E3 Hands-On: High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance

In the world of tween entertainment, there are few things bigger than High School Musical. The film series, entering its third installment chronicling the life and times of the East High Wildcats, is one of Disney’s hottest properties. As such, it is bound to get the game treatment every time a new film is released, and that’s how we found ourselves getting our groove on with Troy, Gabriella, and the rest at E3.

From what we got to see of the game, it was a sort of Wii version of Dance Dance Revolution, but with more emphasis on the hands than the feet. Using the Wiimote and Nunchuck, you point your controllers at a one of six targets (three per hand) in an attempt to mimic the actions of the on-screen characters. You time you moves by striking your pose just as colored circles radiating out from the center of the screen hit the targets, and like any rhythm game, the main objective is to get your timing absolutely perfect. As you up the difficulty, the circles come faster and more furiously, and when you get up into the upper echelons your dance moves start to come pretty close to the choreography of the actual characters.

This will likely come as a big thrill to fans of High School Musical as numbers from each movie are included in the game, so players will find themselves right in the thick of the big moments that define each flick. Replicating the moves and feeling a part of the action is something any wannabe Wildcat would dream of, and the game is giving you the chance for just such an experience.

Peppered in among the dance sequences are mini-games that task you with using your pointer to pop some bubbles while avoiding others or performing specific dance moves and striking poses to drive your score up. Doing well in these games fills the meter that allows you to go into bonus mode where you can really strut your stuff and rack up the points.

Outside of the main game we got to take a quick look at a few compatibility tests where players could use games like “What’s in Your Lunch?” to help them decide which High School Musical character they have the most in common with. Granted, it’s shallow and ultimately pointless, but this is just the sort of thing that drives the social lives of junior high girls, and they’ll likely get a kick out of figuring out which character they would be if their lives were like the movie (which they all invariably wish was true).

It was clear in our demo that even on the less-than-powerful Wii, the folks handling the license went to great pains to make the in-game characters look and move like their real-life counterparts. While the look of High School Musical likely won’t wow you, the animations are smooth and graceful and do a good job capturing the energy of the source material. Things get even more fun when you perform well and a whole host of backup dancers appear to really give your performance that extra punch. While you likely won’t be swooning over the digital versions of the franchise’s stars, you’ll probably still find a lot to like.

It’s quite obvious that if you aren’t already a huge High School Musical fan, someone who knows every character’s backstory and already has tickets to the next film, you probably won’t even give this game a second look. But for the fans, the title aspires to be more than another cheap tie-in, and actually deliver an experience that brings the magic of the films home. For the hard-to-please tween on your holiday shopping list, this might end up being just the thing to ease your retail woes. The game is cute, entertaining and, dare we say, fun, so it very well may turn out to be a nice family game that the kids are sure to love.

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