Review: All Star Cheer Squad (Nintendo DS)

All Star Cheer Squad
Developer: Gorilla
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 11/24/08

Is there anything more manly than cheerleading?

You’re stumped aren’t you?

Surely the word itself, “cheerleader” brings to mind images of burly guys in black polo shirts, modern day gladiators who, for some reason, like to cheer on a bunch of wussies playing American football.

all-male-cheerleasers

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that All Star Cheer Squad was developed by Gorilla, a company that specializes in little girl games starring the likes of Strawberry Shortcake, Ariel the mermaid, Nancy Drew, and Hannah Montana.

Has the manly sport of cheerleading been compromised by girlishness?

1. Story/ Modes
Starting a new game, you are prompted to create your main character. I was all set to create ultra-macho cheerleading genius Gus T.T. Showbiz.

The extra T is for TALENT.

Sadly, you are forced to make a female cheerleader.

Ridiculous!

I thought, “fine, I’ll create Sparkalene Q. Pompoms.”

Nope, too many letters.

I guess they just wanted a first name.

Hmm. . .

I finally decided to make the evil, raven haired temptress, Vampilyn!

The create-a-cheerleader is nice in theory. You get to choose race, hair color and hair style. It would be nicer if you could make other adjustments such as height, weight, gender, body type, pregnant or not pregnant, or if you could wear a giant stuffed animal head.

After creating your character you are shipped off to Camp Spirit. This camp is described as a, “launch pad to the world’s most legendary cheer talent.” You know like that legendary cheerleader. . .

Umm. . .

Paula Abdul?

Buffy?

At camp, your character meets up with her uppity cousin Becka who resents you in a way that only a teenage girl truly can. Then you are quickly challenged by a girl named Brianna in some sort of cheer based competition. I think I might have gotten served in this competition, but I’m not really sure if it was “on” or not.

Brianna and Becka are part of Tiger Squad, which aspires to be the cheer-quivalent of Cobra Kai. At least, I wished that they were. Mostly, all the characters are just bland. Being completely uninteresting is the teenage girl’s main line of defense from sexual predators.

Man, cheerleading Cobra Kai would be awesome. “Cheer first, cheer hard, no mercy sir!” Man that would be awesome and sexy and awesome and sexy and awesome.

Anywho, your character gets assigned to the Wolf squad with Keiko and Jayden. You wander around a bit, getting explained bits of the rules and story in interminable chunks of “teenage” dialogue.

At first, I was surprised that they bothered with a story. What surprised me more is that every aspect of the game needs to be unlocked via the story mode. You need to play the story mode in order to do anything else with the game. Otherwise, you could find yourself going through several screens worth of “Quick Play” menus to end up at a screen where all your options are locked.

Unfortunately, the story mode is more complicated than fun.

2. Graphics
Don’t get this game expecting to ogle cheerleaders. The characters here are all quite blocky and ugly. Quite often the characters on screen are very small. There might be two cheerleaders doing routines on the top screen, but 95 percent of that top screen will be empty space. This thing is quite confounding, especially early on when the cheerleaders barely move. I could understand the use of the long shot were my character routinely being propelled into the air, but when Vampilyn isn’t even moving her dang legs, why does it look like she’s being filmed from space?

On the plus side, the pictures of the characters that accompany dialogue boxes are perfectly acceptable. The backgrounds are all passable if a bit uninspired.

3. Sound/ Music
There are about twenty songs in the game. These, like everything else here, are locked from the start. Nineteen of these are songs I’ve never heard before by some artist with whom I’m unfamiliar. The twentieth song is one I’ve never heard before by the Jonas Brothers.

Each sounds like one of those generic, slightly urban tunes that cheerleaders might dance to when they aren’t dancing to the score from Chicago mashed up with some Jay-Z songs.

Other than that, there isn’t much sound to the game.

4. Control / Gameplay
The basic cheerleading portions of the game play a bit like Dance, Dance, Revolution as played by a one legged man. There are six holes. Beads travel to these holes. When the beads stop inside the holes and turn green you have to touch them with the stylus. Early on, this thing is fairly boring and a bit touchy.

Eventually it grows to be a pain in the butt. When I’m tapping the beads on the left side of the screen I cannot see the right side of the screen. Beads arrive nearly simultaneously, and I end up just tapping all over the touch screen as though I were tenderizing meat.

Apart from that, there are “practice” mini-games that consist of performing simple tasks until the time runs out. These are meant to increase your cheerleading Fitness stats. You can increase your balance, agility, arm strength and leg strength. In your “Cheer Profile”, there are various “Cheer Meters” that track your progress in the categories of Spirit, Respect, and Fitness. Practicing increases Fitness, competing earns Spirit, and helping out cheerleaders earns Respect. There is also a “Cheer Journal” wherein your character keeps track of which of the 26 other girls in camp are her friends.

Now, you keep track of the days activities at cheer camp with your spirit wheel, though why a schedule is kept in a pie chart is beyond me. There are twelve slices of pie representing your cheerleader’s day. Green slices are cheer events, free time is shown in orange slices, practices are purple slices, and fitness exercises are blue slices. You can shift around some of your itinerary, you know, because kids love scheduling.

Doesn’t this game sound like more work than fun?

The game also affords you a map. The map is only useful if you click on a location, and subsequently click on a star in the bottom of the screen to automatically take you to that location. Otherwise, this is the worst map I’ve seen since Friday the 13th for the NES.

Unfortunately, I didn’t read the manual and find out that you could do that thing for the first several hours of playing this game. Instead, I walked everywhere. Eventually, by pushing random buttons, I discovered you could sprint. Going north on the map might require your character to go right. What looks to be a simple route on the map becomes a serpentine pattern of curves and illogical turns. Furthermore, your character is easily blocked by invisible obstacles.

But that’s not all.

To get from one screen to another requires your character to step on an activated star square. These things only seem to work when I don’t want them too. I often stepped on these things accidentally when just trying to walk across a room. They’re like little land mines.

And when you get to another screen, the perspective often changes in such a way that it is hard to tell which star space you came from and which one you want to use.

And that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the load times. It will often take four to ten seconds to load the next screen. I know four seconds doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it certainly seems like it when both of the dual screens go black multiple times in a minute.

5. Replayabilty
There is quite a lot to do in All Star Cheer Squad. Playing the main adventure will unlock new moves, new clothes, new music, new practices, new quick plays, etc. You can even design your own cheer routines and send them to your friends.

There is certainly a lot to do. The problem is that most of it doesn’t feel worth doing.

6. Balance
There are three difficulty settings. Their names differ whether you read them from the top screen or the bottom screen. That’s an odd thing, right?

Anyways, the difficulty settings work like this: you enter a cheer competition at medium difficulty setting. It is fairly boring, you hit almost all the beads, and finish in third place because there aren’t enough beads to hit to get a high score. Or you can enter a cheer competition of hard, get bombarded by beads, and finish in third place because there is only one stylus.

7. Originality
All Star Cheer Squad is the only cheerleading game with RPG elements of the Nintendo DS. At least, it is the only one of which I know. This thing counts for something right?

8. Addictiveness
I chose not to take this game while waiting for a bus. Instead, I decided to stand still and patiently wait for the bus.

I made the right call.

9. Appeal Factor
Here is the thing, this game is going to have a limited audience. I signed up for this game because my daughter was the head cheerleader of her Tater Tot Cheerleader team.

But this game is too complicated for the kindergarten set. The RPG elements and excessive reading will turn off the casual gamer. Serious gamers and cheerleaders have little overlap. Those who do overlap will be turned off by the mediocre gameplay and excessive load times.

10. Miscellaneous
All Star Cheer Squad offers little with regard to feedback. Quick play practices will end and suddenly I’ll end up back on the main menu. How did I do?

None of the menus are user friendly. Things that should be explained aren’t. Things that need no explanation are extrapolated upon.

The load times are out of control. The screen will often go dead for 5 seconds. Even talking to another cheerleader in the main game has a noticeable lag. Mind you, there is a lag for this cart to load TEXT.


The average hour I spent playing this game was comprised of wandering around trying to use the map, waiting for crap to load, checking my pie-based itinerary and having nonsensical conversations with NPCs.

The Scores:

Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Mediocre
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal: Bad
Miscellaneous: Very Bad
Final Score: Below Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary
All Star Cheer Squad feels broken. It feels half-baked, and desperately in need of testers. It is a game that shows a lot of potential, but realizes none of it.

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