When I wasn’t teaching or running around Manhattan with packs of teenagers, I checked out The Daring Game For Girls on the DS. I know this is the girl-player stereotype, but I just can’t overstate how important a customizable avatar is for making me feel connected to the game. I felt a bit guilty playing demos at E3 and, as the demonstrator told me about system reqs and combat styles, I’d ask if I could change my battle bikini, but The Daring Game For Girls is, well, for girls.
So I was pleased to see a variety of coloring in the four choices for your avatar, but disappointed that race seemed to be the only distinguishing characteristic. I’d have liked to choose my hair and my clothes, or just been given some differing accessories, so I didn’t feel like I was choosing between Blonde, Hispanic, Asian or Black, but between, say, Artist, Tomboy, Bookworm, etc. This disappointing start set the tone for a well-intentioned but ultimately flat game.
Regardless of which ‘toon you choose, your character has recently moved to a new town, and you parents promise to take you on a super exciting trip, if you can achieve Girl Scout-style badges in different areas, like life skills, arts & literature, world knowledge, sports & games, adventure and ‘girl lore’, and make enough money to fund your trip.
To do this, you’ll play a bunch of minigames based on summertime activities and friendly interactions. You might plant seeds (and you won’t even have to harass your friends to water them) or help a friend find missing homework or jump rope. You can make and sell lemonade and craft projects to earn money. There’s enough variety in the items that the game avoided the awful cycle of making money to buy materials to craft items to make money to buy materials…
Crafting puzzles were a slightly less sadistic version of building in Lost in Blue 2. (I guess Cooking Mama has ruined me for games that are essentially tracing a stylus along a dotted line.) The items for the collection missions respawned fast enough to avoid frustration, but there wasn’t much difference between walking back and forth looking for feathers, or between walking back and forth looking for science homework. Overall, the minigames lived up to the game’s promises of female protagonists and family-friendly activities, but they weren’t particularly challenging, innovative or even fun. They felt more like phoned-in mini-versions of other popular DS puzzles. I think it takes more than the absence of boobs and beer to make a really good game for preteen girls.
If the female-empowerment message is supposed to validate a pretty underwhelming collection of minigames, what about the other messages in the game? What about the stereotypes in the game, the shy glasses-wearing girl who does literature trivia or the black girl who only wants to play double-dutch? What about the in-game warnings that caving and fire-starting are dangerous should not be tried at home, which seems to defeat the whole girl-power theme of the game? Be daring with your stylus only!
And what is up with the friendship bracelets? Throughout the game, you’ll meet shy or suspicious girls who don’t automatically warm to your friendly overtures, and the solution is to give them a bracelet and automatically become friends. I don’t know if the message here is trust people who give you stuff or maybe gifts are the same thing as affection or just girls are shallow, but either way, I don’t like it. I’m confused that we should read realism into girls starting campfires or exploring, but not into little girls trading trust and affection for jewelry.
Overall, The Daring Game of Girls gets close to success on gameplay and close on theme, but ultimately falls flat on both.