Last year the sequel to Disney Channel’s 2006 TV movie hit pulled in squillions of young - and okay, I’ll admit it: not so young – viewers, hungry for another helping of cool tunes and slick moves from those fresh faced East High students.
Anyone whose high school years are behind them may not understand the fascination with all things HSM, but somehow the superficial, predictable plots melded with mainstream pop and dance routines have produced something today’s tweenies can relate to.
Naturally, a portable game of the movie is a must-have accessory for young HSM fans – especially if it features tracks and stars from the film. The inaugural DS game: High School Musical: Makin’ The Cut was purely about the music and dancing, with players tapping the bottom screen in time with the beat (à la Elite Beat Agents) to perform successful dance routines as they boogied their way to stardom. The sequel: High School Musical 2: Work This Out! attempts to branch out from that formula by having the movie characters perform a series of different daily tasks during their working holiday.
Set in the exclusive grounds of the Lava Springs Country Club – owned by the ultra-rich parents of spoilt teens Sharpay and Ryan Evans, the game features some plot elements and locations from the movie. Still photos of the main characters pop up during dialogue segments, and this is as close to realistic likenesses as you get; the rest of the time they are represented by 3D figures which bear only a vague resemblance to the character you happen to be playing.
Most tasks/mini-games are rhythm-based, such as collecting stray golf balls and keeping poolside sunbathers sheltered from those nasty UV rays. Even on the easiest setting the rhythm games require an almost metronomic precision, with some steep scoring penalties for slipping up. Other tasks involve running through the grounds, collecting specific items within an allotted time limit. Of course, it wouldn’t be a HSM game without the dancing, so every now and then your character is required to strut his or her stuff – once again in time with the beat, although it’s fairly simple to rack up a decent score in the dancing segments, provided you have a good sense of timing and reasonable eye-hand co-ordination. As you complete each day’s assigned tasks you earn awards and unlock previously inaccessible areas of the Lava Springs Country Club, as well as more songs to listen to while you play. And that, in a nutshell, is pretty much it as far as game play is concerned.
The accompanying soundtrack is pleasant enough to begin with, and HSM fans will instantly recognise the songs, which play in a continuous loop. However, due to the fact that there are initially only two songs available – and it takes quite a while before you unlock further tracks, the background music quickly degenerates into a form of audio torture. By the time you have unlocked the next song you are heartily sick of listening to the previous tracks. Yes, so you can turn the volume down… but you shouldn’t have to.
Graphics, while colourful, aren’t fantastic. Much of the time the lower DS screen displays a pixellated isometric map of the country club and environs, which quickly feels restrictive – even though you do get to explore previously inaccessible areas in the building or grounds. As mentioned earlier the character representation is so-so, although animation is quite fluid.
In the interest of delivering an objective review we did test the game on several members of the target demographic (pre-teen girls), and the reactions ranged from lukewarm to mild disappointment. The difficulty of some mini-games and the repetitive music drew negative comments from our discerning young gamers, although they did enjoy recognising faces from the movie. Compared to the movie – and indeed the previous game, High School Musical 2: Work This Out! falls well short of our expectations. The replay factor just isn’t there, and once you get past that new game honeymoon period, chances are you will probably set it aside for good.