When I saw the title We Cheer I certainly wasn't excited, as cheerleading is possibly the last thing I want to take part in for a video game. When I saw the cover art, which could easily be mistaken as the packaging for a Bratz doll, my interest dipped even further. It felt a lot like something from the Imagine series, aimed squarely at young girls looking for something pink and fluffy to play. But in reality, it's a rhythmic movement game in a cheerleading packaging, which is an unfortunate case of bait and switch that will drive away people who might enjoy the game, and draw in players who can't keep up with the title's demands, while not finding enough cheerleading or cheerleading-related activities to satisfy them.
There are three main modes to this game, the Championship, Cheer-Off and Workout. The action doesn't change much from one mode to another, but they are different enough to get something out of each mode. Championship lets you hit the road to meet other cheerleaders, compete in different locations and perform to different songs, all of which can be unlocked as you progress. This is essentially the career mode, during which you'll use the squad you select and outfit in the options screens. Your options (which expand with more success) are limited mostly to color schemes (including the girls themselves, as your only customizations for them are hair color and skin tone.) Of course, one of the most enjoyable elements of the game is the fact that you can change the name on the front of the uniforms, and there's no censorship. (Use your imagination and the results are beyond rewarding.)
Actually competing in the Championship events is far more challenging than you might expect, thank to a combination of complicated routines (with two levels of difficulty (none of which are easy)) and some questionable game design. As your cheerleaders dance and spin on-screen to any number of catchy and/or popular songs, you are tasked with following along by moving your Wii-motes the way the girls move their pom-poms (like a more complicated Samba de Amigo.) Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the goal of the game as you play, as there are big trace lines that appear (think loopy versions of the guitar neck in Guitar Hero) which are similar to the pom-pom movements. If you try to follow these though, you'll likely end up losing, as the timing is connected to the characters' movements rather than the big, bright visual cues (which are previews of what's coming in a second. Not that that really matters the first few times you play, as the routines are harder than nearly anyrhythm game in recent memory. Like real cheerleading, practice will make perfect, and with repeated play, you'll start getting into the timing of the movements and things will go much smoother.
The music is as surprising as the level of difficulty, with an impressive soundtrack of 30 songs that range from the expected bubblegum pop to dance hits, including "C'mon N' Ride It" & "That's the Way (I Like It)," recent indie rock from The Ataris and Plain White T's and electronica from legends like BT and Moby. You'd have a hard time not finding at least a handful of songs that everyone enjoys, and even when you don't know a song well, they fit the game's concept well. It's beyond easy to get into the game and it may even teach you that you're a better dancer than you think (not that I would know.)
The Cheer-Off is a party version of the main game, so you can play in pairs or with four players (using one remote each.) That's cool for slumber parties and such, but the Workout is where the uber-challenge lies. Being a super-hot cheerleader, fat guys come to you to learn how to lose weight, so you put them through a grueling exercise routine that shrinks them in just minutes. If the main game is hard, this is the Battletoads of cheerleading, as the movements are faster and more manic, making you feel spastic when you can't keep up. Wii Fit is fun, but this is a serious workout. Never before had my Wii-mote jacket becomes so slick with seat as it did within just a few songs of We Cheer.
There are no online elements in this game.
This games requires Daniel Larusso-catching-flies-level reflexes to respond to the on-screen cues, which you can do holding either one or two Wii-motes. Outside of the multi-player mode, where a limit of four inputs forces you to share, one-handed play pales in comparison to having two "pom-poms," as using both hands puts you right into the game's cheerleading concept. That the game doesn't adjust the cues to represent your one-handedness doesn't help either.
Of course, if your movements don't register, you could be using a dozen Wii-motes and it wouldn't matter. In the course of flailing about to try to keep up with the cheerleader on-screen, there were far too many moments where my waving didn't score, indicating I was either too slow or too fast or possibly dead. Now, sure, I'm not a dancer by any measure, but I'm pretty coordinated and, like most gamers, my hand-eye coordination is pretty damn good, so I know the difference between flubbing a cue and a controller issue. That's especially clear when, for some moves, frantically shaking the Wii-mote in the approximate requested direction works. Despite these complaints, when the controls work, which they often do, mimicking the moves feels very natural.
The one place the controls fall flat on its face is the lack of any pause button. That's right. The phone rings? Can't pause. You picked the wrong song? You can't stop and go back. Doing a bad job? Can't restart. It's pretty ridiculous.
It's obvious the look of the characters is inspired by the anime-inspired Bratz dolls, so you get a lot of plastic-looking characters who don't express much emotion, and tons of feminine color splashed all over the screen, in rainbows and flowers and stars and such. The straight-up graphic quality is OK, looking like your standard Wii 3D style, with a soft image and aliasing on the edges of the characters, but the animation on the cheerleaders is outstanding, as the move fluidly through their dance moves. Of course, it's not that easy to notice the little things, as the screen explodes with activity, between thedancing cheerleaders, active (and diverse) backgrounds, movement cues, scoring displays and anything else they can throw in there. It gets really hard to see what's going on at times, which can lead to confusion while trying to keep up. Keeping the cues in a specific area of the screen, as mostrhythm games do, would have helped.
Like far too many Wii games that keep localization to a minimum, the dialogue in this game is limited to a few key words and noises, which works only to annoy players when you hear the same sound over and over. Thankfully, that's a pretty small part of the game, as the majority of the audio is made up of the 30 songs you cheer to, which sound great, getting support in the surrounds for a fuller sound. There aren't a lot of distractions in-game to take away from the music either.
And in the End...
One look at the cover of We Cheer and it's far too easy to skip right past it on the way to another rhythm game, but that would be a mistake, especially if you're looking for a challenge, as few games offer such a solid mix of difficulty and song selection. Unfortunately, if you aren't a teen girl, you kind of want to play this on your own, when no one's around, because twirling and dancing to teen pop isn't most gamers' preferred image (search for We Cheer on YouTube for examples.) If you likerhythm games, especially Samba de Amigo, this is one you really should give a chance.