Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: September 30, 2008
I'd heard about We Cheer in mysterious hushed tones before E3 of this year; thus, when I finally saw it on display at Namco's booth, I decided to give it a go. I did horribly, mind you, but the game did enough to get me interested in it. It looked a lot like what the Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! family of games (Elite Beat Agents included) might be if translated to the big screen, and since Ouendan is one of my favorite series ever, I signed up to review this sucker in hopes of studying it further.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Fortunately, my hunch paid off. I put forth that if there were Agents or Fighting Japanese Male Cheerleaders on the cover instead of big-eyed anime girls in pleated skirts, this title would be garnering a lot more attention. As it stands, though, We Cheer is actually a pretty good music game. I'd go so far to say it's among the best on the system, and one you should definitely be looking at if you're into the genre, overwhelming pink and all. It's not without its flaws, however.
The way the game works is that colored lines will trace themselves around on the screen. Fairly intricate dance numbers will be performed by the cheerleading squad in the background. The motion tracking actually works pretty well, and it gets even more accurate the better you get at whatever song you're cheering your heart out to — which is as it should be. You can play with one Wiimote or two, providing freedom of choice. The game also provides a tutorial that works well. You're then tossed into the game, sink-or-swim, and if you're like most people, you'll end up playing Hoku's "Perfect Day" because it's the only song at the outset that has a single difficulty star next to it.
This brings us to We Cheer's main deterrent, and what will break a lot of people right at the outset. While there's technically a difficulty curve to this game, it only comes in two flavors: "hard" and "harder." One-star songs will prove only slightly easier than three-star songs. It's easy to break a sweat, which isn't a bad thing, but the more tired you get, the less accurate you will inevitably become with song performance. Motion recognition will falter because the game tracks things like the speed of your arm movements, along with the direction in which you move. The faster you lose energy, the less time you have to enjoy the game before you have to recharge, which, depending on your physiology, can take minutes or hours.
On top of this, the only way to win is to fill a progress bar located at the top of the screen, which is only easily achieved if you score combos comprised of consecutive correct motions. If you don't fill this meter all the way, it's an instant fail, no matter how much work you put into the song beforehand. There are no star rankings here — just sink or swim.
On top of all of that, the game's pretty deceptive in telling you what you're supposed to do to win. It turns out that the colored arrows are more of a guideline — what you're really supposed to do is mimic the movements of the on-screen cheerleaders. You'll miss so many arrows and so many notes until you realize that you were supposed to turn your wrist, your arm, or even your body to match what the girl on-screen is doing. Keeping your feet in one place in this game is an impossibility. Once you decipher the motions — and it doesn't take long — you'll be getting high marks (such as it is with this game's pass/fail system) on songs, but frustration can definitely occur over repeat plays. This is not the game for people who like to get perfect scores because they just won't happen here, ever.
We Cheer is, then, for all intents and purposes, the F-Zero GX of music games. It asks for so much, yet forgives so little. It is actually so casual that it's hardcore. Games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and even Wii Music allow for people to experience the joy of interacting with music regardless of whether or not they've dealt with a real instrument before. We Cheer, however, is best suited to people who already dance and lead cheers. The rest of us will have to catch up, and fast. The punch line to all of this is that each song has a "hard mode" of its own.
If you manage to stick with it, though, what you'll find is that We Cheer isn't strictly a beat-matching rhythm title like Guitar Hero's ilk, or anything made by Konami, nor is it flowing improvisation, like with Wii Music. It sits squarely in the middle, asking you to move your body fluidly with the music as a guide instead of as a rigid map. I won't lie; there are a lot of moments on this disc that fully communicate the joy of dance. There are even more moments that fully communicate just what you have to put into the activity to make it work. It feels rewarding when you become good (and fit) enough to pass songs, and sometimes you'll just get so into a track that you'll be sad that it's done … just before you go for a retry.
As for said tracks, there's actually a surprisingly good list here. You'd expect a game like this to sport a songlist that's Disney Channel Lite, but instead, Namco actually went with songs that were fun to both listen and dance to. Tag Team, Quad City DJs, Moby's "Bodyrock"? They also managed to get some Paul Oakenfold in here, and topping it all off is the greatest remix of "Eye of the Tiger" in the history of the world. It all works, and soon enough, my fears about having to dance to sugary-sweet pop were a thing of the past.
The looks, from a polygon-count point of view, aren't anything to write home about, and the stereotypical anime art style (large heads and eyes, etc.) may turn some off. Get past that, however, and you'll see that the animation is where this game shines. The cheerleading squads perform intricate dance moves in perfect sync, and even when you're flailing around wishing you were as fast as them, it's still pretty fun to watch. The backgrounds are no slouch either; they're just as lively as the squads themselves, with a couple of homages thrown in (keep an eye out for the Pac-Man stage).
Finally, We Cheer supports some frills, though not to any great extent. You're allowed to customize your squad, though on less of a scale than most current music games; you can swap heads, hairdos, hair colors, and collect a variety of cheerleading outfits, but that's where it ends. There's also a workout mode that works surprisingly well with the Wiimote-waving concept (I wouldn't mind seeing a full title based on it, actually), and multiplayer, which gets progressively worse the more people are playing. Everyone shares the same screen, and the arrow prompts get tinier and tinier as more players are added, making the whole thing very confusing. Hope you have a big TV.
As said earlier, if you happen to be a real cheerleader or someone who dances a lot, then We Cheer is a great buy. (However, it also means you likely already do this for free.) It's also a great buy if you like rhythm games and you have lots of stamina. If that second half doesn't apply to you, however, you might want to rent this first. The amount of exertion that this game demands of you cannot be understated — even for a Wii game.
Alternatively, it can be seen as a great way to keep in shape, especially with a price tag that's $50 cheaper than Wii Fit.
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