As far as pre-teen girls are concerned – and probably their parents, too – the phenomenon that is Hannah Montana needs no introduction.
However, for the benefit of our readers who do not fall within this category, here is HM in a nutshell: young Miley Stewart gets herself into many entertaining predicaments as she leads a secret double life, trying to juggle the tribulations of an average teenage girl with those of her alter ego, glamorous pop star Hannah Montana. Each episode features generous helpings of funky fashion, friends (and rivals), cute guys and of course pop music, so it’s not surprising the TV show struck all the right chords with impressionable female tweenies, and proved a real goldmine for Disney.
Hannah Montana: Music Jam is not the first HM DS title from Disney Interactive Studios, and to be honest we were wary of the ‘crappy sequel-itis’ that is so prevalent in the industry today. Our fears proved unfounded however, and Hannah Montana: Music Jam delivered a pleasingly polished performance.
The interface is fairly simple to use and logically laid out, meaning you can pretty much jump straight in and play the adventure, which comprises half of the game. Packed with unlockable content, collectibles, tasks, music practice sessions and mini-games, the adventure is a progressive story which begins with new music sensation Savannah Starr threatening to end Hannah’s reign as princess of pop by signing up for the prestigious Music Jam Online video competition. To make matters worse, another newcomer by the name of Josie Moore is attempting to poach Miley’s friends. Hannah/Miley must strive to defend her title and win back her buddies’ attention. Sounds pretty straightforward, huh? But as HM fans know, maintaining two completely different identities isn't all plain sailing.
For starters, Savannah already has one up on Hannah because she plays her own instruments. To outdo her rival, Hannah must become reasonably proficient on the drums, plus rhythm, bass and lead guitars (a feat which usually takes years - per instrument - but for the purpose of this game can be accomplished in a matter of hours). The inclusion of a small but thoughtful feature means guitars can be set up for left hand play, if required. Clear instructions are given for playing each instrument – think of them as ‘lite’ versions of Guitar Hero and Elite Beat Agents.
She must also learn some fresh dance moves and poses, throw them together with hip new outfits, stunning locations and cool lighting effects to create winning music videos that’ll hopefully blow Savannah’s efforts out of the water.
On the home front, Miley is kept busy running across town, doing favours to keep her friends onside. These can be as simple as delivering something from point A to point B, or successfully completing various mini-games, some of which are fun to play. Others, such as striking poses for a photography shoot, or using the touch screen to trace figures on an ice skating rink, quickly become tedious. One common thread throughout the mini-games was that none of them posed much of a challenge for us; however we must bear in mind that Hannah Montana: Music Jam is targeted at a much younger audience, whose coordination and fine motor skills are still being developed. When viewed from this perspective, the level of challenge is actually spot on.
Creative Play is the other main component of the game, and in our book is what sets Hannah Montana: Music Jam apart from other similar ‘big franchise’ titles. This mode allows you to lay down your own tracks for each of the four instruments – albeit at a limited level, and make your own music video using Music Jam’s video creator. You can also add content such as lighting effects, change Hannah’s wardrobe, playback, edit and save your masterpiece. Basically it gives you a taste of what’s involved in creating a music video and provides the opportunity to let loose your inner muso. You can also hold jam sessions and record music with up to three other players via the DS wireless connection; however each player must have their own copy of the game.
Clear instructions are given for the mini-games but not for music and video creation (although it’s not too difficult to work things out for yourself). Three difficulty levels offer a limited degree of challenge, with most of the games requiring a moderate degree of coordination plus a basic sense of rhythm and timing to complete. For instrument practice, bass and lead guitars involve plucking the correct string whilst holding the directional pad in one of five different positions. Rhythm guitar operates in the same manner but instead of plucking out individual notes the stylus is used to strum across all strings. Drum practice operates on a similar principle to that in Elite Beat Agents, which means with the aid of audio and visual clues you must hit the correct drum at just the right moment.
Graphics are sharp and colourful, and don’t clutter up the screens with unnecessary eye candy. Dialogue is text only and in-game music features tunes from the TV show - including the title track: The Best of Both Worlds. All tracks are purely instrumental; however this doesn’t detract from game play and you don’t miss the vocals at all.
Hannah Montana: Music Jam manages to capture everything that made the show such a success, from the music, characters and locations to the ‘Hannah-isms’ and screwball humour. Pre-teen girls – particularly Hannah Montana fans – will love this one… although their brothers may resent having to share their DS.