John R. Quain
December 18, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Girl power made Hanson a household name and saved director James Cameron’s career. But in the field of computer games, it has yet to make an impact. The reason? Despite high-profile successes like 1996’s Barbie Fashion Designer, most girl games have been aimed at the under-8 crowd rather than the allowance-toting preteen and early-teen block. That’s changing this holiday season as software makers introduce a second wave of CD-ROMs ranging from sitcom spin-offs to interactive fashion magazines. But will young girls think these sugar-and-spice titles are cool? To find out, I handed the CD-ROMs over to an expert — my friend’s daughter, 11-year-old Laura Gittleson — before making my own professional judgments.

Detective Barbie
An adventure-mystery that’s touted as a strategy game for older girls. The setting is a carnival at which Barbie searches for clues and interviews people to discover what happened to Ken — and a whole pile of money.
The Preteen: It was kind of hard to solve the mystery; but it was fun following the footprints, and you could play games and go on rides. Also, once you solve the mystery, the clues all change the next time, so you never really get tired of it. A
The Pro: Detective Barbie’s no Sam Spade, but I could relate to the Pepto-Bismol-hued Hardy Boys-style mystery. One concern: The goal of finding Ken and getting the money seemed a little sexist. B

Fashion Trip
Billing itself as an interactive shopping spree, Fashion Trip is a virtual mall where you pick out clothes, try them on a customized digital mannequin, then go online to buy some of them. More than 30 popular clothing brands are featured, and there are style tips from the editors at Seventeen magazine (it’s ”corals” for spring, girls).
The Preteen: I liked it but they didn’t have DKNY or Tommy Girl, and one section is 1960s stuff you’d never really wear. It’s like going to the mall, except that it’s deserted. B
The Pro: I reckoned this unabashed appeal to mall-rat tendencies would strike a chord, but the advertising irked me. Still, the fashions are pretty mainstream, so parents needn’t worry about their daughters going Goth. C

Teen Digital Diva
(Based on Teen magazine, this title allows girls to create their own electronic publication. As a ”special editor” under the guidance of four virtual editorial pros, you do basic layouts, pick cover shots, and write quizzes, music reviews, and horoscopes.
The Preteen: It was fun because after you design your magazine, you can print it out and it’s like a real magazine. You can also try a makeover with nose rings and tattoos, and it was fun to make a regular girl into a freak. But I liked Fashion Trip better because you had to write articles in Teen Digital Diva like ”What’s Hot, What’s Not,” which was hard. C
The Pro: I agree with Laura here: Cool but too much like homework. I expect a group of 13-year-old girls working together on this would have more fun. B

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch: Spellbound
As with the television series starring Melissa Joan Hart, the idea behind this animated title is to extricate Sabrina from Bewitched-style predicaments by piecing together spells and solving puzzles.
The Preteen: The Sabrina disc was the most fun of all because there were more things to do. All the same voices from the TV show are used, and the characters are the same — like Salem (the cat) did a lot of things he would do in the TV program. A
The Pro: Without Laura, who is a confessed fan of the show, I would never have figured out how to use Truth Sprinkles and Monster Drops, but the snappy animations kept me entertained. Fans of the show will love the game. B

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