Review: All Star Cheer Squad (Nintendo Wii)

All Star Cheer Squad
Developer: Gorilla Games
Publisher; THQ
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 11/24/2008


Cheerleading is something I never expected to do in any way shape or form. Sure I’ve dated some cheerleaders in my day and I’ve seen the first Bring It On!, but that’s as close as I’ve come to this sport.

And yes, it is a sport. As you probably know there are national competitions and it takes a great deal of flexibility, spot-on reflexes and endurance to be on one of those nationally prominent teams that get featured on ESPN2 or what have you.

So why am I reviewing this? Well, THQ sent it to us as a review copy and unlike other sites that only review the so-called “A Level” games, we here at Diehard GameFAN review everything that comes our way. Every game is treated equally until we’ve played. Second, I mistakenly thought I was the only guy on staff who owns a balance board, having used it to play through the horribly flawed Wii Fit and the always funny Raving Rabbids TV Party. I might as well break out my balance board for the third time before shuttering it back into mothballs, right?

So did I two, four, six, eight appreciate All Star Cheer Squad, or did this game make me want to binge and purge and then write on the Livejournal about how my significant other just doesn’t understand me in between song lyric posts?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

Believe it or not there is a story to this game ala Career Mode. You are INSERT HOMEMADE CHARACTER NAME HERE, although everyone on the squad calls you Newdles (pronounced “noodles”) because you are a mid-season replacement for a girl who broke her ankle. Now it’s up to you to help Fox Squad compete in regional and national tournaments for the next ten weeks or so. Each week is broken into practices and actual competitions and between each event is a piece of dialogue where you and your squad are in a gymnasium talking. Granted it’s not much and there’s no true character depth or moving drama to speak up. It’s mainly just your cheer captain talking about how great your team is and how you need to win this event! Whooo! Go Team! Occasionally you do get snippets of your main character and some heavily unresolved mommy issues, which is a bit creepy.

There’s also Quickplay, which just throws you into a random event outside of story mode, Multiplayer which lets you play against or with friends, and Create a Routine, which is just that. You unlock new moves for this routine by completing practice routines before competitions. I should point out as much as you may want to skip practice sessions and just do events, you will regret this idea. I have to admit that I just tried to make the stupid looking routines I could.

I’ll admit career mode gets pretty tedious and that the controls are a bit spotty, but the camp value of progressing through the cheer season has me amused in an MST3K sort of way. Quickplay seems useless to me as you might get nailed with a routine covering moves you haven’t learned yet and because many moves seem to be similar to each other in terms of wiimote and numchuk directions, this can kill your routine (Did I just write that?). Create-A-Routine is pretty cute but I didn’t see much use for it while young girls may beg to differ with me on this. There is also bonus content you can unlock by accomplishing hidden achievements such as taking first place in a tournament or hitting 50 perfects in a routine. When this happens, you get a note in your Wii inbox, with bonus content info and a little award so this is the first game for the Wii that acts like 360 Achievements or PS3 Trophies. Neat!

In truth, only Career Mode is worth playing and there’s not enough variety for my liking, but All Star Cheer Squad does have a lot more depth to it than I expected.

Modes and Story Rating: Above Average

2. Graphics

Okay, I don’t mean to be mean, but man is this game ugly. Character designs are straight out of the PSX era a full decade ago and even then there are some heavy jaggies going on. When you get into the character creator for Career Mode, you will be blessed with some of the ugliest cheerleaders known to man. I eventually made a gothie asian chick with pink pigtails as all the other faces looked more like Deep Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos than actual human beings. Please note however that I would happily pay money for Call of Cthulhu: Mythos Cheer Off if there is some whacked out developer reading this…

Besides the character models in the game – two of which are very similar to each other. The first is the gym where story bits happen. The second is the gym where you practice, which is essentially the same gym. I hope you like pale blues and graphics outdated by a decade, because that’s what you get. The third background is the cheer competition layout and it always looks the same and it appears to have been cribbed from the aforementioned Bring it On.

The best looking thing in the game is the virtual cheerleader who you are supposed to follow the motions of in practice sessions. Which is very sad. Generally one associates cheerleaders and pretty, but this is not the case here.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

There’s aren’t really sound effects to speak up save for clapping, cheering and bad firework sounds at the end of your routines. As such we’ll look at the music and the voice acting.

The music is okay I guess, but I’ve never heard any of these songs before and I recognize one of the bands in the game (The Jonas Brothers). Part of me was hoping for the song the “spirit fingers” is performed to in Bring It On. Yes, that was pretty much my reference guide for this game. The music contained here is slightly peppy, but not as fast or frantic as I would have supposed. The generic tracks aren’t fast enough to DDR to, so I’m surprised one could do a cheer routine to them. Still the music is inoffensive, if not bland, and the tracks fit in with the theme of the game even if they don’t enhance it.

Voice work however is cheese-tastic! The voice acting cast tends to be flat and monotone for most of their performance, although it may have been the only way to keep a straight face with the script they were given. I would hesitate to call ANY of the cast good at their job, but it does add to the, “So bad it’s good” feeling of the game. This is PS1/Sega Saturn quality voice acting – just a hint above say, “Master of Unlocking” campy. Still, the actors’ combined talents do help make the game fun, even if it’s laughing AT rather than WITH.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control and Gameplay

There are two ways to play All Star Cheer Squad. The first is with just the Wiimote and Numchuk, while the other involves the balance board. Although the balance board gives the game a more authentic feel as well as a bit of exercise, it also increasing the loading time of each little cheer you do by a factor of four or five. In the time it took one training session to load up while using the board, I could have done two to three sessions without it. In my opinion, the use of the board’s disadvantages outweighs the advantages.

Playing ASCS is similar in nature to DDR Hottest Party 2 as you are timing arm and foot movements to the beat. However unlike Konami’s long running franchise, ASCS has a serious case of bi-polar disorder when it comes to control detection. There have been times where I just stood there and watched the game tell me I had made the correct movements and many times where I did the appropriate gesture and the game completely ignored it, costing my squad points. The two control issues you will encounter most is when you point both the wiimote and numchuk towards the screen or the numchuk to the left and the wiimote at one of the down angles. I’m not sure why these specific movements have the biggest detection issues but in both cases, the game wouldn’t catch the movements more than half the time.

The balance board bits are similar in that you have to have your foot or feet in specific areas on the board, or off the board all together. Use of the board does make the game harder, but also more rewarding because unlike the hand gestures, your foot positioning actually mimics the cheer position. Yes, you read that right, you’ll just be pointing your hand controls in different directions and occasionally pressing a button. These gestures resemble nothing like the cheers your character is doing on screen, which can’t be disappointing. Thankfully I didn’t have to really do the splits. I haven’t been able to do that since Varsity Wrestling. As well, you won’t be paying attention to what your squad is doing as you’ll be too busy watching the patterns you have to follow. I honestly couldn’t describe a single routine my squad did after several days of playing this.

There is also a dance off versus mode which you will encounter in multiplayer Vs. or in Career mode when you try to challenge another member of your squad for their higher rank. This is similar to Guitar Hero 3‘s boss battles where you can use the C button to attack or defend from your opponent’s attacks.

For the most part, ASCS has some interesting controls, although they resemble none of the routines you actually do on screen. The hand controls can be a bit off which will no doubt frustrate many who play this, and while the balance board works quite well with this game, the loading times kill any enjoyment out of using it with the hand controls.

What’s here is okay, but I’d really only recommend for people looking for outright cheese and camp value over serious cheerleading fans.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability

There’s actually a lot to do in All Star Cheer Squad. Each “week” of the game is quite long and there are several pieces that are optional. There’s also several unlockables, the ability to trade your career cheerleader over the Wii’s wi-fi with friends and the ability to design your own cheer routines. There’s a multiplayer mode that allows up to four people to play, or two people with hand controls and a third using the balance board. For someone who actually can get by the control detection issues, ASCS is surprisingly deep and you’ll easily be able to get your money’s worth out of this disc.

Another unlockable you might miss is you skip over optionals in Career Mode can only be found if you challenge for and win the Captain seat on your squad. Once you have that, there are several special events you can play that integrate your own homemade cheer designs. Just a head’s up.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

There are three difficulty levels in the game, but there’s not too much of a difference between them. The higher you crank the difficulty, the more particular the game is towards WHEN you do the moves. The routines just get harder, the game just gets more anal. With the controls detection issues this game suffers from, I suggest start on level one and eventually working your way up to three just so you don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated by the lack of detection.

There game is pretty easy for the most part. Even with the detection issues I never scored less than a B rating and only once did I ever come in second at a cheer event. Otherwise it was all first place trophies for me. Because you can replay any event to try and raise your score, I redid that match where my squad took second by a measly ten points and blew them away the next time with an A* and a B** set of ratings. Take that Raven Squad!

ASCS is very inviting to gamers of all skill levels, and the ability to replay anything and improve your score is a great way to help you hone your skills without moving on to the next leg of competition. At no time is ASCS hard, even with a maxed out difficulty in the final matches of Career Mode, but those detection issues will drive you batty.

Balance Rating: Above Average

Originality

Oddly enough, this isn’t the only Cheerleading game for the Wii. Namco Bandai also put out We Cheer Although I haven’t played it, We Cheer is supposedly the superior game. From looking at the soundtracks of both games, We Cheer is definitely superior and actually Wii Cheer could go up against games like DDR and Guitar Hero for overall musical quality while All Star Cheer Squad here is generic tracks at best. In either case, both games are the start of a new genre of simulation and/or rhythm gaming and as cheerleading is a big parts of High School and College for some girls, it’s nice to see a game that respects and reflects their hobbies. Now where’s that lacrosse game, THQ?

So we have the second ever game in a genre never done until 2008, a great use of the balance board in spite of the loading times and a wacky story mode highlighting the drama and pageantry in the world of cheerleading. Not bad.

Originality Rating: Great

8. Addictiveness

I was surprised how much time I spent with this game. My first night with the game, I racked up FOUR HOURS straight of playing this game. Well, four hours including the balance board loading times. After two hours with the board I finally turned it off and was amazed by how must faster the game ran without it.

You with think with that bit of knowledge that I had oh, beaten half the game or so, right? Nope. I had only finished tryouts and Week One in those four hours. Sure I was trying out the unlockables and other modes besides Career, but just a head’s up that this is a LONG game.

The game’s camp factor and wacky gameplay kept me glued to the game, but at the same time Career Mode just kept going and going with no end in sight. This drove me batty when combined with the control detection issues I kept encountering. Eventually the length of the game and the repetitive nature of the graphics and routines won out of the bits of the game I liked. Is this something I’d keep in my Wii library? No, probably not, but for the first few hours, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Career Mode and how much I was willing to overlook the detection issues as long as I came in first and beat all those other squads full of prissy brats. Go Fox Squad! The longer you play though, the longer the game will drag on your patience. This is a game that ages poorly with repeated playing, although if you have the right group of friends, you might be able to keep the fun going a little longer.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor

I’m not what you would call a fan of cheerleading. I never paid in attention to it in High School or College, even though I dated a few. I thought Bring it On was cute but I never understood the huge surge of popularity it had when it first came out. I’ve never understood why anyone would watch cheerleading competitions on TV as I found it as boring as golf or fishing. But you know what, I had fun with this game. I was telling my friend Aimee about the game and she and some of her friends asked to borrow it, thinking just the concept alone sounds like silly fun.

If you’re one of those gamers hung up on machismo, that has a problem with games geared for younger people, or only wants games with guns and boobs, then yeah, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for something kind of weird and kind of fun, then this might be up your alley. You won’t find a realistic cheerleading simulation here, but bemani and rhythm game fans will have good times with this, at least for a while.

Appeal Factor: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

All things considered, All Star Cheer Squad isn’t a bad game. It definitely has its flaws and the gameplay could use some fine tuning considering human wrists don’t bend the way the controls sometimes was you to positions the wiimote and numchuk, but I still had fun with this weird little game. Of course, part of the fun was being unable to take ASCS seriously…

Gorilla Games definitely put some thought into this game, and it’s impressive that they treated a game geared for girls seriously for once. The game is quite deep and Career mode took longer for me to beat than Arc the Lad. With unlockables and a lot of editing features, All Star Cheer Squad may not be a good game, but it’s also not a bad one. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying a sequel if it comes out down the road.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Good
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

All Star Cheer Squad is a fun little game bogged down by hideous graphics and some aggravating control detection issues. Still the game’s scoring system is quite forgiving and this title is surprisingly addictive. Be prepared to make a long term commitment to this title though, as Career Mode is as long as a PSX RPG. Although the game is flawed and not for everyone, it’s a cute little romp as long as you have a sense of humour.

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