IGN Preview of All Star Cheer Squad
We don't know of too many balance board titles in the works for Wii, but THQ is already sitting on the slim - but according to Reggie, ever-growing - list of titles that let you hop on the Wiibo and go deeper into the game. With All-Star Cheer Squad, developer Gorilla Games is looking to get the female Wii user up off the couch in what appears to be a pretty intuitive, casual-centric experience. We've had a chance to go hands-on (and feet-on) with All-Star Cheer Squad, and while we're not a team of 15 year old cheer competitors - though we may act, talk, and dress like some here around the office - we still had a pretty good time getting our groove on with one of Wii's first third-party balance board experiences.
All-Star Cheer Squad may not be a title for the hardcore Wii gamers, but there's a distinct difference between a game that "isn't our style," and one that isn't well made. From what we've encountered with girl games in the past, many younger players are down to try titles like Hannah Montana or High School Musical, but are actually insulted at how lame or thrown together the titles are. Many just want a good game that also happens to be geared toward them. We found that that's the case so far with All-Star Cheer Squad on Wii, and while all the parts aren't there yet - the visuals are pretty simple, and the story sequences look too early to judge - the gameplay is fun and responsive, even pulling off the DDR-like experience on Wii better than Konami has. Score one for All-Star Cheer Squad in that department.
The main game takes you through a year with a cheer squad, so after you make your created guy or girl cheer competitor, it's all about rising the ranks not only within your team to become captain, but also take your squad to the top through a full year of competition. The game is based on the sport of cheer, which is less about pom-poms and short skirts, and more about competitive synchronization and athletic maneuvers - and short skirts.
Visually the experience is about on par with run-of-the-mill PS2 titles (480p and 16:9 enabled though), having a few character models flipping and posing on the screen with a stadium backdrop to accompany them. On the gameplay front though, things are far more in tune with what you'd expect from an ambitious, dance-inspired Wii title. Motions move across the bottom of the screen from right to left, and as they enter the main action zone you'll need to do the motion with the nunchuk and Wii-mote. There are dozens of actions to do, including any mix of one or both controllers in a forward, backwards, angled, or sideways tilt. To add to the complexity, you'll also need to hold A, B, C, or Z in order to pull off the moves, and, in the end, the amount of motion and button combinations is actually enough to give the game a decent learning curve in higher levels. Why this type of control hasn't been added to Hottest Party 2 by Konami is anyone's bet, as it works well.
In fact, the motion controls were recognizing motion at a pretty startling level of accuracy; even with the nunchuk controller. Poses worked, and actually scored us based on when we locked them in, with more points added to "perfect" poses. There were also motion combinations that scrolled by, which would have us doing a left-to-right arm wave or up/down lift, and again they worked more often than we'd expect in the game's early state. Of course you'll have to check your manliness at the door while playing - something that should be easy for the game's target girl demographic, of course - but when you actually learn the poses, you'll find a good deal of actual "game" in All-Star Cheer Squad that most casual-friendly titles don't actually offer.
As you play through the single player career mode you'll unlock more challenges and tiers of competition, but in general the gameplay stays similar throughout; at least that's how it seems so far. THQ mentioned that you'll need to do one-on-one "cheer-off" challenges with other members of your squad to gain the front/center position, but we didn't have a chance to see them. The character creation tool was as expected, having different uniforms, faces, skin tones, and hair pieces, but there wasn't an option to use a fat girl/guy in our routines; only beautiful people in All-Star Cheer Squad.
But with this game being toted as one of the first balance board titles on Wii, that's where we were really looking for our first hands-on with the title, and it again impressed us with some early potential in body-sensing. When adding the balance board, players need to not only keep up with hand motions and button presses (something that may be taken out in later builds, though we encouraged THQ to keep it in) with balance board feet positions. Foot positioning was based on where two red dots were displayed on each scrolling gesture, often having one dot off the board and in any position outside of either the left or right foot. We picked it up with relative ease, but it was definitely the more advanced mode to play, since you're not only looking at hand and button combos, but also where exactly your feet need to be, and while it could be tough for some younger players to get the hang of, it's optional, and also not too huge of a step beyond what Wii Fit is doing in step aerobics; just with more positions for the foot. There's even a "lean forward/backward" position with both feet, showcased by a half circle on both sides of the board.
We also had a chance to try out the two player co-op and competition mode, and got pretty competitive with THQ rep David Langeliers in both modes. He promptly kicked our butts for most of the matches, but we did end up taking him once in the end, proving once again our dainty dominance in the subject of Cheer-ography. Our record may have been one and 27 or so, but we know that one loss really got to him. Sorry Davey-maybe next time. Co-op and competitive play is available for up to four players, but with the limits of the Wii there's only room for one balance board player, which is a shame, since we're sure Nintendo will open that up to four boards for some Wario Ware game down the line, and shaft current titles from having Wiibo multiplayer goodness.
As a few quick notes on the game, there are also a few other interesting design aspects that Gorilla Games is gong for with All-Star Cheer Squad. For starters, there's a full cheer editor, which lets you create your own routine and save it for single or multiplayer play. In addition to making your own routines though, you can also save them to your Wii-mote and bring them over to a friend's house and import them on their Wii; a nice touch for casual gamers that want to do some simple user-generated content. In addition, the main Wii Message Board will also be used, having accomplishments sent there as you unlocked ore in the game. This type of added content probably won't get non-cheer fans interested in the game, but it's a nice addition for All-Star Cheer Squad buyers, and it certainly shows that the team is doing more than just the bare minimum in making something cool and unique for Wii.
We'll have more on All-Star Cheer Squad as development continues, but until then check out our first screens of the game in action. Also, if you're anything like us, you're going to want to start warming up your crotch muscles ahead of time. Cheering is harder than you think, and those high kicks aren't going to "bring it on" themselves.
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