Hannah Montana: The Movie Review
This whole Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus thing has to wear off at some point, right? Haven’t the young girls had their fill? Aren’t they prepared to move on to the next pop idol? They all come out of the same cookie-cutter mold that is held under heavy armed guard in a vault somewhere beneath the city of Los Angeles; why not just pump out another one? Well, if the fans aren’t yet convinced that it’s time to put Montana Mania in the past, this game will go a long way towards proving the inevitable point. Last year’s Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour was barely playable (even if it might be semi-entertaining for those 9-year-old fanatics), and this year’s game based on the recently released film is even worse. You know, after working our tedious and tiresome way through one of the most inane and uninspired “adventures” we’ve ever had the misfortune to experience, we just have one question: would it really be that difficult to implement any one of the tried-and-true rhythm gameplay mechanics? Heck, just use the old PaRappa the Rapper style; it’d be better than this!
Obviously, you won’t be expecting much in the way of cutting edge graphics or mind-blowing visuals. All one would really hope for is a solid visual presentation that featured some decent character animation and flashy on-screen effects during musical performances. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, but apparently, it is. The animations can be jerky and out-of-synch during said stage performances, the character detail is lacking, and the overall design ranges from poor to mediocre. NPCs don’t even move their mouths when they talk – what year is this, 1995? – and while the color palette remains somewhat appealing, the effort put forth falls well shy of the intended mark. Well, there is the remote possibility that the “intended mark” was a set of graphics that are both bland and uninteresting, and if that’s the case…mission accomplished. Perhaps it won’t matter to the target audience who aren’t used to the dazzling visuals from other next-gen titles, but even so, the quality is just unacceptable. Honestly, you may as well have kept this one on the PS2 as well.
Now, the sound ought to be good, right? I mean, even if you’re not a fan of Hannah Montana’s music, the star in question is part of the music industry, so it should stand to reason that both the soundtrack and effects are highlights of Hannah Montana: The Movie. Yeah, they’re not. The effects are terrible and mostly limited to when you’re wandering around with Miley and switching outfits. What a blast. It seems the only decent part of the sound category falls to the voiceover work, which is actually average and isn’t the turn-off one might’ve anticipated. And we suppose that if you’re a big fan of Hannah Montana songs, you’re going to enjoy the available song selection, but even so, they may complain about a lack of selection; there aren’t a great many tracks in the game. And on top of which, we seem to recall last year’s Spotlight World Tour starting off with the exact same songs… Hasn’t this girl made new songs since then? Songs freshly made for the movie that should be in the game? Eh, we ask these questions but we know they’ll go unanswered.
This is one of those times when the developers desperately try to implement something new, and the end result is a frustrating mess. Rather than just press the analog in certain directions during a performance to hit the notes and execute the on-stage maneuvers, players will now have a whole different set of tasks. It’s a good idea in theory, and it definitely adds a whole lot of variety to the base gameplay, but it just doesn’t work. Here’s our first gripe: when Hannah (or Miley, whatever) is singing, you are supposed to press the X button once to start a particular note, and if it’s supposed to be a drawn out note, you just hold it down. …but it doesn’t function correctly. Holding it down doesn’t appear to do the job at all. Then you’ve got three other instruments you will actually control – even if Miley isn’t doing it herself – and each one features something new: for the keyboard, for example, you have to use the motion sensing to move the highlighted section to the correct set of keys. The notes come a little too fast for 100% accuracy, though.
Then you’ve got the drums, which are just plain boring and unfortunately, it’s difficult to know when exactly you’re supposed to hit the right analog. The guitar mechanic makes the most sense, as you hit the X button along with the correct string (denoted by the right analog; up for the top string, down for the bottom, nothing for the middle), but again, the notes come a little too fast for the target audience. Just because we did it perfectly doesn’t mean the younger demographic will, but at least this is the best rhythm system in the game. Easily the worst is the fact that you have to memorize each of Miley’s dance poses and gestures on stage. When the prompt comes up to clap your hands, do the lasso, point at the fans, or whatever, you have to know what you need to do. Maybe you have to press both analogs down; maybe you have to rotate the right analog around in a circle, maybe you press only one analog down at an angle. Okay, I’ve got a fantastic memory and this still sucked. You have to really nail the moves relatively quickly and you may end up jamming on the analogs when you get lost. We just think this memorizing thing was a terrible idea.
The rest of the game has you trying on new outfits, interacting with bland NPCs and doing abstract, trivial mini-games. None of it is even entertaining in the slightest, although again, we have to assume the fans might enjoy dressing up the virtual Hannah Montana and interacting with her friends or whatever. But for us, these processes were mind-numbingly tedious and of course, the girl can’t run; she can only walk. That’s just the cherry on the top of this rotten sundae. On top of which, the game only supports one player as it masquerades as an “adventure” game of sorts (we refuse to classify it as such), which means friends can’t play along. But then again, why would they want to? The gameplay mechanics suffer from a lack of refinement and accuracy and most of the time, you just lose complete interest in the production in question. You really end up not caring what happens or how the fans react; all you know is that you can’t seem to nail the poses or the keyboard, and when the singing comes around you just say over and over again, I am holding X!” No matter how many pieces of clothing you unlock or how many decorations you nab for the tour bus, you’re left with a set of controls that fails miserably.
Hannah Montana: The Movie, by all rights, should be great for fans of the film. But in reality, it’s not “great” for anyone. There are plenty of options on store shelves for the intended demographic and most all of them are better than this disaster of a game. What makes it worse is what we said in the intro- there are rhythm controls that have proved themselves over and over again in other titles; why couldn’t you just use those? Don’t overcomplicate things for a title like this; it’s just gonna fall flat on its face.
5/11/2009 Ben Dutka