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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Hannah Montana: Music Jam

I've never tried to review a game that was as obviously, emphatically Not for Me as Hannah Montana: Music Jam. The game is pretty clearly targeted at fans of the Disney Channel series, a category to which I, sadly, do not belong. More broadly, the game is targeted at little girls, a larger group that still does not include me. Disney Channel games are a completely different world of gaming with which most of us have no experience. They are a mystery that, for the most part, we don't care to solve.

But Hannah Montana: Music Jam showed signs of quality that shocked us in initial screenshots. As moony as we were over Ubisoft's Jam Sessions, here was a game that seemed to do all that Jam Sessions could do and more, buried under a poisonous license. In the end, Music Jam doesn't hold up to that excellent product, but, provided you are in the target audience, it isn't as exploitively, lazily terrible as we imagine most licensed children's games to be. Parts of it are pretty good. But in the end, there are so many great kid-friendly games on the DS that lack the license but are just better.

Hannah Montana
is a show about a girl who lives a double life as both a totally relatable high school student and a pop star. You may already know this, but I had to look it up, as I haven't intentionally tuned in to the Disney Channel since they played reruns of Gargoyles on weekday mornings. In the game, Miley/Hannah attempts to balance her daily life with that of Hannah, while trying to ruin any chance a rival has of making friends or achieving success. But in a vaguely positive, Disney Channel way that ... I still found kind of distasteful. Why can't the other girl have friends and sell records?

These goals are achieved by performing tasks to benefit friends and family (which award you hearts) and Hannah Montana's duties (stars). When you've collected more hearts and stars than the predetermined amount that the rival, Savannah Starr, accrues, the chapter ends with the creation of a music video.

The game consists of three major components (listed here in descending order by quality): a music game/instrument simulator, an adventure game, and a set of minigames. The quality of these three components descends sharply. Simply put, only the music parts are worth much of anything, and the developers, seemingly cognizant of this fact, allow you to play in a "creative mode" consisting of just the instruments, with no adventuring or story or anything.

The instrument simulation is actually pretty great. The guitar is similar in execution to Jam Sessions, with a few options thrown in and most of the tweaks stripped out. You can now play individual strings, and you can play lead, rhythm or bass guitar in separate modes. However, the sound quality fails to approach Jam Sessions, and there are no recording options, nor are there detailed effects settings. You can't alter the muting style (you can't mute at all) and you can't save chord palettes. Nobody would be picking up Hannah Montana: Music Jam for serious musical use anyway. As a toy to mess around with, the Creative Mode in Music Jam is quite enjoyable. And it's got drums! Drums are fun.

The "main" part of the game is a completely banal adventure game in which you guide Miley around from objective to objective. Each task is tracked as an icon on the bottom screen, so if you don't care to follow the story, you don't have to. I would have to imagine that even for young Hannah Montana fans, the storyline in this game is beyond inconsequential. But, as I have yet to catch an episode of the TV show for comparison, I don't actually know. The tasks send you from location to location, usually culminating in a minigame. Your performance in the minigames adds to your heart and star counts.

Depending on the context of the task, you may need to appear as either Miley or Hannah; changing identities is accomplished in changing areas, shown on screen as a distinct icon. These locations are sometimes logical (her closet) and sometimes gameplay-driven and completely bizarre (the middle of the music store?) Of course, Hannah Montana has a variety of hairstyles and clothing articles, more of which are earned through gameplay. That seems like a natural for this kind of game.

Luckily, most of the annoying factors of this adventure mode have been mitigated by smart design; traveling from location to location can be accomplished both by walking or by selecting from a menu; if you attempt to go somewhere as Hannah when you should be Miley, the game offers to change you automatically rather than making you go back to a changing room. The streamlining of the drudgery renders the adventure mode merely inoffensive. To be honest, other game developers would do well to think about those kinds of options.

Unfortunately, the bland adventure mode is a conduit for delivering the player into story-appropriate minigames, which are terrible. From making posters out of a few triangles and squares of construction paper to tracing ice-skating routes, the minigames are completely flat and boring. The photography game, which takes place multiple times per chapter, is especially offensive. It's basically a non-musical rhythm game in which you select the correct pose at the right time as silhouettes of poses scroll by. Slowly. It lasts about eight times as long as it needs to, and you often find yourself roped into multiple consecutive sessions. There are a few rhythm-based minigames, which are the musical instrument interfaces turned into easy minigames. These are not bad, by virtue of the instruments being well-designed, but the MIDI background music is grating and low-quality, which, I imagine, would irritate fans of Hannah Montana's music.

Each chapter ends with the absolute worst minigame: a music video creator. You are judged (against Savannah Starr) on categories like location, outfits, lighting; you are able to see a running tally of your score as you build your video. The only way to succeed in the music video mode is to have as many different outfits, locations, spotlights, and poses as possible in as many scenes as possible. The game is completely a matter of selecting as many items from as many menus as you can until you get bored. At the end, rather than playing the video, you get a final score and the next chapter starts immediately. It's not just pointless, it's time-consuming and annoying.

It is an obvious no-brainer for older or more "traditional" gamers that you should pass on Music Jam. Without the affinity for the license, you're left with a pretty good music program that isn't as feature-rich as Jam Sessions, lifeless adventuring, and execrable minigames. Plus, of course, an embarrassing-looking DS card. But for younger gamers who don't necessarily need as much depth in the music utility, the addition of drums and bass, along with the beloved characters, may make this the superior product. If you look at Hannah Montana Music Jam as Jam Sessions for kids, it is a surprisingly well-designed product. If you look at it as a whole, it just works well for a licensed Disney Channel game.

Final Verdict: 4.5/10

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