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Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour
Graphics: 5.2
Gameplay: 3.3
Sound: 5
Control: 3.7
Replay Value: 3
Rating: 3.8
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Avalanche Software
Number Of Players: 1-2 Players

Okay, we will freely admit we’re not fans of Hannah Montana; in fact, we had to do a bit of research on Wikipedia to become more familiar with her before attempting this review. Evidently, she’s the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus (strike one, in our opinion) and is quite the teenage phenom with millions of loyal, screaming fans just about everywhere she goes. Perhaps it’s unfair to label her as another ex-member of the Mickey Mouse club who relies more on her looks and charisma than talent, but hey, we’re not music critics. We’re not about to pass judgment. When the music industry has a formula that works, they go with it, and that’s just good business. On the other hand, we are quite adept at reviewing video games, and that’s what this is: Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour, which is – not surprisingly – a music-based rhythm game specifically geared towards those many, many fans she has who will leap at any product with her picture on it. And we like music games. …just not this one.

The graphics are actually the best part of this particular PS2 effort, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Oddly enough, the developers actually went to more effort designing the shopping plazas than the arenas you will perform in, but there’s some decent character detail for a last generation title. The coloring isn’t bad, either, but that’s about where the good news ends. Correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t there a great deal of flash and glitz involved with a pop star? You know, big arenas with thousands of adoring fans, a crazy light show going on in the background, and of course, the biggest and best cities on the planet? Shouldn’t all of that come to the forefront in a game like this? The city shopping areas are okay, but beyond that, every stage and arena is mostly bland and almost entirely unexciting, and every single backstage area – in every city – is identical. Finally, we don’t think much of the overall technical presentation, as these visuals range from mediocre to average. Well, whatever. It’s not terrible.

Typically, the sound isn’t always the most important part of any video game production, but when it comes to titles in this particular genre…well, duh. And we don’t wish to be too harsh, here, because music has always been very subjective, and we’re well aware of all those fans out there who love Hannah Montana songs. Just because we find it contrived, artificially manufactured, and almost entirely unoriginal doesn’t mean a 10-year-old who absolutely idolizes this girl won’t like the soundtrack. Of course, she’ll love it; she probably has all the albums, too. So we’ll just leave it at that: we don’t like it, but the fans will, and that’s what matters. The voice acting is actually quite good as well, but again, we have to blame the age difference on our analysis: we couldn’t tolerate the flouncy, insipid dialogue from the girls and the stupid, lame-brain jokes from the guys, but we imagine the kids out there think it’s entertaining. Perhaps we’re coming across as pompous and overly critical, but bear in mind that other reviewers wouldn’t even accept the fact that their view won’t match the fans’ view. We accept it, and we acknowledge it. Hence, we’re not about to assign a horrendous score to this category.

The gameplay is something we can criticize, though, and that’s because we be experts on the subject (it’s true, damnit), and bad gameplay will affect even hardcore followers of the pretty blonde pop sensation. Now, if you’ve played just about any music or rhythm game in the past decade, you’re probably familiar with the primary mechanic, here: the button prompts scroll by at the bottom of the screen during a performance, and you must not only hit the correct button (or sequence of buttons); it’s essential that you hit them at the correct time. And at first, this gameplay structure seemed to work quite well, but after only about a half-hour of play time, everything broke down and we had lots of questions. Many of these questions we should never have to ask, and furthermore, as the answers will remain unknown, we’re left with a game that confuses the crap out of us. We’re not sure where to start, but let’s begin with the most obvious and disturbing flaw.

The entire point of this type of gameplay is to make the button prompts synchronize with the music. Every beat coincides with something you need to do, which means tapping your foot to the rhythm – or bobbing your head, whatever works for you – is typically part of the experience. But for whatever bizarre reason, the button prompts at the bottom of the screen don’t seem to correspond to the music at all. It’s almost as if the placement is entirely arbitrary, even though the frequency and difficulty does pick up at appropriate intervals. This may be the very first music game that simply doesn’t reward you for keeping good time; you’re just supposed to hit the buttons as they cross through the star, and they usually won’t have anything to do with the background beat. But speaking of button presses, we have now come to the most annoying aspect of the gameplay: with all those buttons available on the controller, we’re entirely restricted to the analog sticks, and that’s a grievous error. First of all, the analog sticks have never been 100% accurate, and what’s worse, the developers tried to jam a ridiculous number of moves into those two analog sticks.

Just one question, guys. If you wanted to do that, why didn’t you use any other buttons on the controller?! Seriously, this is just weird. Maybe they thought keeping all moves focused on the left and right analog sticks would streamline the gameplay, but quite frankly, that’s just a ridiculous theory. The only good news is that it’s relatively easy and the game is lenient rather than strict when it comes to the moves, which means just about anyone should be able to complete the Spotlight World Tour without any problem. Playing on regular Star difficulty won’t pose much of a problem to anybody, and is a borderline joke to those who are skilled at other music titles. But there’s the Super Star and Diva difficulty levels to test even the best rhythm masters, so that’s not much of a concern. What is a concern, however, is the music bar on the bottom that can get all herky-jerky from time to time, which only amplified the less-than-fluid stage performance. You’re playing as Hannah Montana, obviously, and while she looks good up there, it’s hardly a seamless production. All kinds of small glitches, but at least they’re not crippling.

Still, our confusion continues. When talking about the graphics, we told you the developers put more effort into the shopping areas than the stages and arenas, and they did the same in this category, believe it or not. You can walk around different shopping districts in every city you visit on the tour, starting with Fifth Avenue in New York. You can pick out all kinds of clothes, from hats to shoes and everything in between. There’s even jewelry and dozens of different kinds of tops, bottoms, and various accessories, which is more than enough to satisfy the avid fan. Being able to buy and save any number of costumes for Hannah to wear on stage is a huge bonus – we assume – and it doesn’t take much to buy a huge wardrobe. The better you perform, the more of those little pink shopping bags you’ll receive, and you can exchange one for any item you wish to purchase. But why this takes center stage, even over the gameplay, is beyond us. The focal point should’ve been square on the concerts and not the silly and very unnecessary cut-scenes and shopping. The latter is a bonus for fans, yes, but even so…

Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour may deliver the music the fans want, but as far as the gameplay goes, there are just too many problems for us to recommend a purchase, even for the most ardent Hannah follower. We suppose it could be fun if the player doesn’t have any trouble with the analog sticks, but the younger audience would’ve been better off if the developers had opted for a normal gameplay mechanic that included face buttons. Besides, the rest of this game is very bare-bones; you go from one city to another, performing increasingly difficult songs and going shopping. There isn’t any storyline to speak of (at least, so far as we could tell), there’s nothing to explore besides some very closed-off shopping centers, the customization outside outfits is minimal, and the rhythm foundation just isn’t very solid. It’s hard for us to imagine even big Hannah Montana fans having fun with this one for an extended period of time, but we suppose there’s always a possibility. Crazed fans will do some pretty…uh…crazy things.

8/21/2008   Ben Dutka