High School Musical 2: Work This Out!ESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer - Disney Interactive Studios
Publisher - Disney Interactive Studios
To say I am familiar with the High School Musical franchise would be an understatement. For starters I have seen High School Musical 1 and 2 on DVD several times over. I have also listened to the High School Musical 1 and 2 soundtracks over and over on long and short road trips. Finally, over the past few years I think I have purchased every single High School Musical toy and article of clothing known in an effort to appease my daughter’s fascination with the franchise. In fact, we even threw my daughter a High School Musical themed birthday party last year. To say High School Musical hasn't been a big part of my daughter's life would be like saying the New England Patriots can win without Tom Brady. So it was not a matter of if a High School Musical 2 game would arrive on the DS, it was a matter of when the sequel would launch. Last year, High School Musical: Makin' the Cut! received some mediocre reviews, but overall the game was recommended for fans of the franchise. Unfortunately after playing High School Musical 2: Work This Out! which is the next installment on the Nintendo DS I can’t say the same.
It appears Disney has been following the same formula with some of their games of late. Having recently played and reviewed Cory in the House for the Nintendo DS, many of the visuals in High School Musical 2: Work This Out! are quite similar. Not to mention the gameplay is also similar with an Adventure mode and Arcade mode just like Cory in the House. Unfortunately, the visuals in High School Musical 2 are weak and fail to maximize the DS' hardware. The box art is solid and some of the character facial animations are very good, but for the most part the visuals in High School Musical 2: Work This Out! are disappointing.
The game takes place in the Lava Springs Resort, which is the same locale as in the movie. The resort in the game however is only a shadow of its movie counterpart. In fact I don't really see any similarities between the games resort and the movie's resort at all. The hardcore High School Musical fan will undoubtedly be disappointed, however the casual gamer probably won't care that much. The games overall environments are bland lacking any real detail. From the pool, to the dining room, and even the grass outside, there is nothing visually inspiring about the game. When compared to a lot of other late generation games on the DS, High School Musical 2: Work This Out! is almost an embarrassment. I should also mention, as it was pet peeve of mine in the last Disney game I reviewed, when going through doors there is no continuity as the screen fades to black and drops you in another area in the resort. It left me that feeling I was playing an underachieving flash based shareware title.
As I mentioned above, the characters close-up facial shots are solid but when looking at the full body animated characters it is clear that they do not move as fluid as they should. In fact when the characters dance on the stage during a mini-game their movements are so bad it is comical. They don't move to the beat and the movements are best described as herky-jerky. In summary, similar to other recently released Disney DS games, High School Musical 2: Work This Out! falls short in the visual department and fails to capture the colorful nature of High School Musical 2 the movie.
The sounds in High School Musical 2: Work This Out! are actually pretty decent but the overall execution is poor. The game features 10 songs from the movie but unfortunately you can't listen to the songs until you unlock them in the game. So for the first hour or so of the game I was stuck listening to that brutal Sharpay song, "You are the Music in Me" and the slow version of the same song by the nerdy chick with the glasses. It is my opinion that Disney dropped the ball by not unlocking all the songs from the get go as the heart and soul in the franchise is the music. By the time you end up unlocking all the songs you are pretty much done the game.
Another glaring concern is the lack of character voice work as you simply do not get to hear any of the characters in the game. Sorry fans, you won't hear any Sharpay, Troy or Gabriella in the game. Instead you get a stream of text dialogue to scroll through all throughout the game. The endless text is just a severe turn-off and I can't imagine how little High School Musical fans just learning to read are going to make it through the game. Adding some simple voice over dialogue would have been helpful in the game and would have kept the entertainment value up a bit as well.
High School Musical 2: Work This Out! for the DS is a adventure game much like we have seen in other Disney titles such as the previous High School Musical games, Cory in the House and Cheetah Girls. The basic premise of the game extends beyond the movie sequel and is set at the Lava Springs Resort. Throughout the game you play as Troy, Gabriella, Ryan, Sharpay, Chad and Taylor. And just like the movie, the East Side Wildcats are staying busy at the resort while Sharpay is attempting to put a wedge between Troy and Gabriella. Following the plot of the movie is a conservative yet sound decision by the developers; however the execution once again fails. If I had never watched the movie before I would not have a clue what was going on. The game does a shoddy job at conveying the High School Musical 2 story-line so you are left merely doing the quests and mini-games while not really caring about the story whatsoever.
I let my 5-year old daughter have a go at the game and I broke down in the hysterics after she turned to me while playing the 'Golf Pro' mini-game and said, "Dad, this is a horrible game". But all kidding aside I really do question who the target audience is here. The game is clearly not geared for High School Musicals younger audience and I struggle with the idea that 8-12 year olds would actually find something entertaining with this game.
Much of the gameplay consists of quests where you need to go from point A to point B, chat with some characters and locate items. The other half of the game is made up of basic mini-games. There are four mini-games in all and not one of them grabbed me. In fact after one go through I was done with the game. Here is a brief descriptor of the mini-games available: 'Umbrella Mayhem' is all about tapping the screen with the stylus whenever the sun icon appears. Your job is essentially to keep the umbrella's open for the people by the pool keeping them shaded. 'Golf Pro' is all about dragging the golf balls into the golf ball collecting machine before they hit the pond. 'Sandwich Master' is self explanatory. With the pen tap the ingredients and drag them to the bread below. Finally, 'Basketball Jam' is another stylus game where you drag the ball into the net. The games are easy but frustrating when attempting to achieve the coveted 'A' grade scores. The mini-games are set up in such a fashion where you simply cannot complete all the tasks at hand. For instance, there were occasions in Umbrella Mayhem when four sun icons would appear at once in the and you only have about one second to tap the icons before they disappear. You will still receive a passing grade but to those who like to attain perfect scores, the mini-games will present a stiff challenge.
Controlling the on-screen actions is somewhat troublesome as the characters feel quite sluggish and, for the lack of a better word, clunky. It's almost as if the characters have predetermined paths to walk and you can only move those characters in those paths. Aside from the clunky controls they are relatively easy to pick up. You can use the stylus pen or press the A and B buttons for the majority of the games functions.
The games main menu features 5 main areas (Adventure, Arcade, Multiplayer, Jukebox and Options). Unfortunately, everything centers around the Adventure mode as this is where the arcade games and jukebox music gets unlocked. The arcade games, as I suggest above, consist of the mini-games you unlock and the multiplayer games also consists of playing the available mini-games. The jukebox feature, with the exception of having to unlock the tunes, is a great addition to the franchise as while you are in the jukebox mode you can plug in your headphones, close your DS and listen to tunes from the game. The options allow you to adjust the volume of the sound, microphone and music.
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