Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Avalanche Software (Wii), Gorilla Games (DS)
Release Date: October 30, 2007
So much of the press coverage of children's games is either overly snarky or noticeably brief, and the reasons for this are numerous. Some of it can be chalked up to a generational gap or a lack of knowledge or interest in the license, but I suspect that much of it comes from the sad fact that most licensed games developed for young audiences are surprisingly uninventive (check our High School Musical preview), often with disastrous results.
To my great surprise, both of the games based on Disney's "Hannah Montana" television series employ sharp attempts at developing worthwhile new concepts. I use the word "concept" for a reason, because the final products may not live up to the gameplay initiatives demonstrated to us at a press event late last week. Though each takes a unique stab at reinventing rhythm gaming, both will include some kind of adventure mode that is sure to be of little interest to those unfamiliar with the license.
Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour for the Wii is a dancing game, and though it does not require a dance pad, it also is not the freeform experience of something like EA's forthcoming Boogie. In Spotlight World Tour, Montana is traveling the world and making tour stops in nine major cities, including London, Sydney, and Moscow. In each city, Montana can walk around, interact with NPCs, and buy clothes and accessories, but that's pretty routine stuff.
What isn't routine is the actual dancing. However, the player is not actually controlling her feet; instead, the Wiimote and Nunchuk act as her hands, and players must perform actions in sync with the on-screen commands. Blue commands are handled with the Wiimote while pink commands are mapped to the Nunchuk, and Montana must perform a wide array of actions, including claps, points, waves, spins, and even some good old-fashioned air guitar. Sixteen songs will be available for play, including those from last year's "Hannah Montana" original soundtrack and the forthcoming "Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus" album.
Based on our experience, the motion controls came as advertised and were very easy to pick up. With a bit of polish, Spotlight World Tour could be a strong entry for younger audiences, though the on-foot segment we saw still needed a lot of work. While viewing the backstage segment, the Disney reps quickly went on the defense, noting that the game still had several months of development ahead of it. If the publisher can sense a potential problem this early, perhaps the game still has a chance to pull it all together by October.
The exclusion of non-"Montana" tracks may keep Spotlight World Tour out of the hands of older gamers, but that is unlikely to be an issue for Hannah Montana: Music Jam for the Nintendo DS. Music Jam is a highly versatile music creation package that allows players to freely compose and assemble tracks with the use of four digital instruments: lead guitar, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, and the drums.
But like Spotlight World Tour, Music Jam is more than just a rhythm game; it also features a 3D adventure, albeit one that is more about a personal quandary than a world tour. Montana is both a singer and a student, and there's a new girl in both worlds attempting to take over her territory. Could it possibly be the same girl? Spoilers! I read two-thirds of the "Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!" novel included in the press kit, and if the narrative of the game is anything like the book, Music Jam should be partially amusing and partially comprised of overwrought teen drama. Crush-tastic, indeed.
Anyway, to combat this mysterious new foe, Montana must learn four songs on all four instruments to train for music camp. When playing a song on the guitar, the strings are displayed on the bottom screen, and the commands start from the top and eventually cross the strum path. When the command hits the designated area, you must hold the correct direction on the d-pad and strum the strings with the stylus. Each direction on the d-pad represents a different key on the guitar, so each strum/direction combo will yield a different result. Timing is especially important on the drum set, which contains four drums, four cymbals, and a mounted tambourine.
Playing a few familiar songs from the television series is fine and well, but creating your own music is the real draw of the game. Each individual string on the guitars can be plucked and each drum and cymbal tapped at will, and Music Jam allows players the ability to compose and stack the instrumental tracks to create a complete song (sans vocals, obviously). One of the producers regaled us with a tale of how his team recreated an AC/DC track with the game, and based on our time with Music Jam, it seems totally plausible. Doing so would require an intimate knowledge of music timing and composition, but the software is flexible enough to allow for such things.
Once a song is complete, a music video can be crafted, complete with special effects and multiple angle options. Finished videos can then be shared via a local wireless connection with other Music Jam owners. Seven mini-games, including pizza making, ice skating, and RC car racing will help to extend the experience for mainstream gamers, but the real meat comes with the extensive creation options held within the four digital instruments.
Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour and Music Jam represent the odd licensed games that attempt to buck the trend of tiresome repetition in the genre; however, both are likely to eschewed by hardcore gamers, due to the teen-girl-centric license. Unless the attached adventure modes prove to be overbearing and unnecessary, the forthcoming Hannah Montana titles may actually prove to be worthwhile. Both have intriguing concepts and a fair amount of potential, which is already more than we can say about most games in the genre.