A solid return to form then after a difficult couple of albums.
HairyArse about Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Now and again we like to dip into games that are right outside our comfort zone here at AATG. Roping in my very fidgety and energetic near-three-year-old daughter Charlotte to help out with Barbie: Groom and Glam Pups sounded like a good idea at the time but it led to histrionics over the weekend on several occasions.
THQ has a brace of child-friendly games under its belt and continues to belt out licensed product after licensed product. Their Barbie range on DS and Wii goes head to head with similar efforts from Activison and Disney Interactive.
In Groom and Glam Pups, a stripped down Nintendogs wannabe, You take care of a selection of glamorous doggies, dress them up, train them to do tricks and generally do all the things superstar doll models are expected to do with their canine charges.
Charlotte: “I want to put silly glasses on my dog, Daddy!”
It’s quite hard to jot down notes on a game when your daughter insists on “using the pencil thing” but what better way to gauge whether a game hits the right note for over-threes than letting a hyper intelligent 2-and-three-quarter year old get to grips with it.
The game is as simple as can be. Players select a dog from a selection of Shi Tzus, Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles and others. They can then name their dog (unsurprisingly, Charlotte wanted to call all her dogs Ollie for some reason), and then take on various tasks to glam their pup up to the nines.
As with Nintendogs, training is an important part of developing a dog’s keen and alert nature. The training in Groom and Glam Pups takes the form of gestural “moves” performed with the stylus. Follow the on-screen prompts perfectly and your dog will learn a new trick.
Charlotte: “Doggie’s dead!”
(Don’t worry dear reader. Doggie is not dead, doggie is merely lying down on its side for an unspecified reason. Oh wait, it’s sleeping! Do dogs need to be trained to sleep?)
After each successful training session, your dog can either be rewarded (with a simple minigame involving tapping a bone-shaped biscuit at the right time in order to drop it straight into your doggie’s eager chops) or you can move onto another trick.
After all that effort and exertion, it’s time to groom your pup. Groom takes the form of various glamour treatments you can perform on your doggie. Shower him/her down to start with, then massage in some pongy shampoo.
Charlotte: “I want to shower Ollie again!”
Oops. You can’t, sorry sweetheart. Once he’s clean you’ve got to get him all dirty again before he can be showered once more.
A quick comb and brush, maybe a quick trim and your poochy pal will be ready to be seen out at any red carpet event the world throws at you.
Tricks and grooming over and done with, dogs are now ready to take part in activities. These range from a glamorous photo shoot, to some catwalk (dogwalk?) runway modelling or an energetic dance routine.
Like the other parts of the game, simple gesture-based stylus manipulation is all that’s required to make your pet perform. The photo mode is a bit disappointing as it seems to be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes you’re sure you’ve taken an amazing shot of your dog in mid-air performing an excellent backflip, but when the snap preview comes along, the mutt’s merely lying on the ground looking depressed. Perhaps the camera’s shutter’s a bit on the slow side.
Graphically the game certainly looks like you'd expect a Barbie product to look. Lashings and lashings of pink everywhere. Fairly good 3D models of your poochies (though the Yorkie puts the fear of god into me when you put a particularly weird pair of specs on it, that make it look like it has lizard eyes). Barbie's voice chimes in at appropriate points during the game to offer helpful advice and encouragement. There is music too, but it's the sort of music you expect to hear in Japanese lifts.
Charlotte: “Daddy, let ME do it! You’re not doing it right!”
Well, she might have a point, of course.
There is a game of sorts in here amidst all the pink and fluffy dog mollycoddling. Each time you perform a task particularly well, you’ll earn some lovely gold coins to spend on more pampering for your poochy pal. In the Barbie Glamour Salon, you can purchase dog collars, daft glasses, little Christmas hats, sweet little gingham T-Shirt and Legging ensembles and a huge selection of collars.
Charlotte: “I want a pirate hat on my doggie!”
No pirate hats, sorry. After all this is a game for 3s and up.
Extra special effort with your dog will net you one of Barbie’s mystery gifts which can range from a new trick instruction to a nice new brush and grooming set for your dog.
Progress is automatically saved to the DS cartridge as you’d expect, so kids can pick up and play whenever they want.
If by now you’re wondering where it all ends, the simple answer is that it doesn’t – but aside from the extreme lightness of it all, and the emphasis on turning your nearest and dearest into some sort of vacuous Paris Hilton acolyte, Barbie: Groom and Glam Pups scored a big hit with my little girl and you have to bear in mind that there’s an extremely narrow age group of kids that this will appeal to (extremely old game reviewers notwithstanding). Having recently decided that she does want to be a “girly” girl after all, Charlotte loved the game but is still probably a bit too young to get to grips with the gesture-based stuff without help. It’s all very simple though, but could lack long term appeal once you’ve seen all the various tasks the game offers.
Given the DS’ range of control methods it also seemed a little disappointing that more wasn’t put into the game to allow players to exercise their creative streaks. Colouring the dog’s hair with the stylus perhaps? Maybe even drawing patterned clothing to clad your dog in? A bit of voice command stuff like the original Nintendogs had?
All in all, it’s a shade under £13 from most etailers so you do get what you pay for in this pocket money game.
I’ll leave Charlotte to say the final words about it.
“Daddy, can we watch the blueberry girl or the Skateboarding Oompah Loompa instead?”