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High School Musical 3 certainly looks like it has a lot going on under the surface. But strip away the groovy tunes and on-screen pyrotechnics and what you have left is a whole load of nothing: a game so astoundingly insubstantial that most girls - however much they adore Troy Bolton - would probably put it down for good after about an hour.
The last time I played the videogame spin-off of the third movie in a franchise was back in 1984 when the sit-down booth of Return of the Jedi appeared in our local arcade. I loved it so much that I even trawled the net for the ROM recently and played it on my PC. I kid you not, even now my heart skipped a beat trying to fly the Millennium Falcon out of the Death Star. But, back to the point. If the excitement I felt about Return of the Jedi is directly proportional to the thrill my daughter gets from High School Musical 3 (and, judging by her hyperactive reaction to the Troy and Chad junkyard scene, it sure is) then this should have been one heck of a game for her.
But it wasn't.
She played for an hour and a half and then ditched it for Nintendogs. When I asked how she'd found it, she said casually that she had 'finished it already'. My wife and I were intrigued: we sat down and had a look for ourselves.
The main menu is divided into three zones: the playable story, a Yearbook and a Jukebox. To unlock photos and signatures, which show up in the Yearbook, you must listen to each song from the movie while dancers re-enact the moves in the background. The melody line, which looks disconcertingly like a string of blue sausages, floats towards the centre of the screen while you attempt to catch it within a radar-style pinwheel controlled by moving the stylus in a circular direction. This may sound complicated, but it is really only a variation on the old dance-mat reflex game-play.
The last time I played the videogame spin-off of the third movie in a franchise was back in 1984 when the sit-down booth of Return of the Jedi appeared in our local arcade.
Every now and then, the pinwheel disappears and, depending on the song, you tap basketballs floating into baskets in time with the music or stars falling down the screen. Tapping balls or stars at the right moment gets you more points and, ultimately a higher overall star rating at the end of the song. The only reason I labour the point on the game-play is because this is all there is. Once you have discovered that the only rewards you unlock are the signatures of the characters, their photos or the most mundane facts about their lives, the motivation to play simply drains away. Any genuine fan of High School Musical would be looking for something more in-depth than what's on offer in the in Yearbook.
After this, what's left? Well, not very much at all. There are quiz surveys which give you an either/or choice to find out more about which character you're most likely to empathise with. Finishing a quiz unlocks more content for the Yearbook, but all on our family who played the game quickly found ourselves picking any old answer without even bothering to read the questions. This isn't because we have attention deficit disorder, but because the quizzes themselves are so trite, and the rewards so pointless, that the whole exercise is devoid of purpose or meaning.
Even the die-hard High School Musical fan in our household had finished with it in about an hour.
While playing - and I use the term in its loosest sense - the question we kept asking ourselves was ‘why?' For example, why on earth is a third of the game dedicated to a Jukebox containing the same tunes that you'll have to listen to several times anyway in order to play the game? And, while on the subject of the Jukebox, why isn't it possible to skip through the track to your favourite part? Most importantly, why didn't this game have any of the playability of the second game in the franchise?
It's not that the game is frustrating. It's just utterly vapid. Even the die-hard High School Musical fan in our household had finished with it in about an hour. Being a little more jaded than she, the whole game looks and feels to me like a rushed and, ultimately, cynical attempt to cash in on the franchise. This really is one to avoid at all costs.
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