entire experience of Puppy Rescue. Barbie and her sisters do everything with gusto, resolve and are so encouraging that they become a repetitive mess of dialogue that's full of awful puns (like "pawful") to boot.
Repetition is what Puppy Rescue is ultimately about. Barbie will go to a site for a puppy rescue mission. Once there, it's a matter of either coaxing a puppy out of hiding through a series of one button prompts, or leading a puppy to safety in a maze. Once the puppy is secured she'll whisk it away back to the clinic in her bicycle basket (it's kind of dangerous if you think about it!). Next, she'll hand the puppy over to Skipper who will check its chip to see if it has an owner. If the tracking chip is not working you'll be prompted to give the puppy a name. Next, the puppy will go through a mini game that involves more one button prompts to either update his vaccines (by timing when to squirt medicine in its mouth), or rid his body of fleas by aiming a dropper on its back to zap the over-sized buggers.
The puppies will then next be taken to kennels where they will rest after an exhausting rescue. It's here you will be given the option to upgrade their doghouses for better cushions, better bowls for food and water (and presumably better food), mats and play toys. These options are unlocked by acquiring 'bones', which is the currency Barbie and her sisters receive for successfully completing one of their many tasks in the stages of puppy rescue. Upgrading puppy houses will reduce time by which you can do a next event with a puppy on their checklist, which starts with rescue, medication, obedience training, grooming and finally pet adoption.
Obedience training and grooming also consist of one or two mini-games that are also a series of timed button prompts. Puppy Rescue is so easy though that there's no real taxation on the timing, and the game will slow down the puppies' actions when you want them to jump for instance, so that the room for failure is virtually non-existent. The same happens on the last stage of puppy rescue. Finding homes for lost puppies is a simple matter of matching people's traits compatible with the puppy's, but Puppy Rescue will tell you exactly who is a great match and won't allow you to do a poor match. That's arguably fine, but it's just one more way in which Puppy Rescue demonstrates how tedious a game it really is through its endless hand-holding, repetitive gameplay and simplicity.
But what about the cuteness of the puppies? If ever someone forgot that Barbie and her sisters are the stars in Puppy Rescue, the puppies will serve as a reminder that that should never be doubted. Simply put: the puppies are not cute. There are a variety of breeds like Labradors, and Puppy Rescue spares no expense in detailing the types you find. However, they're all given the same shaped eyes that are scarily humanized, and in a way rather hilarious. The puppies will still do puppy type things like play fetch and roll over once you train them. They're cute in that regard for personality reasons, but sometimes their shifty eye movements - for example during vaccination - give an inadvertent comedic effect.
Barbie and Her Sisters Puppy Rescue is full of repetitive actions which bring down the novel idea of a series of mini games that make up its DNA. It's too simple, even for a younger target audience who may get some enjoyment from this exercise for a very short period of time. Simplicity is one thing but these actions are not even fun and the gameplay will show that. Quick time actions aren't so quick, button prompts are too dull to be engaging and the mini-events themselves are not very interesting. While the environment looks nice enough, and bicycle riding is neat but limiting as to how far you can actually explore the town, there's not enough that's appealing in its presentation to warrant how bland the gameplay is. Not even the feel good act of saving puppies can rescue this game, and it doesn't help that the little pups aren't even endearing.