IGN Review of Cheetah Girls: Pop Star Sensations
Disney always manages to make me feel dirty. See where I grew up, The Cheetah Girls was the name of a longstanding strip club. So naturally I called dibs when I saw there was a Nintendo DS game. Imagine my delight (then subsequent disappointment) when I saw Raven's face smiling with the same gleeful expression she probably has when she sees a Christmas ham. Handheld Games has developed a DS on the popular franchise, and The Cheetah Girls: Pop Star Sensations is a game experience that is almost as frustrating as expecting something sexy, and getting a Disney game instead.
The game takes place after the second The Cheetah Girls film and serves as a bridge game before next year's sequel. Back from their trip to Barcelona, the pop quartet - Galleria, Chanel, Aquanetta and Dorinda - quickly tries to make their way further up the success ladder. They enter the Your Choice Live Pop Star Competition to compete against other bands for the chance to perform on live TV. To do that they have to write new songs, practice singing, work on dance moves, and pick out stylish outfits. At the end of each day the Cheetahs put it all together and perform a song.
My knowledge of The Cheetah Girls is limited. I recall watching the first Disney Channel movie back in 2003, though I could not for the life of me tell you what happened (maybe something about Galleria's dog?). I also somehow missed their adventures in Spain last year. As such I cannot accurately gauge just how ridiculous this game's plot is. Listening to Aquanetta explain to fighting store owners that both fabric and accessories are necessary for true fashion, thus solving a Hatfield-and-McCoy style feud, certainly seems absurd. For all I know, though, that could have been the exact plot for one of the many Cheetah Girls books that inspired the movie. And who am I to complain that the rival band are called The Hyena Boys. Just because that is the dumbest band name since, well, The Cheetah Girls, doesn't mean little girls won't adore it.
That's a major point to consider too. This is a game for girls. Young girls, that watched the movies and probably really like Raven. With that in mind it's easy to overlook most of the foibles of the game. However, a terrible plot, with cheesy dialogue that takes itself far too seriously in all the wrong moments is bad no matter what the target demographic.
Speaking of things in this game that are awful, Handheld Games managed to take four reasonably attractive ladies and disfigure them to the point where even I wouldn't touch them. The character models are so poorly done that's it hard to tell the girls apart, and they're different races! During some of the minigames it gets better since the models are bigger and more detailed, but during the game's adventure mode the girls are generic and rigid. None of them look anything like the actresses that play them. Chanel does not have her signature curly locks. Dorinda lacks her dazzlingly bright smile. Even Gabriella lacks her freakish Raven-beak face.
Throughout the Adventure mode the characters talk to each other. Each girl only has one drawing, and it's very crude. I don't demand animated cut scenes, but even two or three basic emotions would be nice. Considering how often major drama occurs, the girls should be able to portray an emotion besides "kind of happy."
While on the subjects of Adventure Mode and things-that-suck-in-this-game, let me just say that The Cheetah Girls is one of the slowest moving titles I've ever played. Characters practically crawl across the screen while sashaying their hips through dance clubs, downtown New York, the park, and even a Wildlife Preserve. The controls are also clunky and awkward. It controls like a slightly better version of the same developer's previous DS game, That's So Raven, though thankfully without as much bumping into walls. Despite the mind numbing pace of the game, the entire adventure mode takes less than five hours to beat.
Every level is the same thing. I start as Galleria, play a minigame. Then switch to Chanel and play a minigame. After that I control Dorinda, and I play a minigame. Next up is Aqua with another minigame. Finally I play the last minigame and move to the next level. The levels are played in the exact same way. It becomes pretty obvious that the adventure mode is some sad attempt at stretching the time between each minigame. It's anything but an adventure. All the objectives are spelled out exactly, and anything that I need to interact with sparkles obviously. I get that the game is for 8-year-old girls, but they aren't idiots. Give little girls some credit, they can figure things out without a neon sign to direct them.
The minigames are actually pretty fun - well, most of them - but they all have some weird parts. Each character has her own specific game, and the level ends with a minigame featuring all the girls. It's the most fun of the bunch so I'll talk about it first and give you the opportunity to skip the rest of the article.
The "Purrfect Performance" minigame is an Elite Beat Agents style rhythm game. Circles appear on the screen with rings closing in on them and players have to tap the circles right when the ring closes in. It doesn't use some of the fancier techniques EBA does, but the basic style is there. There are five fully vocalized Cheetah Girls songs to play, and while my musical taste differs somewhat, I will admit they are all upbeat enough to work well with this type of minigame.
Galleria composes the songs, so her game involves listening to snippets of a piece, then placing the notes with the stylus. It's actually a pretty accurate piano composing tool, and when I first played it I got excited that I would get to make my own songs in some sort of free play mode. Alas, no such free play mode exists. The developers put in a composer tool that does more than the minigames need it to, yet the player can't fiddle with it on their own? That's just stupid. I would have much preferred to share songs with friends, instead of swapping fashion designs.
Chanel's minigame is a rhythm-based "singing" game. What's interesting about this is that the developers added in three different control options. Players can push the B button, or tap the touch screen when the circles pass. Alternatively they can hum, sing, or blow into the microphone. I tried to play this by blowing (since humming in public is always a bad idea), but found that the notes come far too quickly. I ended up hyperventilating and getting too dizzy to continue halfway through the song. Obviously I'm not cut out to be a Cheetah Girl, but I fear for small lunged children that try to do the same thing and end up passing out where they stand.
Dorinda is the choreographer of the group, so her minigame is all about dancing. Players trace a design on the touch screen as fast and accurately as possible. When the line is traced, Dorinda performs a dance move on the top screen. It's pretty basic. It's not very fun or challenging though, especially compared to the other music themed minigames. Oh, and Dorinda can't dance. Most of her moves are pathetically weak, and become laughable in the context of the minigame sometimes being a You Got Served style dance off.
Aquanetta is from Texas. That's her thing. She says "y'all," and mentions she's from Texas a lot. In addition she can pick out matching outfits, thus making her a key member of the group since apparently the other three are color blind. Aqua's minigame is hardly a game at all, and is more of a memory test that lasts too long to even be interesting. Players look at an outfit for a few seconds, and then try to copy the outfit by selecting pieces of clothing from four different sections. It's not fun, not even a little. If I got to actually design outfits for the girls, then the minigame would be kind of cool, since that is what Dorinda is supposed to be doing, according to the plot. It would also help if the outfits we picked out ever appeared in the game, but they never do.
All of the minigames (save for that fashion one) are fun when played on the hard difficulty. Unfortunately the game's main adventure mode is just as stupid on Hard mode, so older fans of the films will still have to put up with a worthless adventure game.
©2007-10-26, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved