(Wii U)

Game Review

Barbie Dreamhouse Party Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Ron DelVillano

Problems with plasticity

It's easy to dismiss licensed games like Barbie Dreamhouse Party as cheap cash-ins on popular franchises because, in all honesty, that's usually what they are. Creating a video game based on a classic line of dolls may seem like a step in the right direction towards our increasingly digital future, but it comes with the caveat of trying to come up with the best way to incorporate these toys into a completely different medium. The results are often disastrous, as exemplified by the recent Wii U atrocity Hot Wheels: World's Best Driver, but there are always exceptions to the rules. While Dreamhouse Party is far from the best of its kind, it comes close to accomplishing what it sets out to do, and that's redefining a staple to appeal to a new generation.

For those out of the loop, Dreamhouse Party isn't only based off of the Barbie toy line, but more specifically it's a tie-in to Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, an animated web series that is, at the time of writing, in its fifth season. In this new Barbie universe, the titular doll and her siblings and friends live in a fictionalized Malibu, California, spending much of their time getting into trouble in Barbie's mansion. One particularly boring afternoon, Barbie and her friends decide to kick back and play some video games. In a desperate attempt to sway the group into doing something more exciting, Raquelle, the rudest member of Barbie’s friend circle, makes a move to shut the game down, inadvertently setting off the Dreamhouse's security system and putting the entire mansion under lockdown. Now it's up to Barbie and her friends to complete a series of minigames and free themselves from their exceptionally plushy prison. The plot only exists to loosely tie the minigames together, but the script is surprisingly funny, even out of its target age range. The humour is kept appropriate for all ages, but the characters will often make references to film and other media that are sure to fly right over the heads of younger gamers. It’s all very whimsical and silly, but decidedly tongue-in-cheek.

When working your way through the exceptionally short campaign, you have the option of playing each of the nine stages in any order, each based off of a different room in the Dreamhouse. Once you’ve selected where you want to go, then you and three AI pals – or local players if you've got friends with you – must search the room, running up to random pieces of furniture and madly tapping to A button in the hopes of finding a hidden object. You can also find photographs scattered around the room that then go on Barbie's "Inspiration Wall," this game's version of an art gallery. Once all four objects have been found, you will then be prompted to start the actual minigame associated with the area. These pre-game scavenger hunts are little more than fodder used to extend the length of the campaign; the whole thing can disappointingly be completed in around two hours.

The true content lies in the nine minigames, all of which can be played at will once they’ve been unlocked in the campaign. These range from catching shoe boxes to washing pets to picking out the right accessories to match your outfit, but they’re all very basic in nature. While older gamers might be turned off by the easiness of the games, younger players are sure to enjoy dressing up their favourite Barbie characters and watching them strut down the runway. None of the minigames are particularly inspiring or original, and a few of them recycle mechanics, but when played in multiplayer they provide enough variety to keep a room full of screaming kids at ease.

In conjunction with the straightforward goals, the controls have a sense of minimalism as well. Movement is controlled with the GamePad's left stick while additional inputs are left completely up to the A and B buttons. Some minigames require the use of the GamePad's touchscreen, but the majority of gameplay sticks to the basic setup. Additional players can join in by syncing up a Wii Remote, which uses the D-Pad and 1 and 2 button in place of the Wii U controller's buttons. The game controls well enough without any significant issues, but that's not really saying much as most of the minigames require little actual effort; they're easy to master, but the GamePad is otherwise underutilized. A few of the minigames incorporate the controller's touchscreen, but beyond that all it ever does is mimic what's being displayed on the television. This makes Dreamhouse Party ideal for off-television play, good news for all of the parents out there who want to keep their kids busy while using the TV for anything else. It's really just too bad that a collection of minigames wouldn't incorporate some of the Wii U's unique features into its gameplay.

Characters and environments in this game aren't particularly detailed, but that's almost excusable as it plays into the idea that all of the characters are living dolls existing in a plastic world. Movement is rigid, environments are bland, and character models look way too polished to be realistic, but it could be argued that these oddities are by design in keeping with the "living dolls" motif. Inexcusable, however, are the sudden drops in frame rate and occasionally lengthy load times. Making matters worse, the graphical slowdown isn't consistent or strictly reserved for the more taxing events, but it will sometimes occur when merely walking from one end of a room to the other. These flaws are hardly game breaking, but they point to an overall shoddiness that becomes apparent when scrutinized too closely.

Similar in design to the stiff character movement is the way that the playfields are displayed. Each room that you explore in this game is limited to one square area with what is essentially a fixed camera angle. This is, by all means, a very lazy way to put an environment together, but it once again plays into the idea that you are interacting with living dolls. The Barbie dream house play set that exists in the real world is essentially a series of boxes stacked on top of each other that are stylized to look like different rooms. Someone playing with the toy has access to each room from one side through an invisible fourth wall. In Dreamhouse Party, the same idea is put into play, giving players access to each room, much the same way that one would when playing with the actual toy. Elements such as this make Dreamhouse Party a game that is easily more inventive in design that what is obvious at a glance, but the fact of the matter is that these artistic decisions don’t improve gameplay, and that’s really the most important thing to consider.

Conclusion

If you can look past the blatant consumerism and potentially damaging image-crafting effect that the classic line of dolls has on children, Barbie Dreamhouse Party has a lot going for it when scrutinized with an eye for metaphor. Beyond that, the reality is that this is a crucially flawed game. This minigame collection was clearly created by developers who wanted to do the absolute best with what they had, and for this they should be applauded, but that doesn’t save the game from being a lackluster experience. A limited number of minigames, inconsistent frame rate, and repetitive gameplay hold back this game’s potential, despite its obvious appeal to the target audience of young children who love Barbie dolls. There are enough redeeming qualities here to save it from being a game to run kicking and screaming from, but there are so many better all-ages minigame collections available on Wii U, that anyone should set their sights elsewhere.

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User Comments (40)

ColdingLight

#2

ColdingLight said:

I'm not trying to hate or anything but why do you think Nintendo allows these kinds of games to be released on their systems?

sinalefa

#3

sinalefa said:

@Ron_DelVillano

Again, I applaud reviewers when they say there are better alternatives and they actually mention them. You even put the links for several.

mystman12

#5

mystman12 said:

So this means NintendoLife has reviewed every Wii U game to date! Is that really a good thing, though?

unrandomsam

#6

unrandomsam said:

9 mini games seems pretty bad (When the 3DS version of Mario Party was panned for not having enough with a lot more).

Morpheel

#7

Morpheel said:

I have to admit that they did a fantastic job with the graphics, the dolls look like taken straight out from the commercials on TV.

WingedSnagret

#11

WingedSnagret said:

This is what most of the 3rd party content is going to look like folks, might as well get used to it. :p

Capt_N

#14

Capt_N said:

I feel safe in saying this will have a home to some WU owners; not myself, though.

@Philip_J_Reed: I would have thought you would have reviewed this. You're like NL's AVGN, except, fortunately, you don't share "The Nerd"'s less-appealing traits.(Yes, I am aware The Nerd is not really Rolfe, just his character.) Oh, & uh,... totally get this instead of SM3DW. :)

Anyway, in all seriousness, I hope this game goes to good use, for children's entertainment.

yuwarite

#16

yuwarite said:

I Gotta play dat new Barbie game, son!
Gonna get level 15 prestige in da new Barbie game!

SCAR392

#19

SCAR392 said:

I was actually hoping this would be a good game, for the sake of Dream House.

Obito_Tennyson

#20

Obito_Tennyson said:

Holy Snaps! A 4? Thank goodness, that's the best review that I have seen in months for these so called "girly" games! It's about time I get to play something fun for once!

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSS!!!

Kaze_Memaryu

#21

Kaze_Memaryu said:

I watched a few of those Barbie movies (yeah, shame on me, I know), and while they were mostly just grossly extended advertisements, some had admittedly good humor. But if that's about the only quality part of the game, is that appreciating or ignoring the target audience? I'd say this one was made with better intentions than the sponsors had in mind...

Nico07

#22

Nico07 said:

I just bought this yesterday online for my girls ages 3 and 5. My five year old loves Skylanders, Mario, Lego Marvel and has been wanting this since we checked out the video in the eShop. For the discounted price I paid I cant complain.

Nico07

#24

Nico07 said:

I sure will. As they are avid watchers of the show I am interested to see how they enjoy it.

Gioku

#25

Gioku said:

Well, we got an amazing Two Best Friends Let's Play out of this, including the weird pink Portal Robot wannabe, so it's all good in my mind. :D

BigBluePanda

#32

BigBluePanda said:

They should do a Barbie style Skylanders/Disney Infinity game. Would suit that genre very well, dolls on the platform, sandbox style doll house, unlock outfits, etc.

Jaz007

#33

Jaz007 said:

I'm actually not too supposed that I wasn't truely horrible. I'm not because when some friends turned on the show (wasn't my idea), it actually ended being hilarious. I actually really liked it. I was really suprised at it.

Darkness3131

#34

Darkness3131 said:

There is no shame in me watching all the seasons of this show in one day. None at all. The game isn't really appealing though; I was surprised at how not totally terrible the actual show was.

Laxeybobby

#35

Laxeybobby said:

This is the kind of cr*p that just adds to Nintendo's 'Just for kids' reputation.
More reviewed low scored, low budget, kids shovel ware from 3rd parties is just what the WiiiU needs to reverse its fortunes.

Nico07

#36

Nico07 said:

This was set to arrive today, but sadly has been delayed. Fortunately for me my girls have no idea that I bought it. Here's hoping it arrives tomorrow.

Nico07

#37

Nico07 said:

@mercurio2054 @Ron_DelVillano After a slight delay in shipping we finally received this game in the mail yesterday. To give some background on my two girls, my youngest is three and a half, and my older daughter is five and a half. I also have a son who is nine. My youngest likes video games but doesn't have a grasp yet on controlling a character in a three dimensional world and so she typically enjoys games controlled on a tablet. My five year old enjoys games her brother enjoys such as Skylanders and Mario 3D World.
Initial reactions were excitement as I had given them no forewarning that we were purchasing this game. The character selection is based entirely from the order you pair your controllers in, and so Barbie is solely controlled from the Gamepad to my three year old's dismay. One of the rooms we tried was the Kitchen in which my son became very competitive lobbing cupcakes across the room to form his tower. At the same time he was attempting to stop my five year old and I from tossing burned cupcakes at his tower to thwart his inevitable win. Some games make intuitive use of the controls such as pointing Wiimotes at the television to apply makeup, while the Gamepad player swipes his/her finger across the screen to perform the same action. Other activities such as dressing your Barbie use the directional pad or left joystick of the Gamepad, where touch screen controls at least for the Gamepad, would have seemed to be a good option. The only frustration for my girls in playing is the lack of explanation for the game controls in some rooms. None of the games are incredibly challenging, but with young children be prepared to step in, figure out, and then explain the controls to them. Case in point, the box stacking game found in the bedroom. Other characters can walk in front of your character and take boxes you would normally collect unless you press the "2" button to step forward. This isn't explained by the game. My girls favorite activity is dressing the Barbies, but the mini-games are still enjoyable for them and are on level for my five year old. My three year old is happy to either learn or have her sister step in and show her what to do. The character models are very detailed and animated with voiceovers to keep younger players interested. My three year old even asked to play this game again this morning. At the $20 price I paid for this game (the same price it is selling currently in the NA eShop, as well as Amazon and Walmart.com), I consider it a good investment for younger children with some replay ability. The theme keeps my three year old wanting to play it, when she doesn't really get into any of our other "better" games.

Ron_DelVillanoAdmin

#38

Ron_DelVillano said:

@Nico07 Thanks for coming back and posting. I appreciate the different perspective on this. I'm obviously not the target audience for this game, so the best I can do is articulate what it does right and what it does wrong in objective terms.

It's always interesting to see what the target audience thinks of a product though.

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