Barbie Horse Adventures: Blue Ribbon Race - I'm Here For The Vibes
So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that the film event of the year is upon us: Barbieheimer, and I am not alone in being stupidly excited for both of these films, and because I love tying things like this into the Game Boy Abyss (and I hit a snag of playing Yggdra Union), the next two reviews will revolve around these two films. I’ll be seeing Barbie first, so we’ll be kicking things off with… I gotta check my notes everytime I’m looking this game up… Barbie Horse Adventures: Blue Ribbon Race (that’s a mouthful, ain’t it), a title that is both embelic of the ‘casual’ shovelware that frequently reared its head on the GBA, but somehow has some of the most chill-out, relaxing vibes present across the entire Game Boy Advance library. Let’s dive (ride?) in, and take a look.
Look, as a man born in 1995, Barbie was never my forte. Even moving away from ideas like gender roles or anything like that, I just didn’t really care about her. Over the years, I absorbed bits and pieces of knowledge from the property, mostly from books left lying around in my family’s car, or catching glances of the dozens (seriously, there’s DOZENS of these) of animated films based on the character. It’s only been in the last few years that my Barbie-coded partner has been throwing her thoughts on those innumerable (personally, ugly-looking) animated films at me and… nope, I’m still not really interested in the property. Still, I’m excited about the Barbie movie for three reasons - one, the reveal trailer was riffing on goddamn 2001 A Space Odyssey, and two/three, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are deeply, deeply attractive people. But that’s neither here nor there, as we’re taking a look at Blue Ribbon Race, and I’ve rapidly run out of ways to stretch out this intro, so let’s get riding!
Despite the game being billed as the ‘Blue Ribbon Race’, there aren't any real races to partake in. Instead, Barbie Horse Adventures has more of a time trial crossed with just some chill, somewhat mindless horse riding. The main mode of the game has Barbie earning coins from a linear set of challenges, all in the journey to earn her way to the titular race. These challenges usually alternate from a more chill experience, like finding flowers to plant in front of a castle (????) or riding up a mountain, to circular race-esque time trials where you’ll just be looping around a track, trying to hit a certain time… And that’s really it for the main levels for the game. The races encourage you to collect letters that spell out BARBIE, which as far as I can tell just reset your current time to zero, giving you more time to wrap these levels up. Occasionally, they’ll throw in little, minute mechanics like collecting bug spray to stop mosquitos (?) from stunning you for a minute, but otherwise it’s pretty samey in its structure. Honestly, I preferred the more open, explore-y levels of this game, like finding the flowers or climbing the mountain. Due to the game’s singular song, many of the levels have a very transient, dreamlike nature to them, and they really felt like one of those games where you just pick a direction and ride, falling into the chill vibes of the game itself.
Now, now, calm down all you horse girls who are absolutely reading The Game Boy Abyss, I’ll get to how it actually *feels* to ride a horse in this game. And to that, it’s kinda like driving a car. Pressing ‘A’ will accelerate the horse, moving from a gallop to a canter (I think that's the right horsey terminology… I ain’t looking it up, because that’s funnier), but as far as I can tell there’s no way to really reverse - you simply have to steer the horse in a proper arc, and an arc that is beyond frustrating as the horse just kind of gives up after turning 90 degrees in any direction, leading to several instances of me missing a turn and losing a lot of poorly needed time. Tapping ‘B’ will let the horse leap over obstacles, but these are generally few and far between and the game isn’t stringent enough if you actually hit them - you’ll just be stunned for a few seconds and then can move on. Because horses are seemingly amongst the most nervous animals in existence, there are certain pieces of terrain, like narrow bridges, where Barbie has to dismount her horse and lead it, *slowly* by hand until it’s happy to be ridden again. Without a doubt, this is the single mechanic that frustrated me the most - it simply kills any pace or momentum these levels have, simply being a half minute of just… nothing. I know I’m complaining about a Barbie Horse game, but still, these suck, But otherwise… it plays… eh? It’s serviceable, especially for its linear structure and pick-up-and-play nature, but I for sure wouldn’t want to be spending more than the hour or so I did with it. But yeah, it’s fine, even if the horse drives more like a car then an animal.
Finding all the coins in a level will also unlock an arcade-esque minigame to be played whenever you want - there certainly is a bit of throwaway content just meant to pad out things a little bit, but I dunno, I think there’s a little bit of fun to be had there. They’re very basic, like pathing your horse through a maze, but yeah, they’ve got their own merits and are worth a squiz if you’re looking for everything this game has to offer. They’re hideously ugly, to be fair, using a different look than the main game, but if you can look past that, there’s a bit of fun to be had.
To be frank, there isn’t a lot of content to be found here, as unsurprising as it is. Half the levels don’t even have any kind of time limit element, and the ‘races’ aren’t challenging enough to take more than a handful of tries to complete. It's a prototypical shovelware title, created to tap into the still burgeoning ‘girl games’ (I hate that idea, to be frank) space that blossomed in the 2000s. But it’s not *that* bad. The mini-games are fun enough to take for a spin, and the ethereal, dreamlike nature (I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Barbie game) of the main story and it’s singular song (we’ll get there) pulled me in enough to not hate the spotty controls and repetitive nature. It’ll take the average player an hour, maybe two to see everything, but for a kid who’s really into Barbie, horses, or god forbid, *both*, I think this game would do, and likely did gangbusters with that crowd. I’d never pick it up again, but then again, you’re reading the review of a man in his late twenties who doesn’t give a rats ass about Barbie; I’m talking to you from a purely critical viewpoint - you chat with a pre-teen girl who played this back in 2003, I think you’d find a completely different - and probably far more positive - take on the game.
To be honest, I didn’t actually finish the game, despite its short length. As was common at the time, these licensed games employed a password system to save your progress, but since you might have a certain amount of coins or unlocked a certain number of minigames, this leads to the passwords being a twenty-character mismatch of numbers and letters that are impossible to minimize. And if you so happen to even click ‘back’ on the level select… Well, that was that. Still, I played everything except the titular Blue Ribbon Race and the level before it, and the only reason I failed that was because I somehow triggered a bug that got Barbie stuck in the animation for leading her horse, but whilst scrolling the screen, ultimately making Barbie pop out of existence and making it impossible to finish that level. It’s not really a big deal, and it didn’t seem easy to set off, but I just thought it was a funny thing to note… and to once again shit on the existence of these terrible password systems. I understand if the passwords are like ‘HORSEBARBIE’ or some shit like that, but something like ‘fheahfadkh12493feeqf’ makes me want to throw up.
The single greatest saving grace of Barbie Horse Adventures is the songs - scratch that, *song*. Pretty much all the levels in the game feature the same song, a peaceful, almost eerie tune that feels as if Barbie is riding through a gentle dream. Normally I’d complain about this game’s lack of musical variety, or the repetition of this single track, but ultimately I’ve got nothing bad to say here. It’s a fantastic track for the GBA, and whilst the main story of Barbie only makes up around an hour, I never got sick of it. I played this game on a cold Saturday morning, wrapped in a blanket, and I can’t remember the last time I was this cozy playing a video game. I’m gonna throw the audio track below, because it’s that good. I wish we knew who’d composed it, because there just genuinely isn’t anything else like that. I doubt anyone reading here would know, but if you do, get the word out. The song is simply so fantastic it makes me ignore the generally poor, indistinct graphics - they aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but the people sure don’t look like people, and it frequently I’d find myself running into walls because I was *certain* They were paths to traverse. Ah well.
Overall, I don’t have that many deep thoughts about Barbie Horse Adventures: Blue Ribbon Cup - it’s absolutely a shovelware title looking to appeal to the burgeoning female audience, but it’s amazing what some chill vibes and a single, amazing song can do to uplift mediocre gameplay and a short runtime. I don’t think I can really recommend this game to anyone, as it’s a niche title in a genre that has far, far, FAR better games in it, but for what it is, Barbie Horse Adventures is perfectly serviceable, if ultimately only memorable for its strange, unearthly vibe.
Thank you so much for reading my review of Barbie Horse Adventures: Blue Ribbon Cup on the Game Boy Abyss! With the Barbie half of Barbieheimer covered, next week we’ll be taking a look at the closest thing I can get to a game about nuclear bombs - Bomberman Tournament! As always, you can email me any requests or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. You can also find me @Lemmy7003 on Twitter, for as long as that sinking ship holds back water. Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.