I imagined much for my moviegoing life in the hectic year of 2008, but I never anticipated sitting down voluntarily with all three "High School Musical" pictures, only to come out impressed and exhaustively entertained by their expansive energy and cheery demeanor. It's weird enough to actually enjoy a creation that started life on the demonic Disney Channel cable network, but if anyone told me I would close out the year spending substantial time with the "HSM" DVD game, I would've laughed directly in their face.
The "HSM" world has slithered its way into all forms of merchandising, so this peculiar DVD game isn't completely unexpected. In fact, it's perhaps the most even-tempered of the "HSM" media ephemera, utilizing the trivia potential of the franchise to offer fans a challenge; a series of pussycat tests that will reduce the average slumber party to a series of excited squeaks and giggles as players hurl themselves into the East High fray. The ultimate prize? BFF mastery.
Billed as "11 action-packed games," the "HSM" DVD isn't nearly as thrilling as the marketing suggests. Instead, it's an easygoing time-waster, built around the concept of friendly competition through the use of "HSM" character avatars (up to six players), leaving dreaded personalization out of the equation.
"East High Graduation Challenge" is the trivia hub of the game, using footage and minutiae from the "HSM" series to assemble 20 questions easy enough to allow fans and non-fans an opportunity to participate without assured frustration. Seriously, the challenge isn't high here, and anyone endowed with even the faintest skill of memory and logical deduction should be able to keep up, though the faithful will have the advantage. The speed of the game is truly the excruciating point. The DVD takes an eternity to move from question to question, pausing every five steps to remind players who has captured the lead and who retains a truly fruitful social life (aka last place). If you have 17 years to kill, this trivia bonanza is an ideal informational endurance trial.
"Prom Night" turns the game into a dance competition, providing three levels of difficulty to challenge the room. Detailed choreography is provided, displayed in simple Dance Dance Revolution form to help out those with less happy feet.
"Wildcats Try Outs" is a basketball simulator so frustrating, it's enough to throw the game out of the nearest window. Essentially a free throw showdown, the game is divided up into ranges of difficulty, requiring the mastery of power and directional meters to launch the perfect shot. Unfortunately, the meters are absolutely baffling beyond the easiest setting, offering little in the way of achievement clarity. In other words: I couldn't sink a shot past the first two levels.
"Pep Rally" is a word association game set to the rumbling beat of a rowdy gymnasium celebration. This game is perhaps the most intricate to describe and play (think a round of telephone that has to remain in time with rhythmic handclaps), and remains the only challenge that needs to be explained in full before starting.
"Career Finder Quiz" presents a series of skill and taste related questions, with the prize being an opportunity to peer into your vocational future. The game revealed to me that I was perfectly suited to be an astronaut.
"Center Stage" is karaoke time, with the songs "Bet on It," "Now or Never," "Bop to the Top," "The Boys are Back," "Fabulous," "Breaking Free," and the tongue-twisting "Humuhumunukunukuapua'a" offered up for vocal combat.
"Yearbook Memory Game" is a game of concentration, asking players to memorize the faces of the East High stars before they're scrambled up for maximum puzzling.
"BFF's" is perhaps the most entertaining offering of the game. Using secretive DVD remote arrow functions, the game asks one player five questions of preference and style, with hopes the next player is able to answer the same questions in a similar manner, thus creating an unholy union of idealized friendship.
"Party Play" is intended for five or more players, dividing the room into "Jocks" and "Brainiacs" for three charade-style games to liven up the evening. The DVD offers clues and a timer. You supply the social energy.
The games are presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a wide assortment of vibrant, stable colors favorable to the game play experience, beautifying the event.
The 5.1 audio mix adds depth when needed, most comfortably during the karaoke game. The surrounds house the atmospherics, offering some immersion into the thrill of competition.
Trailers for "High School Musical 2," "Space Buddies," "The Little Mermaid 2," "Prince Caspian," "Wizards of Waverly Place," "Pinocchio," "Bolt," "Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season," and "Cheetah Girls: One World" are provided.
While the response time leaves much to be desired, the "High School Musical" DVD game presents a wide assortment of challenges and giddy opportunities for good-natured humiliation that should thrill the intended demographic, and perhaps an adventurous parent or two.