As this blog goes on, there’s a number of titles that will probably be brought up again and again. Most of them are understandable to some degree, like Waku Waku 7 or Jak X. However, there is one game that is sure to raise an eyebrow every time I mention it: We Cheer.
That’s somewhat problematic as, knowing myself, it will probably be brought up on a number of different topics: Good Wii games? We Cheer. Unique music games? We Cheer. Games that actually make good use of the Wiimote? We Cheer. Lost gems? Obscure titles? Stuff you thought would suck but ended up being awesome? Let me tell you about We Cheer.
So, I figured it was about time I sat down and explained, in detail, why I love We Cheer so much. No, I am not kidding. This is not me trolling the internet, though it’s easy to understand why someone would think that. After all, we are talking about this:
Yes, when I say “We Cheer” I mean that. One look at those covers and anyone would think that the game inside would be the very definition of “casual garbage”, a half-assed piece of shovelware only a complete moron would buy. But in reality, nothing is further from the truth. We Cheer is easily one of the finest games on Wii, a shockingly competent title that takes full advantage of what the Wii can do and provides a fun and entertaining gaming experience.
I’m still being completely serious. I mean, I did do three different episodes of my show devoted to it. Still not convinced? Look in the lower right hand corner of the box. See that logo? It’s made by Namco.
Enough begging you to believe me, it’s time I got to explaining. That should be more than enough to convince you that I really mean it. So then, why do I like We Cheer?
Well, for starters, I love the music/rythm game genre. I got into them back when Bust A Groove was released (still one of my all time favorites). At one point I even went so far as to try and play every single music game ever made, including imports, and nearly succeeded before Guitar Hero hit! With this in mind, my favorite music games are the ones that have a unique playstyle and aren’t just Bemani clones.
A Bemani-styled game is one like DDR, Guitar Hero, or Rock Band. Notes scroll across the screen and when they reach the marker you hit the appropriate button. This is the standard way music games are done and it’s not bad. However, it’s been done before and often. It’s generic and uninteresting. Titles like Bust A Groove or Gitarooman, however, use different playstyles. They find new and unique ways for you to rhythmically play the game.
What’s more, I’m often annoyed by the danmaku-esque note spam that plagues Bemani-style games. Often playing them well is less about rythm and musical talent and more about deciphering a near unreadable stream of commands at high speed with the lightning reflexes to hit the notes with the proper timing. It’s a challenge and a skill that I respect and it may even have similarities to playing a piano, but it’s a far cry from the kinds of music games I enjoy. This is especially true of dancing games. Sure the Bemani-styled play may bare a decent resemblance to reading music and playing an instrument, but it has nothing to do with dancing.
So then, how does We Cheer work? Well, you take two Wiimotes, one in each hand. Arrows appear on screen, coinciding with the routine the cheerleaders in the background are doing and you preform the appropriate motion with the right speed and timing. In essence, mimicking the routine the cheerleaders are preforming.
It seems like such an obvious concept at first, right? Of course something like this would be on the Wii! But you see, there’s a big difference between having a good concept and doing it right.
I’ve played a lot of Wii games and as anyone will tell you, poor controls are the most common issue with these games. Even first party Nintendo titles, when they bother to use the motion controls, have these issues! The fact of the matter is that the Wiimote is a terrible controller. I could go into why, but that is an article for another time I assure you. This is a fact many reviewers conveniently forget when covering a title like We Cheer.
With that in mind, it’s very difficult to do a good music game on the Wii. Trust me, being a fan of the genre I’ve subjected myself to a lot of them. Most just go with the standard Bemani-style system except asking the player to waggle in different directions. Even that is difficult to do as the programmers have to make up for misread motions and the inevitably off timing. The few that do require actual motions usually have a pool of about ten different actions. You then perform these actions in a rhythmic loop until the game asks you to switch to a different action.
Now, let’s look at We Cheer again. These aren’t canned actions from a small handful of motions. Each song has it’s own unique choreography with each motion smoothly flowing into the next.
What’s more is the use of two Wiimotes. Some might ask why they don’t just use the nunchuck, but I assure you they have good reason. Me and some friends have tried Wii music games that used the nunchuck for such motions and found ourselves either nearly ripping the nunchuck cord from it’s socket or lashing ourselves with the cord as we played. The nunchuck just isn’t meant to be used as a second Wiimote.
Now, keep in mind that Namco was smart and We Cheer gives players the option to play with just a single Wiimote. However, the dual Wiimote control scheme adds an extra layer of complexity to the game that really makes things interesting. Players have to coordinate both hands and often preform two different motions simultaneously!
No doubt you’re starting to see how big a departure from Bemani-esque gameplay this is. Rather than inputting commands as fast as you can at the right time, you have to do each motion flowing from one into another with not just the proper timing but also the right speed! What’s more, the cheerleaders in the background aren’t fluff. No, they’re actually a vital part of the interface showing you the exact motion you need to be doing with the exact timing as well. The best way to tell when an arrow is about to go off is to watch the cheerleaders in the background.
But this raises the next question: Why does it work? One reason is because they use the AiLive middleware to help with the programming of motion detection. Every time that logo has shown up, with one distinct exception, I have seen above average (read: actually functional) motion detection.
The second reason is because We Cheer is only ever trying to detect one motion at a time. In other titles, the Wii has to differentiate between a number of different possible motions. Did the player shake up, down, left, or right? Often there’s some crossover in the detection and two motions can get confused, leading to faulty control. In We Cheer though, there’s only one motion: the right motion. It just has to detect how close to the proper motion you came and with the appropriate amount of leniency this works quite well.
So then, good motion controls and unique gameplay. These alone are reason enough to give We Cheer massive amounts of praise, but it goes the extra mile.
Most Wii games, the ones that really are shovelware, are very dry with little flash or needless polish. We Cheer, however, is actually well presented. The routines are well choreographed and the mocap is solid with no awkward bobbly body parts. There’s a large number of cheerleaders all moving together and plenty of stages. Each stage has a number of animated bits in the background as well. What’s more, the better you do the more animated the stage becomes, often filling with fireworks and particle effects. These are all nice touches that show how much further Namco was willing to go. But, to me the big kicker was Hard Mode. If you played on Hard, the stages would switch to nighttime variants with slightly different background bits. The most notable of these was the baseball stage, which replaced it’s baseball balloons with Pac-Man and ghosts! A pleasant reminder that this was no ordinary cheerleading game. The fact that Namco actually made night variants of the stages for Hard Mode was an excellent touch. It’s the kind of thing one should expect out of a quality videogame, and that’s exactly what We Cheer is!
But the real kicker was the sequel, We Cheer 2. Namco went above and beyond the call of duty with this one! Aside from the music, of course, all of the content of the original returned but was completely overhauled! The cheerleaders were taller and less super deformed, making them seem less Bratz-esque and more natural in their movement. All the stages returned too but were remodeled as well with more detail. My favorite example was the aforementioned Pac-Man balloons in the baseball stage, which now bobble around like actual balloons. Balloon physics in a freaking cheerleading game. Who does that? Who would go out of their way to add such a ridiculous detail?! Namco would, apparently.
But it’s more than that, the presentation was utterly overhauled and greatly enhanced. The main menu now featured your main cheerleader at the front with your entire custom squad in the background with your custom emblem flying on a flag overhead. If you chose to look at your photo album, your character would actually walk up to one of the other cheerleaders and look at her yearbook. If you chose to edit the outfit? She’d go to the locker room. Change the squad lineup? She’d approach the chalkboard with the lineup on it.
These minor details had no effect on the gameplay, but it added a distinct level of polish not present in most Wii games.
Of course there were plenty of other additions, like the aforementioned customization. It was downright insane what you could do with your squad! You could edit every single character, choosing from a variety of eyes, mouths, and hairstyles and editing the colors of them all. Hair color and highlights could be altered individually through a simplified slider bar and you could even go so far as to change lipstick colors! If you wanted to make a hot goth chick with black and red hair and purple lipstick, you could!
Then, of course, the clothing. While mostly re-textures, there were still literally hundreds of outfit parts to unlock. It was insanity. Heck, they even kicked the Namco references up a notch for some reason! Now there was an entire stage that was a giant Pac-Man or Galaga machine (depending upon if you went there during the day or night) with the appropriate themesong playing beforehand. Pac-Man and Special Flag face paint could be purchased, and Kuma and Panda from Tekken even show up in exercise mode. Arguably that makes We Cheer 2 part of the Tekken canon taking place between Tekken 5 and 6. Okay that might be going a bit too far, but it’s still a fun thing to point out!
But the gameplay changes were perhaps the smartest thing they did. The original We Cheer was difficult and unforgiving. You either did things exactly right or you failed. Some reviewers claimed the controls didn’t work. However, considering I was able to get 100% completion on the original, beating every song on every difficulty level and getting every piece of clothing, I think I can safely say that We Cheer’s controls worked. The scoring was just very strict, no doubt Namco was afraid they were too lenient due to the way the controls worked.
For We Cheer 2 though, they changed the scoring a bit. Firstly they added a new Easy Mode, a very wise choice for newcomers. Then they tweaked the scoring on Normal, now being a little bit too fast or slow would still count, you would just get less points. This change made the game drastically more playable. To counter this, the complexity of the routines was kicked up a notch. Of course, just in case someone was already a We Cheer veteran, there was Hard Mode which used the old scoring system but the new more complex routines. This provided a very difficult challenge, ensuring that We Cheer 2 wouldn’t devolve into mindless waggling.
So, now you can understand why I love We Cheer so much. It’s a solid, well made game with a good level of polish and a unique playstyle that takes full advantage of the Wiimote. Throw in my love of customization and it’s no wonder I love We Cheer so much!
But this raises one final question amongst some gamers. The concept of a made for America cheerleading game from Namco is pretty bizzare. Surely, We Cheer is actually an Americanized version of a similar or superior Japanese game, right?
Well believe it or not I did an entire episode devoted to that question. But to answer it now, the opposite is actually true. In Japan, Namco released a similar game called Happy Dance Collection. However, it was developed later and is actually inferior to We Cheer. It only uses one Wiimote, there’s only 5 stages, only 25 songs, the motion detection isn’t as good, and the dance routines are way more simplistic with little “waggle moments” thrown in.
It was alright, but I can safely say that We Cheer was superior. So much so, in fact, that it was later brought back to Japan almost completely unchanged from the US release aside from the addition of two bonus songs on a special preorder disc. We Cheer 2 is headed to Japan right now and also looks to have few, if any, changes made to it.
So, am I recommending We Cheer to you? Well, if you like dancing around like a fool, then yes. It’s a fantastic game, though I recommend starting with We Cheer 2 due to the difficulty level of the original.
Do I hope Namco will make a We Cheer 3? Of course I do! Though, in all honestly, I hope they make We Dance instead. Same gameplay, slightly different theme. Not only would We Dance attract a larger audience, as DDR fans might actually give it a second glance (and look and Just Dance’s ridiculous sales figures), but in all honesty they’ve run out of things to do with cheerleaders. Seriously, every classic cheerleader song is covered, every possible cheerleading uniform can be made, and every sports event that has cheerleaders can be cheered at (and quite a few that don’t). Namco could still surprise me though.
Regardless of if it’s We Cheer 3 or We Dance, I do hope to see more of the series. It’s an impressive and fun game and easily one of the Wii’s finest. Just don’t expect to enjoy it if you don’t like dancing, obviously.