*This post is a repost from my class gaming blog
There are a variety of games I was considering critiquing for this post, from Shadow of the Colossus, Mario Sunshine to Legend of Zelda Wind Waker, but upon reflection I think the game that has really struck a core with me is, Detective Barbie: Mystery of the Carnival Caper.
Despite any preconceived notions one might have about a game staring a sugary sweet, superficial, plastic, commercial, action figure doll—Detective Barbie: Mystery of the Carnival Caper is a dark game. The premise of this game—similarly to Gone Home— is that Barbie, our main character, has just completed her time abroad at the Detective Academy. When she returns home, there is a carnival in town which her boyfriend, the illustrious, built, and mildly dimwitted Ken is in charge of. At the carnival, Ken and the money raised for charity, disappear as a result of a magician’s act. This forces Barbie to search for her missing boyfriend, the money, and the person responsible for their disappearance.
Unlike a majority of games “geared towards young girls” at the time, this was a game where the player (and main female character), have real agency.
I think one of the strongest elements of this game is it’s characterization of Barbie and its ability to build tension through the music and the slow paced gameplay. Never in this game do you dress up Barbie, or clean or cook as other games would have you do. Instead, the player is constantly going from scene to scene, gathering clues, interviewing suspects, and chasing (really the chase scenes were riveting in this game) the villain as Barbie goes from area to area searching for clues using her handy magnifying glass to piece together the mystery of the shadowy figure responsible for Ken’s disappearance.
The unsightly characters, the haunting music and the eerie handprints and footprints that appear through the scenes really work to build the dark tone and atmosphere.
As a child, this game really struck a sense of horror in me, and now, whenever I hear the haunting music of a carnival, my blood turns to ice.