Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: May 22, 2007
High school is a very awkward period of every person's life. Before you move onto the real world and head down that long path toward a lifelong career, everything seems so much more large and important than it really is. You want to show off your sense of fashion by wearing the "cool" clothes, and there are those few really popular kids with whom everyone wants to be friends. To some, thoughts of high school recall fond memories of friendship and good times, while others consider it an unimportant blip in the overall scheme of their lives. Whether you are/were at home in the halls of your high school, or you'd much rather be anywhere else, Brooktown High: Senior Year for the PSP successfully nails just how awkward the experience is/was and how shallow people can be.
In Brooktown High, you play the role of a student who has just moved to the area from somewhere in Ohio, and you're the "new guy/gal" in your senior year at a new high school. As the months on the calendar whittle away, you'll try your best to spark friendships, wear the finest threads, build your grades to fit into certain cliques, go on as many dates as possible and try to become the most popular teen in school. There's not really much to the game's story, since it's all a mixture of mini-games, conversation trees and time management. You'll spend most of your time in Brooktown High looking at menus or building up your "stats."
From the start of the game, you work your way through a questionnaire that helps decide which kind of high school clique you're most likely to fit in, how strict your parents are and what kind of weekly allowance you'll get. Once you've finished the personality quiz, you choose an appearance for your guy or girl, and then you're immediately dropped into the maddening fray that is high school life.
When you first take control of your character, you'll be in your bedroom at home standing in your undergarments. Obviously, your first priority is to get dressed, but beyond that you don't want to waste much time heading out the door and going to school. Each in-game week, you're only given 30 minutes on Monday mornings to set up your plans for the weekend and socially interact with the 20 or so unique students who go to Brooktown High. And these 30 minutes are closer to around a minute or two, so acting fast can be considered an understatement where this game is concerned.
Time slightly slows down when you engage another student in conversation, but if you accidentally happen to miss the 8:30 curfew for making it your first class in the morning, a wacky, disciplinary school robot will track you down, zap you into unconsciousness and take you to the detention room where you'll spend the rest of the week — unable to build up your grades.
The only factor your grades play in the game have to do with which school clique will openly accept you and how much allowance your parents will give you; the better your grades are, the more money they will allow. Everything else falls into a few categories: Charm, Originality, Smarts and Athletics. Even your courses at school are related directly to these four stats, where French class increases your Charm, Art class increases your Originality, Physics class increases your Smarts and Physical Education increases your Athletics. While it's definitely a little bizarre, it's a way to keep things simplistic, and it works within the world Brooktown High provides. If you want to be a suave playboy with a master physique, you're going to spend the majority of your time in Phys. Ed. and French classes, or if you have your eye on one of those nerdy girls with lavish career aspirations, you're going to want to spend more time in your Art and Physics classes.
The social scene in Brooktown High is broken down into a familiar hierarchy. There are the jocks, who are the most popular; the brains, who have the best academics; the nerds, who like tech and sometimes dress funny; and the burnouts, who do whatever it takes to just glide by without the slightest bit of real effort. Each one of these personality types is played upon by the cast of 20 students, and if you're looking to endear yourself with a certain group or significant other, you'll want to take on those characteristics yourself. Not only do you have to portray those traits with your grades and appearance, but also within tree-based conversations. Another set of stats on which you have to keep an eye are your popularity meter and your confidence level. The more popular you are, the more friends you'll make, and the more pleasing you'll look to members of the opposite sex. Your confidence level will mostly affect how smooth you are when you're with a guy or girl out on a date, so if you're looking to score a make-out session, you'll want your confidence level beaming.
Any time that you start a conversation with another student, or even take a guy or girl out on a date, they'll ask you a question and await a reply. You're usually given three or four responses to choose from, and the quickest way toward a new friendship or relationship is telling the person exactly what they want to hear. If you actually take the time (or find the time, as it's in limited supply) to get to know each of the students at the school, you'll usually be able to determine which is the best response for any question they ask you. On a single play-through, you're not going to have the time to figure out each of their quirks and peccadilloes, however, so it can be rather frustrating when you're hit with a set of responses that could go either way based upon the limited amount of knowledge you've attained. In these situations, such as on dates, and before school each Monday morning, it's best if you save your game and replay the situation until you get the desired results. Otherwise, you stand a good chance of ending up alone at the end of year, with no friends or make-out partners to call your own.
When you're not at school chatting up your classmates or out on the beach with a date, you'll spend a lot of time in your bedroom. Before school each Monday, and on Saturdays, you have time to study for your classes, shop online with your computer for clothes and accessories, or partake in a few different mini-games that help bolster specific stats. On Mondays, you'll usually just want to bolt out the door as soon as possible and spend most of your time getting to know the other students on the school grounds, but on Saturdays, you have a little bit more time to work with. Shopping online is simple to do, and while you're doing so, you can pick out a new look for your student or pick up items that can be given to other students as gifts. If you're falling behind in your grades, and your parents are starting to nag you, you'll want to spend some quality time at your desk studying and raising your GPA. You also have access to a PDA and anyone who you've become friends with or have given you their phone numbers, you can give them a call to work on building your relationship with them from your bedroom.
Probably the strangest aspect of Brooktown High comes with the three mini-games that can be accessed from your bedroom. One rather disturbing mini-game involves using your bed to somehow practice tongue kissing. In the mini-game, you move a pair of lips around the screen in what appears to be the inside of two people's mouths pressed together. You have to collect hearts with the lips, while keeping it away from "distractions," such as teachers, cell phones and television, and every once in a while, a green cloud of stink will erupt from the left-hand side of the screen and you'll have to move your icon near it and blast the noxious fumes with some breath freshener. The more hearts you collect, the more the tongues become entwined, and the entire mini-game is set to a 1970s porno-like soundtrack, as you hear naughty, wet tongue slapping noises fly out of your speakers.
The other mini-games are less disturbing and more simplistic. One works as a music rhythm game, where you pick a song, then button presses flash across the screen and you have to make sure you press them in time with the music. You can pick any song from the game's soundtrack, and while you're playing the mini-game, you'll see yourself and a random student of the opposite sex dancing in the background. The final mini-game is blackjack, but with a Brooktown High twist, as you'll play strip blackjack with another student (yes, also of the opposite sex). Whenever you win a hand, the computer player will lose an article of clothing, and the same applies to you if the computer wins a hand. The game only goes as far as taking you down to your underwear, but it's still comical nonetheless.
On the presentation side, Brooktown High has some decent visuals with their own sense of style and charm. The environments are far from expansive and aren't very detailed, but they convey the simplicity the overall game itself has. The character models are done well enough, despite their enlarged heads, and each one of the 20 students has their own unique look. The type of audience this game will appeal to isn't going to be that picky about the graphics anyway, but they probably will dig the selection of indie pop-punk rock tunes that make up the soundtrack, with bands like Dashboard Confessional and The Futureheads.
In the end, however, Brooktown High is only going to appeal to a very small niche audience. The movement controls are very slippery and awkward, you spend most of your time in mundane conversation trees and playing the same mini-games relentlessly, and the reward at the end of the year isn't particularly satisfying. Sure, the game can be fun for a few minutes here or there, but there are much better offerings available on the PSP with which you can spend your time. This game is best suited for the casual gamer looking for a unique way to pass the time here and there, for short play sessions. Real gamers need not apply.
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