(We will festoon this realm with your still warm viscera)
Barbie Dream House Party is the vast and howling emptiness where a human soul normally resides.
Barbie Dream House Party has colonized a valuable and dwindling plot of my remaining grey matter.
Barbie Dream House Party is, ostensibly, a kids video game targeted at girls, but its existence has far deeper and far more insidious implications. The game bills itself as a combination mini-game/four player co-op (the co-op is not a thing) outing that's safe for the whole family.
Barbie Dream House Party is actually a conditioning simulator aimed at turning malleable young girls into obedient consumers. The whole reason for existing in a Barbie universe is the acquisition and displaying of material goods.
To make sure I wasn't just manufacturing outrage, I enlisted the help of several female non-gamer friends, and a bottle of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, to validate my disdain. It should also be noted that I paid $30 out of my own pocket for this game and this is in no way courtesy of a review copy.
The afternoon went something like this:
Anonymous Female Friend 1: "I hate everything about this. The house, the colors, everything. I didn't even know Barbie was still a thing."
Barbie is controlled in the third person, and her mansion, carefully situated in the heart of Malibu, serves as the hub for the game's missions. Barbie is surrounded by an ethnically diverse group of friends, ostensibly an attempt to convey how well-rounded and inclusive she is. Their ethnicity is actually completely irrelevant, because every line of dialogue is performed with a nearly identical valley girl cadence. Barbie is bored. And who wouldn't be?
After 60 years of being held in a mansion-prison that's bedazzled in more shades of pink than a babboon's asshole, who wouldn't get a little stir crazy? After interacting with the two romantic interests in the foyer of your wonderjail: Ken and Ryan. Ken is still safely bland and dependable, while Ryan is meant to convey a sense of edgy, alt-rockness that Barbie may find just the right amount of dangerous.
Of course Ryan is about as edgy as the CD selection at the Starbucks' register. He's a genetic scraping of Ryan Seacrest, One Direction, and Justin Bieber. He's a golem, cursed to live out his days aping an actual existence in the shade of the living.
Fuck Ryan. After speaking to her potential candidates, Barbie can begin the actual game.
Barbie enlists Nikki, Racquel, and another friend whose name I didn't bother learning, to sit down for a video game session. We are meant to suspend disbelief long enough to assume that four wealthy women in a mansion would choose to play Xbox before group purging, but I digress.
One of the girls in the group quickly becomes bored and decides to sabotage the video game system. This sets into motion a malfunction of Barbie's artificial intelligence wardrobe attendant, Closet. Yes, hater, she does own one of those.
Anonymous Female Friend 2: "Are we playing the game right now?"
Closet responds by turning the entire mansion into a panic room. Steel doors shutter with a grim finality and the mansion goes into full lockdown. And it is here that game turns from a simple cash grab into a pink-hued version of the SAW series. Barbie and her friends will now be forced to compete in a series of mini-games, while being presided over by a very clearly GlaDOS inspired Closet.
That's the plot of the game. For real.
Anonymous Female Friend 2: "WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK IS HAPPENING?? Why are they trapped in the house?"
(Yeah, we wish we were playing Portal too)
Once the mansion traps the segmented carapaces of the impossibly proportioned girls inside, you are free to begin competing in a series of mini-games that include frantically searching for designer shoes, washing the laundry, and a foray into the kitchen that teaches players, " A room full of cupcakes is my ultimate fantasy!"
That's a direct quote from the mini-game, Cupcake Explosion. A game that teaches women that, yes, cupcakes are delicious, but you're probably better off just puking the cupcakes up into your secret shame box you keep in the back of your closet.
Anonymous Female Friend 2: "I'm really starting to hate Racquel."
Other mini-games included are: fat shaming, silently judging other women to make them feel insecure about themselves, and cutting yourself to see how deep you can get before passing out.
These mini-games are also agonizingly drawn out. I spent three minutes searching for an MP3 player with no direction where to look. When I finally found it behind a picture frame (naturally), no indication was given if I was actually scoring any points against my fellow inmates. Mechanically the game is a superficial and uncomplicated mess. Players will only exert themselves if they find pressing A and moving at the same time challenging.
Anonymous Female Friend 1: "How did this get made?"
As the game progresses, your unlockable items are displayed on Barbie's Inspiration Board in the main foyer. I took a screen grab of what I had unlocked over the course of three hours and what inspires Barbie on a deeply personal level.
I'd be doing a disservice if I failed to mention the mini-game I call, Am I Pretty Enough Now? Wherein Barbie is forced to apply makeup faster than her still incarcerated house mates. I've never put on makeup before, but if it was anything close to this difficult, I'm just going to start handing out high-fives to every woman wearing eyeliner.
This was by far the most challenging mini-game that also doubled as overt idol worship. I don't know why Barbie has an Easter Island sized head of herself in her home, but I do know that if I didn't shadow those eyes fast enough I'd be reassigned to makeup training in re-education camp in Pyongyang.
I secretly hope the developers have actually created a subversive, post-modern commentary on consumerism that is a refutation of all things Kardashian, but I'm probably wrong. The game is a loose mess and fucking terrible on every level, but after a few drinks with friends it becomes a surreal thought experiment. Did I mention that the game is $30?