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Barbie Riding Club, Detective Barbie

Company: Mattel

By DAVE SCHEIBER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 1998


If you accidentally step on a toy in our house, odds are it will be a Barbie doll. Olympics Barbie, Wedding Barbie, Babysitting Barbie, we have stepped on all the big names (which really hurts if you are barefoot).

This state of affairs stems from our almost-3-year-old's infatuation with all things Barbie -- a passion handed down from her three older sisters -- as well as her habit of dumping the contents of her overflowing Barbie basket all over the place. The collection of svelte dolls even includes my childhood G.I. Joe, who, let's face it, has never been happier.

But now, there is a new Barbie dynamic at home. It suddenly has rekindled the interest of two older sisters, ages 8 and 11. Their eyes have been glued lately to the PC and two Barbie CD-ROM games on the market for Windows 95 and 98: Barbie Riding Club and Detective Barbie.

From watching the games in action and the kids at the controls, it is easy to see that the products do an excellent job weaving splashy color graphics and entertaining interactive pursuits that can pull even post-Barbie girls into the fold. They have played earlier Windows versions of Barbie computer games, but these are clearly superior in all aspects.

So, let's talk Barbie. In Riding Club, the scenes are attractively pastoral and do a nice job creating flourishes of realism, with various riding angles, and detailed sound effects that accompany washing, brushing and feeding your horse in the stable.

You start off by getting your own membership card, then picking and naming your own equine pal. As you progress through an array of riding challenges, stopping to play little games along the way (like "Vine Tangle" and "Apple Sorting"), you make strides in earning a special certificate of achievement. You also can add "snapshots" of things you see and do along the way -- such as galloping along a trail or finding secret trails -- to a riding scrapbook. Click on the pager icon and you can beep a Barbie friend to set up a race. You go on rescue missions, do good deeds and strive to complete all your Adventure Missions. There is enough there to keep Barbie players busy quite a while.

A cool feature is creating a desktop horse that will remain on screen with your other shortcut program icons. You can care for your horse on the menu screen. And if you click on it, it will take a little stroll.

Detective Barbie picks up where Riding Club leaves off in the effects department. You start by entering your first name, so an encouraging computer voice addresses you personally in the search for Ken, who has mysteriously disappeared at an eery little carnival.

Barbie has sort of a sultry Charlie's Angel look going in this adventure, though she moves from place to place with a gait that is more fashion-show runway than crime-stopper. Anyway, you can click on fake doors, crates, drawers and hidden clues, aided with such laudable game effects of a magnifying glass and a crime lab that analyzes evidence.

A trusty evidence expert named Becky who materializes on screen says things like "I think you've found something!" while jazzy mystery music plays in the background throughout.

Along the way, Barbie -- following your directives -- encounters goons like Burt Franklin, the carnival owner, and his creepy son, Jake Franklin, who is just a little bit too testy as Barbie grills him. Mark Jake down as a prime suspect (and even listen back on the interview later when assessing evidence). You get the idea.

The game can take a while to play. In fact, I had to bail out long before my 8-year-old found Ken, the missing cash (no, Ken doesn't take it) and the bad guy. One very nice feature: You can save your game in progress and return to it later, or have several games stored at once. The clues and scenarios vary with each playing. The action is broken up by rides and games, adding to the variety in each crime caper.

Another upside to both games: So far, neither has wound up on the floor.

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