We need to start earning our spots!
The first Cheetah Girls movie matches four teen girls — smart Aqua, fashion-wise Chanel, dancer Dorinda and songwriter Galleria — each with plenty of differences, but bound together by strong friendship, and they made great music together. As this game begins, they are on the first step of the hard climb to fame — their first gig is a five-year-old’s birthday party.
At its core, The Cheetah Girls is Dance, Dance Revolution for thumbs, but there are other mini-games, as well. Your job is to guide the Cheetahs through increasingly prestigious, and more difficult, gigs, while handling all the necessary side tasks of a rising gal-group — demo discs, a PR rep, an agent, costumes, and stage equipment (special lights and so forth).
You earn prestige stars by performing well at gigs, and you gain the right to better gigs by earning more and more stars. Too many missteps (mis-thumbs?) at a gig, and you lose stars. You’ve got to hit a series of D-pad, A and B buttons that stream along the top of the screen in rhythm with the beat. The first gig has a few two-button sequences (with no pause between them); the final gigs are mostly two-button and three-button combinations. About two-thirds of the way along, the L- and R-buttons are added to the mix. The first gig has about seventy buttons; the final gig has well over a hundred. Hit enough combinations successfully, and you get a shot at a Growl Power move, where the featured gal takes over center stage for a few seconds of solo dancing.
You also earn gold hearts, which translate into stage equipment (both lights and special effects), costumes, and studio time to cut tracks for your demo disc. Before each gig, you choose the lead girl, which song (of those you’ve composed), a lighting effect and a special effect (confetti, sparkles and so forth). The indication is that your choices affect the outcome, but we’re not sure how they affect it (if at all). We’re too busy pressing buttons to pay attention to what’s happening on the screen, much less to notice if our choices are making any difference.
You’ve got to run around town to take care of business — the radio station for an interview, Tip Top for meetings with your PR rep, the dance studio for practice, the gig board for job offers, and so on. “Town” is a square of four streets, with important locations highlighted; getting from place to place involves walking until you reach it or jumping there via the map. Much of this can be accomplished by any of the four Cheetahs (switching between Cheetahs is easy), but each girl has a specific task that only she can accomplish.
Dorinda teaches at the dance studio (giving you a chance for basic practice, but we couldn’t tell that it earned the advertised prestige). Chanel puts in time at a fashion store, which gives the Cheetahs access to their stage costumes. Aqua flips burgers at the park (the performance pass for the park gig only covers three of them, and she realizes she can join the other three through a job at the park). And Galleria composes music … or rather, she’s blocked, so her pooch barks the music and you’ve got to help her transcribe it by repeating the buttons that the dog barks out.
The jobs that Dorinda and Aqua have are basically repeats of the game’s central mechanism — thumbing buttons to the rhythm of the streaming beats. That makes sense for Dorinda, but what Aqua does is flip burgers as performance art. Yep, that’s a new one for us, also. Chanel’s fashion job requires you to key in clothes combinations based solely on two-word descriptions, matching a blouse or vest to a skirt or pants. You’ve got to do it eight times in sixty seconds and in some cases, it’s a random guess as to what her manager wants. But the sequences and combinations stay the same, so by the tenth or twentieth time, you’ve figured out what the manager wants and can find it and key it in in time to beat the buzzer.
Meanwhile, you’ve got to cut three demo songs and select your stage clothes. Again, we’re not sure these have any affect on the finished product, but they’re fun. Clothes involve a choice of top, bottom and head (cap, bandana, necklace, and so forth). Cutting songs for your demo disc requires you to pick a song name, then a percussion, base and melody line that combine to reflect that name. In each case, you’re selecting from three or four choices.
The learning curve (from initial gig to final performance in Barcelona) is gradual, but the skill required may shut some players out completely. Dad can handle the D-pad and A & B buttons, but totally botches it when trying to mix in L & R buttons; in fact, he finally decided to skip the L/R buttons totally, and managed to slip into Barcelona by the skin of his teeth. Jesse can only handle the earliest gigs, so far; he’s hoping to improve, but he’s not real sure he’ll be able to. (On the other hand, watching that little head groove to the beat as he presses buttons is a wonderful sight.) Will, the best musician of our family, gets mixed up when he has to key in D-pad and A/B combinations, so he hasn’t gotten as far as Jesse. We don’t usually pay much attention to a game’s music, but music is an important part of Cheetah Girls. This music serves its purpose well — bouncing music for gigs, and a nice background tune that doesn’t get repetitive for other times. And Dad gives the onscreen text special props for being very legible.
The manual deserves special note. The text is interesting and is actually large enough to read, with lots of attractive screenshots and other art. Unfortunately, it seems like it went to press before the game was finished; it seems to be inaccurate in a couple of places.
(Requisite complaint: The Cheetah Girls has only one save game, so only one person at a time can be playing it. That’s a pain for a family of game players. Standard request: designers, please include at least three save slots in a game. It doesn’t take much memory and is much friendlier to gaming families.)
Will’s favorite part are the ingame conversations. They are filled with amusing Cheetah-slang (although our middle-class whitebread family has no idea whether it’s authentic). Despite his problems with keeping on track, Jesse likes the gigs the best — it’s a challenge that he plans to keep working on.
Radio Interviewer: Could you tell us what the Cheetah Girls are all about?
Answer: We use the support of our families and the growl power of the divas who came before us to achieve our cheetah-licious potential.
Additional note from Dad. The Cheetah Girls takes a step beyond any other game I’ve seen since I started reviewing for GamersInfo.net. Most games, especially games for kids and tweens, have some sort of positive message at least loosely associated with your objective — standing up for who you are, the power of friendship, and the importance of perseverance are all common themes. However, this game has thoroughly embraced these inspirational messages, along with a tween version of the old Army motto, “Be all that you can be!” In the ingame text (and in the manual) there are constant reminders of the importance of working together, of supporting each other, of patient practice to accomplish a difficult goal, and (most of all) that you are important, whoever you are.
At the end of the game, even if you perform poorly at Barcelona, you find out that there are a thousand fans waiting to greet you. They love who you are and what you have accomplished, even if you don’t win the prize.
This is specifically a message aimed at tween girls. Unfortunately, some of them are the ones least likely to play a GBA game, even The Cheetah Girls. Evie, at twelve years old, is at the center of its target audience, but she doesn’t enjoy playing GBA games and has no interest in The Cheetah Girls’ beat mechanic. (She tried it, but there was no spark.)
It’s hard to imagine The Cheetah Girls as edutainment, but for those who do play it, it has a good chance of improving their perspective on both themselves and the world.
I like to analyze and optimize while playing games, so I much prefer games that require thought rather than action.
Evie is twelve years old and is an avid reader, especially of fantasy. Favorite authors include J.K. Rowling (of course), Brian Jacques, Cornelia Funke and Tamora Pierce. These reviews are her first published writing.
Will is nine years old and loves to investigate, especially dinosaurs and astronomy. These reviews are also his first published writing.
Jesse is seven years old and has just started reading chapter books. He likes Hank the Cowdog and cartoon books, especially Calvin & Hobbes, Baby Blues and Donald Duck.
If you're interested in the (roughly) thousand-year-old triceratops stone in our pic, check out the Dino Art. Some of the accompanying text can be a bit strident, but it's still a puzzle why Central and South American Indians knew pretty precisely what dinosaurs looked like over a thousand years ago.