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NDS/PS2/Wii Preview - 'High School Musical'

by Andrew Hayward on June 21, 2007 @ 7:50 a.m. PDT

High School Musical offers fans of all ages a chance to sing and perform their way through the world of Disney Channel’s hit movies, and sequel High School Musical 2. Only with these Disney games will players be able to mix together their favorite High School Musical characters, songs and scenes as they sing and dance their way to stardom.

Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: A2M
Release Date: August 2007

The wildly successful “High School Musical” made-for-TV movie seems to lend itself well to rhythm gaming, and not just because its title contains the word “music.” More notably, its original soundtrack has shifted more than four million units, making it the best selling album of 2006. With that kind of built-in market, not to mention the hugely anticipated August release of the Disney Channel sequel on the horizon, it would be foolish not to expand the license into the world of video gaming.

After seeing and spending time with both titles at a recent Disney Interactive Studios press event, that seems to be the pervading attitude behind the development of High School Musical: Sing It! for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 and High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut! for the Nintendo DS. That’s not to say that either is a lazy cash-in; only that unlike Disney’s Hannah Montana games, neither High School Musical entry appears to be particularly innovative. But like I said – music movie, music games; be glad they’re not action-platformers!

High School Musical: Sing It! on the console side owes a massive debt to Karaoke Revolution and SingStar. Like those mic-rocking games, Sing It! employs a USB microphone on both consoles to allow players the ability to sing along with 30 familiar songs, including every track crafted for both “High School Musical” films. The rest of the soundtrack will be filled out with kid-friendly favorites from other Disney Channel properties, including “The Cheetah Girls.” As the lyrics scroll from the right edge of the screen, aspiring singers must match the pitch of the song, and the game will award a letter grade at the end of each bar, as well as at the conclusion of the track.

Lead and supporting characters, as well as environments from both films, will be included in the game, and the “Musical” aspect of the experience means that legitimate duets are already included in the experience. Eight players can take part in a mic-passing party mode, but only two can sing simultaneously. When not singing, players can use the Wiimote or DualShock 2 to manipulate the backgrounds and instigate various special effects. Keeping with the kid-friendly theme, Sing It! will never boot the player offstage for a poor performance, though the cel-shaded singers may look mighty lethargic if things don’t improve.

Did you play Elite Beat Agents on Nintendo DS? If so, did you like it?

If you answered “yes” or “maybe” to both of these questions, you may want to put High School Musical: Makin’ the Cut! on your radar. The two games are incredibly similar, so much so that Nintendo may want to have its lawyers on alert. Twelve tracks from the “High School Musical” franchise are included, and as in Elite Beat Agents, the stylus is used to tap circles on the touch screen in time with the beat. It even makes the same “punch” sound effect! How is this possible?

The timing seemed a bit tricky in the preview build, but otherwise, the gameplay is distinctly familiar and should appeal to fans of its spiritual predecessor, assuming the license doesn’t scare them away. To shake things up a bit, a quick action sequence will pop up at various points in each song. In the demo stage we played, a basketball had to be dragged and dropped into the hoop a couple of times. It’s not challenging (by any means), but it adds a bit of variety to the mix.

Elite Beat Agents was a woefully challenging experience at times, and while Makin’ the Cut! will feature a more gradual increase in difficulty between stages, a Disney Interactive rep claimed that it will eventually be just as unforgiving as last year’s stylus-snapping cult hit. As players tap to the beat, the crudely rendered main characters of choice will dance along on the top screen, and Makin’ the Cut will let players save their performances and add special effects with the included video editor. Completed clips can be shared via a local wireless connection, which is also utilized for two-player competitive play.

Both entries in the High School Musical franchise are expected in August, which is certainly timed to coincide with the August 17th debut of “High School Musical 2.” While neither game seems to blaze a new trail for rhythm gaming, Karaoke Revolution and Elite Beat Agents are good starting points, and the “High School Musical” license is essentially infallible at this point. They’re guaranteed hits, but if puberty is in your past, will you even care?

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