High School Musical 3: Senior Year -- Dance! Review
By Jimmy Vails |
The High School Musical series has gotten to the point where it has enough songs to support a full fledged videogame. And while there have already been videogames based on the singing and dancing teenagers, High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance crams the characters, songs and dances from all three films into one big music rhythm game. It also happens to be out for nearly every major console and the PC and almost all of them play in a completely different way, making it one of the more confusing holiday hot ticket items. That's where I come in. I played them all, dancing to the songs so much I'm pretty sure I could star in the movie. And I've got the breakdown on why none of them are particularly good rhythm games, though a couple of the versions might pass for the HSM superfan.
Senior Year Dance hits shelves for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 2 and PC, and while most of these games have totally different control schemes, they all have the basics in common. Song selection, presentation, even the extras are the same across the board.
I've seen all three of these films, but I could not name 29 songs featured in them. That's actually not a lot of songs for a music game (Disney Channel Dance Dance Revolution featured over 40), but that is nearly every single High School Musical song. Most of these actors have gone on to make records though, so it wouldn't have been a stretch to include some of those Vanessa Hudgens or Corbin Bleu tracks in the game to expand the title. Still I've seen far fewer songs in a music game before.
High School Musical 3 was developed as a Wii game first, then ported to the other system, and it shows with the control schemes. On the Wii the game uses the remote and nunchuk to dance. Players swing the controllers in three different directions each as circles float out from the center of the screen toward six bars. It's the same set up that games like Samba de Amigo and We Cheer use. For the Xbox 360 and PS2 versions the game comes packaged with a dance pad a la Dance Dance Revolution. Same thing with circles coming out of the center of the screen and players step on the pad when the circles hit the bars.
The controls are really forgiving, so the game is very easy. It's not that the controls are bad, but I'm already a little sick of seeing this same set up for dancing games. It seems like developers could do something different, especially with the Wii. With that said, it's not like dance pad games with four arrows are particularly innovative either. Oh, and PC version: arrow keys? That is some weak sauce right there.
It's definitely the most fun on the hardest difficulty, but that mode doesn't get unlocked until after players beat the entire game on the easier difficulty. There just aren't enough notes in the easy modes to make it feel like dancing. They don't need to be complicated, but make me move my feet and arms more so I feel involved. Also, some songs are just far better suited to dance to than others. High School Musical has a good amount of high energy ensemble songs that lend themselves well to dances, but it also has a lot of ballads and, like, three different soulful Gabriella songs about her leaving, or saying goodbye, or breaking up.
Overall the game is a fairly solid music game for kids. All of the control schemes work, and the motion controls and dance pad are fun in their own right. The arrow keys are not, however. Dance pads tend to be a love it or hate it thing, whereas swinging the Wii remote is quickly becoming America's leading cause of tennis elbow.
The Xbox 360 version also has a nasty habit of loading in the middle of a song. In nearly every song (sometimes multiple times) the game will freeze and the Wildcat loading logo will pop up for a couple seconds. It is absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable for a music game to freeze in the middle of a song. It throws you off beat, ruins your combo, and completely pulls you out of the experience. And no other version does this, so why does the version on the most powerful system have that problem?
In fact the 360 version is sub par as a whole. While the game doesn't feature stellar mocapping, it isn't bad and is certainly better than many other Wii or PS2 games. But when it's on the 360 the game looks wonky and robotic. You just expect more from a 360 game -- more than a Wii game with marginally better textures.
For High School Musical fans, this game does at least one major thing right. It faithfully recreates the scenes in the films and allows players to insert themselves into the movie. Players can use the Create a Wildcat feature to make a likeness of themselves. There are dozens upon dozens of clothing options, but unfortunately the faces and hair choices are pretty limited. As a result, the created character often looks like one of the main cast members.
For each song players pick which characters they want to appear. It's usually a male and female lead, save for the few songs that feature two males or one female. Even if you don't want to put yourself in the movie, you can still mix and match characters. Ever wanted to see Chad sing his heart out to Kelsi? Or Sharpay make innocent love songs inappropriate by putting her twin brother Ryan in as the love interest? Well those two terrible fan-fiction-esque scenarios are just some of the wacky combinations I made.