Developer: Gorilla Games
Release Date: November 24, 2008
All Star Cheer Squad is pretty much what I'd expect Bring It On: The Game to be if it were to be made into a game. Just like the "Bring It On" movie, All Star Cheer Squad puts you in the role of a junior cheerleader on her first day at cheer camp and introduces you to an increasingly bratty group of other cheerleaders who get by on lame insults and challenges to your "spirit." The game plot isn't all that great, but it fits in with the general perception of cheerleading. I'm not trying to say that all of the characters are less than positive, but man, why would anyone put up with this stuff?
Obviously the game isn't really geared toward me, as it definitely skews to a younger demographic, so I was willing to ignore a lot of the story stuff and just skip ahead to the gameplay. However, you do have to wade through a bit of text to get there, and a surprising amount of the game is spent walking around the various locations at camp and talking to the other girls, coaches and even a mascot or two. This is pretty much why I didn't enjoy playing the game. When you're involved in the competitions or even the training, the compilation of mini-events works well, but you're forced to seek out your own challenges when the game tries to toss "free time" at you, and every second feels like a complete and total chore.
Before I get into that, though, let's talk about the purpose of the game and how you accomplish that goal. At the beginning of All Star Cheer Squad, you create your own cheerleader (no guys, sorry) and use a number of costume options, color changes, skin tones, and hairstyles to develop her to your liking. There's not enough detail present in the 3-D models to get a lot out of your customization here; the faces are all blurry and non-distinct, so the options are mostly big, easy-to-spot changes. You're not really stuck with your selections, aside from skin color, since the game gives plenty of options to switch out uniforms and hairstyles on the fly as you progress through camp.
Once your character creation is out of the way, you are introduced to your cousin, who apparently isn't your biggest fan at cheer camp and advises you to do your best to not bring her down. A remark by your character infuriates a nearby cheerleader, who then challenges you to the equivalent of a dance-off, and this serves as your tutorial for the basics of cheer competition. At its heart, All Star Cheer Squad is a rhythm game, complete with its own soundtrack (with vocals) and a follow-the-ball mechanic that's not entirely unlike other popular musical games.
On the touch-screen, you'll have a large circle in the center of the screen, and surrounding that circle are six smaller circles, with three on each side. From the left and right side of the screen, small green balls will move in, supposedly in tandem to the beat, and as they enter the smaller circles, you'll need to tap and destroy them to score points. Later in the game, the large inner circle can contain its own set of moves, requiring you to swipe the stylus along it in a certain direction. The small green balls will also change, sometimes showing numbers that signify how many times you need to tap them before they're destroyed.
I didn't mind the soundtrack that was used for the competitions; I thought it fit well with the theme of the game, and it definitely sounded like something you'd hear at a cheer competition on ESPN2. The sound quality on the DS speakers isn't particularly great, and you'll hear tracks repeated pretty often, but there are a couple of semi-catchy tunes included.
I didn't catch on to how the music fit the beat of the stylus motions, though, and unlike something akin to Rhythm Heaven, where you can look away from the screen and perform to the beat of the music, the rhythm in All Star Cheer Squad isn't nearly as precise, and you'll have to keep your eye on the green balls at all times in order to pass each competition.
The competitions don't make up the entirety of All Star Cheer Squad. After you get past this initial tutorial and are introduced to your dorm mates, you're shown a pie chart that breaks down each day for you, and a schedule tells you what to work on next and where to go. Tapping on the pie chart icon brings it up to full size on the touch-screen, and you can touch each piece to see where you need to go next. The game gives you plenty of free time, so you're not really stuck to a precise schedule all the time, but as I mentioned earlier, free time is where the game tends to really fall apart.
Once you've looked at the schedule, it's time to move around the map, which can also be brought up by clicking on a small map icon. Now you're given the option to navigate the cheer camp manually, where you'll move your cheerleader around on the bottom screen using the d-pad. You'll need to look for small star spaces on the ground that signify areas you can walk into, or you can simply use the map, click on a location, and press a star button on the touch-screen to instantly warp around. Warping is a far better option, since your cheerleader will otherwise just slowly walk around the screen. This is why free time is such a chore, since you're stuck exploring the map without any real direction, and you have to do a lot of this walking to figure out where to go to next. It's obscenely slow and really aggravating.
Aside from the cheer competitions and challenges, you're also given time to train your skills, which comes with a series of small events you can perform in the cheer camp gym. There are a few ways to train, and these are basically mini-games that improve your overall stats and allow you to score higher in the competitions. They're varied enough to keep them different from the main game, and they don't really incorporate the use of music to the degree that the competitions and challenges do, so I wouldn't classify them as rhythm-based. They're definitely tossed in to not only expand the game time, but also to serve as a way of breaking up the monotony from the main gameplay, and they work well in that respect. There are multiple levels in training, so you get somewhat addicted to coming back for more rounds each time you have it scheduled.
Altogether, All Star Cheer Squad feels like mishmash of decent ideas muddled with bad design. Walking around camp and talking to different people isn't a bad idea, but the walking animation is so slow and boring that every time you're forced to do so, you just want to shut off the game. Additionally, including a warp ability to avoid the walking that nobody is going to want to do isn't a bad idea, but without knowing people's locations so you can warp to them, it's about as useless as walking. The rest of the game, competitions, challenges and training are all pretty decent, and while they're not the best mini-game/rhythm games on the market, I can see how it would appeal to the intended demographic. Adult fans should know that this isn't the right game for them, but if you've got a couple of kids in your household, you could do worse than this title.
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