Gaming With 'High School Musical' Crowd

With "High School Musical 2" smashing all previous cable viewing records, it comes as no surprise that Disney would offer a video game based on this very popular direct-to-TV movie. In "High School Musical: Makin' the Cut," fans of the movie get to play rhythm puzzles based on the movie's music.

The Nintendo DS game uses 12 songs from the two "High School Musical" movies. As children listen to the beat of the songs, they play through rhythm puzzles by using the DS stylus to tap or slide items that appear on the lower touch-sensitive screen. The puzzles get progressively harder the longer kids play.

The premise of the game is that "High School Musical" stars Troy, Gabriella, Sharpay, Ryan, Chad, and Taylor need your help as they compete for the title of "Best Youth Musical in America." The local, state, regional, and national competitions represent the 4 levels of difficulty. During each level of competition, you help the stars by playing a series of rhythm puzzles as they perform.

A puzzle appears on the bottom touch screen while the cartoon versions of the stars appear in the top screen. How well you do in the rhythm puzzle affects how well the performers dance and sing in the top screen: mess up, and they fall down in the middle of their performance.

To play the rhythm puzzles, you must coordinate four different actions: tapping, sliding over arrows, tracing patterns, and moving basketballs through a hoop. The majority of the puzzle play involves tapping icons. An icon appears on the touch-sensitive screen surrounded by a circle meter which gradually changes color from yellow to green. The object is to tap the icon when it turns green. As the puzzles get harder, the icons appear more often and in faster sequences. Your ability to hit the icons at the right time is graded, as is your talent to repeat the process without mistakes.

Once you have played a puzzle in the main story mode, the puzzle can then be replayed in the quickplay mode for a better grade. You can also create a custom character to perform it. In addition, you can visit a video studio where you can watch what happened on the top screen while you were playing a puzzle, and then edit the performance by changing camera angles and adding lighting and special effects.

The game offers a multiplayer option where you can compete against another who also owns the game. In addition, you can share your in-game-created video performances.

This type of rhythm puzzle first appeared on the Nintendo DS in 2006 with "Elite Beat Agents." If your children haven't yet experienced this type of puzzle, they will be intrigued. Think of it as DDR ("Dance Dance Revolution") for the Nintendo DS. But eventually the novelty wears off as you play to better your score and unlock new outfits for the singers and locations for performances. However, for fans of the movies, this game is a great way to interact with the music they have come to love.

RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5) Best for ages 6-14 From Disney Interactive, www.disney.com/videogames, $30, Nintendo DS

Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing With Kids Ezine.

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