Lalaloopsy: Sew Magical! Sew Cute! is the latest ready-made doll craze – and now videogame – that originated from the masters of the genre, Micro-Games America (MGA) Entertainment, maker of similar ready-made retail sensations like Moxie Girlz, Kachooz, and yes, those infamous midriff-bearing Bratz. With a style that seems to recall the classic Raggedy Ann dolls of yesteryear, the Lalaloopsy brand has managed to find that magic sweet-spot that combines the power of customizable features, corresponding pets, and the ‘must-have’ sensationalism that have made them an absolute craze at retail stores across the nation.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the brand, a quick search online brings up countless ‘fan’ sites and ‘mommy blogs’ paid to help to spread the gospel of Lalaloopsy, which helps further the lucrative nature of new dolls and their collectible nature, some even fetching several hundred dollars on Ebay. As heinous as this might sound to those journalists and critics out there who might actually care about things like integrity and honesty, it’s not a battle worth investing in, as the Lalaloopsy fad is destined to fade and give way to its inevitable successor soon, much as many a ready-made retail craze has before it.
The Lalaloopsy toy line screams of exhaustive market testing for a very specific audience, and so does its videogame that’s been assembled by developer 1st Playable Productions (Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Pet Zombies). The game promises to let girls “build incredible friendships” by putting you in control of the new girl in Lalaloopsy Land to befriend the craft-based dolls (and their pets) throughout the adventure by creating and sharing different crafts and activities. There are 12 different dolls to choose from and customize to your heart’s content, among them Blossom Flowerpot, Crumbs Sugar Cookie, Dot Starlight, and even last year’s “must have” retail sensation, Mittens Fluff ‘N Stuff. You’ll control your doll using a combination of d-pad and stylus controls to pick up items and perform simple tasks.
Each of the different ‘worlds’ are actually smaller side-scrolling levels that are absolutely popping with happy flowers, rainbows, mushrooms, vegetable gardens, and other colorful bits. Pointing the stylus on moving objects can uncover hidden treats, giant stars, leaves, and even help unlock new crafts and other surprises that can be added to your doll’s arsenal of friendship-making skills.
And this is the real core of Lalaloopsy: discovering and creating new crafts that can be given to new dolls that you’d like to become friends with. These crafts include trippy kaleidoscopes, warm mittens, shiny tiaras, ballet slippers, yummy jams, and a whole lot more. The amount of customization is pretty varied, and you’ll get to tweak individual colors, shapes, styles, using the DS’ stylus to mimic actual craft-making motions that are clever in their execution. As someone who’s not all that familiar with craftworks, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned about the basics of slipper-making and jam-packing. Sure, it might not be an encyclopedia of knowledge, but the motions are certainly more involving than just tap, tap, and tap some more.
And like nearly every “girl-centric” game on the market, you’ll have to manually take care of the various pets you’ll encounter along the way, even if they aren’t yours, by petting, feeding, and keeping them clean. For the most part, this amounts to little more than a simple rubbing and dragging snacks to their greedy mouths, though I think it’s pretty disconcerting that no matter which species you take care of, including chicks, ducklings, and even butterflies (!) you’ll still feed them yummy biscuits to keep them happy and fed. Do butterflies even like biscuits?
While this format of create-repeat-create is hardly new, what really bothered me is how glib the game is about letting girls “buy” friendship using handcrafted gifts and performing favors. This is the worst kind of wish-fulfillment, as the game actually proposes “if we give our friends the gifts they are dreaming of, maybe they will be best friends forever.” But more than just suggest this, it actually keeps track using a Friendship Meter to measure the individual ‘friendship levels’ of dolls you’ve met and helped, giving you a way to determine just how much more yarn-kissing needs to be done before you’ve ‘earned’
Keep in mind that every single character in the game is female, and portraying your gaggle of potential new ‘friends’ as practically helpless victims who can’t keep track of or take care of their own pets is hardly a positive message. The various Lalaloopsy dolls seem more concerned with creating their own crafts and other selfish tasks than being responsible for themselves, and they never seem to learn from their mistakes. There comes a point when your ‘friendship’ gifts are expected; instead of being humble and appreciative, they’ll actually start demanding satisfaction, frowning with disappointment until you take care of their pet, and announcing “I’d love a gift” when the occasion suits them. What a bunch of greedy gooses!
Is this really the message we want to be sending to little girls? That the quickest way to making friends is to bribe them with gifts and let them take advantage of your good nature? Conversely, the other lesson here is that it’s OK to shirk your responsibilities as long as you’ve got sycophants at the ready. The most popular ‘reality television’ shows today reinforce this destructive and damaging pattern of dependency already, and I’m not sure that we should be trying to turn preteen girls into the next generation of Kim Kardashians.
Lalaloopsy: Sew Magical! Sew Cute! does a great job of capturing the brand’s simplistic handcrafted look and feel on the DS with crude, yet effective visuals, and the generic soundtrack helps keep the happy mood flowing. The happy voiceovers, which accompany almost everything that happens onscreen, is about as grating as you might expect. The actual crafts are actually pretty good, and even a non-fan like myself had to admit to learning a thing or two putting them together. To be honest, if the game had a greater emphasis on helping girls learn actual crafting skills and less time encouraging they buy friendship and reinforcing irresponsible behavior, there might have been a really inspirational message here that all parents – and not just those shameless payola-loving mommy blogs – could get behind.
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