Inside Pulse 12

Review: Mean Girls (PC)

main_mean-girls-game-imageMean Girls
Developer: Legacy Interactive
Publisher: Paramount Digital Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle/RPG
Release Date: 02/27/2009

I’ll admit it- when we first received Mean Girls here at the DieHard GameFAN offices, we all had a good chuckle. First of all, the movie came out five years ago. Second, the game was being billed as, “match-three, strategy, and role-playing game”. None of us could believe it. Mean Girls: the role-playing game?!? Needless to say, it didn’t take much prodding for me to snatch this game up and see what the hype was all about. Could Mean Girls really translate to anything even remotely resembling a RPG? Would leveling up be the result of making girls cry? And most importantly, would the game actually be playable?

1. Story/Modes
Full disclosure time – I’ve never seen Mean Girls, the major motion picture starring Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey. OK, I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, but that’s because my wife has seen it. Anyway, here’s the gist of the game’s story, which matches up to what I know about the movie – the main character (who can be named anything you’d like, but is named Cady in the movie) moves from South Africa to your typical high school and must decide which clique of students to align herself with. She ends up befriending another student while simultaneously joining a group of popular girls known as The Plastics as a sort of double agent in order to figure out what makes them tick. From there, it’s a series of one-upmanship, as everyone’s trying to get dirt on each other and conspiring to oust one another. In essence, it IS high school.

legacy_mg_13The game does actually play like a role-playing game in that you, as the main character, must essentially be a go-fer for all of these different people. You have to run around town to do your bidding, and in the process, encounter people who are aligned with the person you’re looking for. Usually, these people will not be so eager to help you out, resulting in a duel – again, not unlike in a role-playing game. Only, instead of fighting using hand-to-hand combat, you engage in a sort of puzzle battle using the tried-and-true, “line three like shapes in a row and they disappear” method. Certain shapes do certain things to your opponent. For example, lining up three whips takes power off your opponent, while lining up three hearts increases their “loyalty”, which makes them want to help you. You can win a battle by either maxing out their loyalty or draining their power bar, and the game claims your method of victory makes a difference in how you’re perceived, but it doesn’t seem to matter all that much.

We’ll get more into the RPG stuff a little later. For now, though, the story matches up pretty well with the movie and the game really does incorporate elements of match-three, strategy, and role-playing games. Not a bad start.
Story/Modes Rating: Above Average

2. Graphics
The graphics in Mean Girls are about what you might expect going in – lots and lots of pink, particularly in the menu screens. Interactions between characters take place in the form of drawn characterizations of the characters – they’re not overly cartoony, but they don’t look totally real, either. This is good, because it’d be hard to take this game seriously if the characters looked too realistic. The battle screens are fairly standard, with not much to write home about either way. The only real issue I have with the graphics is the overhead map of the school. It’s supposed to resemble the kind of overhead map you see in role-playing games, but instead looks like a bad rendition of the gameboard in Clue, complete with transparent rooms and everything. On the plus side, there’s no gratuitous CGI or FMV to slow down gameplay; even if this is because the publishers didn’t want to pay for the rights, it’s addition by subtraction.
Graphics Rating: Poor

3. Sound
Upon firing up Mean Girls, you will be greeted with some licensed song. I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s from the movie; really, though, I have no idea. The rest of the music embodies the term “background music”. Not only is it not all that audible, it’s not particularly memorable, either. The sound effects are pretty average; that they’re not annoying is a plus. Some players might be disappointed that the characters’ dialogue is not spoken by voice actors, but at least the absence of voice acting lets you skip through the conversations with little difficulty.
Sound Rating: Mediocre

legacy_mg_164. Control/Gameplay
The controls in Mean Girls could not be any easier. The game will even walk you to your destination if you’d like it to. In essence, all you really have to do is control the match-three games yourself. For this game’s target audience, that’s huge. For a 20-something male RPG nut, it’s horrible. To each their own. Mean Girls is the epitome of a point-and-click, easy-to-play game that you can easily blow through without having to spend hours figuring out what to do.

As for the gameplay… well, most of the questions I’ve gotten about this game relate to how exactly it can be considered an RPG. With this in mind, I’ve decided to create a sort of mini-FAQ explaining how this compares to more conventional role-playing games. And away we go!

Q: So, Mean Girls really is a role-playing game?
A: Yes! Mean Girls features many of the same mechanisms we’ve seen in RPGs for consoles and computers.

Q: Really? You have levels and everything?
A: Yup. The game keeps track of experience points, which is presented to gamer as “popularity”. Once your character earns enough popularity, she gains a level, which means her attributes (attacks, loyalty, intelligence, etc.) increase as well. She can also learn certain techniques that can be used in battle.

Q: Wait a second. Techniques?
A: OK, techniques is what the game calls them. They’re more like spells, and just like in real RPGs, advanced opponents have more powerful spells/techniques than you do. But you can learn to use techniques that will increase your opponent’s loyalty to you, put power back onto your power bar, make certain pieces appear on the three-match board, so on and so forth.

Q: Wow, that’s pretty crazy! So is there level grinding?
A: Believe it or not… yes. While running back and forth between rooms to carry out the storyline, you’ll be stopped by random people, who might bust you for not having a hall pass or some other stupid reason. You can tell these are like the random battles found in other RPGs because these opponents are at or below your level. Most “boss” characters are well beyond your current level, so these random battles can be a good way to build up experience. Bet you never thought Mean Girls would be THIS much like a RPG, did you?
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Balance
Clearly, Mean Girls isn’t geared toward the hardcore player. It does a great job of presenting advanced gaming elements to neophytes, but this is not the game for the seasoned RPG vet. So it’s clear that this is going to be an easy game. The problem is, like any three-match or puzzle game, there’s a fine line between being hard and being annoyingly cheap, and Mean Girls often crosses that line. When you’re fighting an opponent that’s beyond you in terms of levels, not only does that opponent know more techniques than you, but they also seem to get much more favorable boards – that is, they always seem to get the good power-ups, while you’re stuck eliminating three random pieces because there’s nothing else available. That’s a bit frustrating. The game does feature variable difficulty levels, but these just serve to bring a little more cheapness to the surface.
Balance Rating: Poor

legacy_mg_196. Replayability
Is Mean Girls replayable? Well, it’s not a particularly long game. It’s pretty fun, and it’s not all that challenging. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty linear. It’s not unreplayable in that it’s a bad game or that it’s overly annoying, but more that once you beat it, you’ll have done everything there is to do in the game. This is one area where Mean Girls falls short of “real” RPGs – there’s no abundance of hidden stuff to search for, no side quests to embark upon. The main quest is fine, but there’s not much more to do.
Replayability Rating: Poor

7. Originality
Generally, we don’t give games based off movies high scores in the area of originality. After all, even if the movie was original, the game surely isn’t, right? Well, this is a refreshingly original take on a movie, one we haven’t really seen before. Even though the movie came out five years ago, this presents the movie in a new and unique light, and that’s pretty hard to do. Mean Girls is pretty much the furthest thing from your typical cash-in game based off a movie, and for that, the game should be commended.
Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness
There are a lot of role-playing games that you can spend six straight hours playing. Mean Girls isn’t exactly one of those games, but it is a game you can spend a good hour or two playing. It’s not at all difficult and is quirky enough to keep you playing. Of course, once you get done with the game, there’s not much to do with it, but the game does a pretty good job of moving you along without letting you get bored. Again, since this is a game based on a movie, that’s pretty hard to do.
Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor
Mean Girls is a movie that came out five years ago. Most of the teens that saw the movie when it first came out have grown up and are no longer interested in playing a game based on this movie. Adults who watched the movie either don’t play games or are into games that are far more complex than Mean Girls. So, even though this is a licensed game, it doesn’t necessarily equate to the cash-in game most movie games end up being. That said, since it is a movie that did well, it will have its audience, but that audience will be limited since the movie came out so long ago.
Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

10. Miscellaneous
With multiple user profiles, difficulty levels, and even graphic resolution modes, Mean Girls is a pretty versatile game that can conform to most gamers. It’s a game that is geared toward novice gamers, but might end up impressing quite a few people. Even though a lot of the RPG stuff is pretty much window-dressing, it does a much better job of filling the gaps than most puzzle games. Besides, high school pretty much is a role-playing game if you think about it – the more experience you get, the more you know how to handle things, and once you know how to handle things, you’re a lot better off. So kudos to Mean Girls for choosing the right format, even though just about any format works for a licensed game – especially given how much work usually goes into a game based off a movie.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Mediocre
Control/Gameplay: Great
Balance: Poor
Replayability: Poor
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Decent Game

bryanShort Attention Span Summary
While the idea of a movie like Mean Girls being translated into an RPG seems a bit preposterous, not only does the game work, but it works quite well. With a story that matches the movie well, some basic-yet-layered gameplay, and traditional RPG elements, Mean Girls is a game that’s perfect for teenagers and beginning female gamers. It’s not for everybody, but it’s a great introduction into RPG-type games.