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It's often been lamented that computer games do not appeal enough to girls. This has started to change recently, especially with titles like Nintendogs DS and Animal Crossing: Let's go to the City Wii. It would be fair to say that most of these fit a pretty stereotypical view of what girls and boys like, but you can't fight reality, or the sales figures. All Star Cheerleader fits squarely in this mould and is all the better for it: this is a game that really knows who its audience is, young girls. As a male, and about 30, I am about as far from the target demographic as you can get, but that didn't stop me from enjoying this throughly upbeat and entertaining game.
The aim of All Star Cheerleader is to join, and then compete for, the Fox Squad cheerleaders. But first you must create your character, choosing the usual features, eye color, face shape, hair-cut etc. The characters are more like Second Life avatars than a traditional stocky Mii, but have sensibly been kept quite simple.
Unlike a Mii, there is no chance to change the body shape; everyone in this game is in peak physical fitness. I don't think there is much to worry about them giving kids a bad body image, no more so than a Barbie doll, and this is athletic fitness not stick-thin models. And unlike Wii-Fit, you don't have to worry about All Star Cheerleader telling your child they are morbidly obese.
I don't think there is much to worry about them giving kids a bad body image, no more so than a Barbie doll, and this is athletic fitness not stick-thin models.
You start out as a newbie who must work through a series of training sessions and tests before entering the "try-outs" to join Fox squad. All of this is interspersed with cut scenes introducing the other members of the squad, a few bits of sub High School Musical soap drama moments, and frequent assertions that you shouldn't get too 'bragadocious' (yep, really) about doing well on a particular test and to "show them what you've got". All very preppy and up-beat and rather American. Non of the interludes are long enough to get annoying, and the target audience will lap it all up.
During the training sessions you are introduced to the plethora of moves (or 'pops') which you are expected to perform (or 'clear'). The in game jargon is extensive and made me feel like a stranger in a foreign land, but like the cut scenes, this just helps make the game not just a bunch of dance moves, but your ticket into the surreal world of cheerleading. After you have completed the initial training and performed at the try-out, you are in the squad and get to compete in competitions, while learning ever more complex moves.
Each move uses the Wii-mote and Nun-chuck controller in a variety of positions, shown on screen as a pair of arrows indicating the orientation of the two controllers. These instructions move across the screen and, like Wii-Fit Step Aerobics, the idea is to do (sorry "clear") each move in time with the music as the symbol enters the circle on the left of the screen: the more accurate you are the more points you score.
In later training sessions the Balance Board (if you have one) can be used, with the player stepping on and off the board or leaning to complete more complex moves. If you don't have a board, then you just perform additional actions with the controller. On the whole, the control system is excellent, well thought out, and quickly gets you active.
The game is one of the few that really demonstrates what is possible with the Wii's controls, using the Wii-mote and Nun-chuck's position sensors to measure a huge number of different moves while being forgiving enough to not get in the way of the fun. With the addition of the Balance Board, this game becomes an entertaining full-body gaming experience that will really appeal to any child who likes to get up and dance. You may also want to get one of the third party wireless Nun-chucks, as the length of the connecting cable can be a problem if you get too energetic, stopping you from spreading your arms out properly. Of course this probably isn't a problem for anyone under the age of 12, but something worth checking.
The game is one of the few that really demonstrates what is possible with the Wii's controls, using the Wii-mote and Nun-chuck's position sensors to measure a huge number of different moves while being forgiving enough to not get in the way of the fun.
While the production values are generally high, there are a few areas which let it down, but not enough to spoil the fun. The training sessions feature a small cheerleader who shows you the positions, however she is needlessly small, rendered poorly, and always facing away, making her pretty useless for demonstrating some of the more complex poses. However the arrows that indicate the moves are clear and less ambiguous. The most annoying issue was with the Balance Board. While in game use is great, between each routine the game insists on calibrating the board from scratch. This requires you to get off the board, then get back on, while the same text is displayed each time. You cannot click through the multiple screens of text explaining what it is doing. The whole process takes around a minute, and must be done before every routine (even those that do not use the balance board). This contrasts badly with Wii-Fit's calibration which takes a few seconds, and doesn't require you to dismount between each exercise. The combination of calibration and loading times mean that it takes about two minutes before each routine can start, a needlessly annoying interruption to an otherwise slick game.
Despite the slight lack of polish in some areas, this is a thoroughly enjoyable game which aims squarely at its target audience. All Star Cheerleader is upbeat and entertaining, without ever getting too saccharin. The learning curve is just about right, and the whole thing is very forgiving, ideal for a game meant for younger kids. The makers have also succeeded in creating one of the best sneak exercise systems for young girls. Unlike Wii-Fit, which is aimed at adults who want to exercise, All Star Cheerleader uses the Wii-mote and Balance board to create something that is first and foremost fun, but will definitely get your kids up and moving without them ever thinking of it as exercise, which is how it should be at that age. So expect to hear you kids talking like Californian high-school students, and don't expect to get near your Balance Board for a few months.
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