There's a theory that says that little boys are into explosions and punching, and little girls significantly less so, with a preference towards ponies, princesses and everything pink. Whatever you might think of that kind of stereotyping, there's an awful lot of marketing savvy that suggests that this kind of compartmentalising sells a lot of products. There's no doubt that Nintendo's latest DS game, the rather strangely titled, Nintendo Presents: Style Boutique plays right into that kind of stereotyping.
In basic content it's not that dissimilar to. You're a young sales associate tasked with outfitting customers in the latest fashions based on their tastes, budgets and whatever you've actually got in stock. You can also aspire to running your own boutique, something that comes along rather quickly once you've passed the game's initial tutorial. This brings a very light level of stock management to the game, but ultimately it's still all about the clothes and how they look.
There's no doubting that Style Boutique can be rather repetitive, but Nintendo's thought of that by loading it up with tons of actual content. The claim is that there's over 10,000 in-game items to sell to customers, and each bit of branded clothing can be rotated and admired at will. The models themselves are pretty simple but this is still running on a DS/DSi, so that's to be expected. Style Boutique is one of an uncommon breed amongst DS games, in that it's played and displayed in portrait rather than landscape mode, requiring you to hold the DS vertically, like a book.
Actual gameplay is pretty simple, with the only minor catch being that it can be rather text-heavy, so even though pre-tweens might like the idea of Style Boutique, they'll struggle with the game itself unless they've got decent reading skills. You've got to be able to read each customer's speech bubbles to work out what it is they want and match it to the description of each piece of clothing. It's otherwise uncomplicated fare, and to a certain extent repetitive. Given the target market that might not be too much of a problem, although like Imagine: Journalist, some girl gamers after more of a "game" and less of a "shopping experience" might find the going a little plain.
Parents may wish to note that the music is incredibly repetitive — this seems to be a trend for cutesy games — and that a pair of headphones for your burgeoning fashionista might be a very good accessory to complement this particular game.
It's not quite fair to judge a game for younger audiences without getting some feedback from those same audiences. We gave Style Boutique to the same young lady who rather despised. An hour later, we had to wrench it from her grasp, as she was smitten. And still is. Which says more about the appeal of the game than we ever could.
Parents not fussed by Style Boutique's rather unsubtle pro-consumerist point of view (and the underlying ideology that says that all little girls will be interested in is pretty clothes) should get reasonable value out of the game. Like many children's games it's not particularly lengthy or deep, but the production values are fair and with a claimed 10,000 different clothing items (we didn't get enough game time to confirm this, but why would Nintendo lie?) there's enough content here to keep virtual Barbie dolls dressed for a very long time indeed.