"High School Musical: The DVD Game" blends "Scene It?"-style trivia with slumber party activities, delivering a surprising amount of fun - even if there's a little too much downtime.
The disc offers three levels of play: activities not dependent on the number of players (allowing bored kids to play by themselves on a rainy afternoon, or a group to play together), activities meant for two to four players, and "party" activities (for four or more players) to keep a room full of kids plenty busy.
The trouble here, as with many DVD games, is with the wait time. Within most of the games, "HSM: The DVD Game" takes much too long loading each new level. Sure, you'll need time to hand off the remote to the next player, but not this much time; during the main trivia game, there's a good twenty or thirty seconds between each question, as the disc first loads up a screen telling us whose turn it is (players assign themselves "HSM" characters to represent them during the game), then a pause to load up the actual question. Pause again to load up the answer, then another pause for your score. Repeat for each round. Every five rounds, the game pauses even more to tell us who's in the lead, who's trailing, who's getting better, etc. - something for every player, which, in a four-player game, can get tiresome.
Players might also become frustrated with the remote interface, at least until they get accustomed to it. Several games feature multiple choice questions answered using the arrows on your remote ("up" is "A," "left" is "B," etc.), but there's no spot to double check an answer before entering - hit the wrong button by mistake, and that's your answer. Another game, involving virtual basketball, is dependent entirely on good timing, so if your remote-to-DVD player aim isn't spot on, you might miss your best shot. The more you play, the better you'll get at figuring all this out, so don't let first-time flubs get you down.
The games included are:
"East High Graduation Challenge" (referred to in the DVD menu as "Main Game"): Inspired by "Scene It?", players take turns answering trivia questions about all three "HSM" movies. General questions ("What song do these characters sing at this point in this movie?") are mixed with observation questions (watch a scene, then answer a question about, say, the stuff on a desk, or the color of a hat). The game lasts fifteen rounds.
"Prom Night": Put the remote down - this one's all about dancing. A virtual instructor walks you through the steps of two songs from the franchise. These steps are broken down move by move, and you're allowed to repeat the instructions as often as you want; you can also set the instructions to match your skill level (beginner, intermediate, expert). For clumsy feet, a helpful color-coded grid tells you exactly where to place your feet at all times. Players can learn the moves on their own or perform them as a line dance.
"Wildcats Try Outs": The aforementioned basketball simulator relies entirely on how well you can aim your remote at your DVD player. It's a free throw contest, best out of five shots, and you get more points for harder throws. A meter on the side of the screen indicates shooting strength, and an arrow indicates direction of throw; really, though, it's just a matter of hitting the "enter" button on your remote at just the right time.
"Pep Rally": This is a word-association game that's easier than it first looks. A virtual basketball crowd stomps their feet to keep the time, while you and your friends must speak the next in a line of words relating to a topic (things found in science class, things found in a girl's locker); miss your turn, and you're out. The only problem here is the score-keeping mechanism, which requires someone to click through a series of inputs to tell the disc when someone's out of the game.
"Career Finder Quiz": Four quizzes ask personality questions which will reveal your dream job. It's cute, and understands kids enough to offer up occupations like "zoo keeper" instead of, say, "tax accountant."
"Center Stage": Karaoke, and nothing but. Pick one of seven songs and sing along with the words on the screen. As with "Prom Night," there's no scoring here, just random, repeatable fun. Fans of the "sing-along" versions of the "HSM" movies will love this one.
"Yearbook Memory Game": Memorize the locations of nine pictures, then put them back in order. It's a simple game of Concentration, but pretty fun in a group setting.
"BFFs": Answer a series of "how well do you know your friends?" questions, and see if they match up with the answers given by your pals.
"Party Play": This one's for a room full of players. Divide into teams, then engage in various take-offs of charades and Pictionary. (How, exactly, does one draw "Sharpay's car"?)
Video & Audio
"HSM: The DVD Game" looks and sounds better than expected. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation offers solid colors, and clips from the films look very sharp. The soundtrack is an unnecessary but welcome Dolby 5.1.
None. A batch of the usual Disney trailers play as the disc loads.
My initial thoughts that this might just be worth a rental on slumber party night were dashed when I saw just how quickly my daughter took to the game, how much she didn't mind those frequent game pauses, and how much she enjoyed repeating her favorite games; she can't wait to introduce this one to all her friends. Recommended.