Dangerous High School Girls
Back in March, we featured the demo of a sly, funny, and remarkably creative gem of a game called Dangerous High School Girls In Trouble, recipient of the 2007 "Most Innovative" award from the Casual Games Association. I was so taken by the 30-minute or so demo that I a) played through it twice, b) broke down and played it a third time and c) finally emailed Keith Nemitz, lead designer of Mousechief, to ask him to let me know when the full game would be released. He kindly alerted me several weeks later when the Macintosh version was ready, and I eagerly downloaded the game in its entirety. I was not disappointed.
Describing the game is not easy. The Mousechief website describes it as a "small-town epic of quick little games," which is a fair partial summation, but doesn't quite do justice to DHSGiT's genre-bending uniqueness. I suppose that I'd mainly describe it as a puzzle/RPG hybrid, with board game elements and uniquely created mini-games that function as story elements as well. Which, really, defies categorization. All the disparate elements synthesize remarkably well, however, and the gameplay quickly becomes intuitive.
The premise of the game is that you are the leader of a 1920's era gang of teenage girls, skirt-hiking, rule-bending, flappers-in-training. The girls live in Brigiton, a straitlaced, xenophobic little town just chock full of dirty secrets; the squeaky-clean exterior of the place just serves to accentuate the depravity that will ultimately be revealed. In the midst of adults too timid or narrow-minded to seek truth and justice, your girls must defy the established order, root out corruption, and ultimately save the town from terrible villainy!
The player begins by choosing the "playing card" of one of twelve girls who will become the Queen of your gang. Each girl has different strengths and weaknesses, which are represented by four talents: Popularity, Rebellion, Glamor and Savvy. The talents, in turn, are represented by the four suits of a deck of cards. Each talent is especially useful in playing one of four mini-games: Taunting, Expose, Fibbing and Gambit. As these four games will determine the outcomes of most of the encounters throughout the game, creating a balanced group of girls is crucial.
Once the Queen is chosen, you will proceed onto the first board, the High School (here's where the board game element comes in; different environments are represented by different boards, and the location of encounters are shown with monopoly-esque pieces). The first order of business is recruiting the rest of your gang, and in the process of doing so the game introduces the first three mini-games. From there, the story is off and running.
Analysis: The game is really wonderful stylistically, featuring an impressive number of hand-drawn looking illustrations and environments. I also can't do justice to DHSGiT's fantastic sense of humor; the game is often genuinely hilarious. You'll probably find yourself laughing out loud at the game's cast of eccentric, colorful characters.
Despite the praise I've just heaped upon it, Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble does have its issues. Most prominently, it seemed to me that about 60% of the story was compressed into the last 20% of the game; the revelations come fast and furious, and at times can become mind-boggling. A map system would also have been extremely useful; sometimes it becomes tedious to scroll around the boards looking for encounters. Finally, I found that the tone of the game shifted rather abruptly from sly goofiness to considerably darker. A word of warning, folks: despite the game's mainly lighthearted nature, there is enough mature content to render it unsuitable for younger children.
Still, I highly, highly recommend this game. DHSGiT provides that most unusual and valuable feature, uniqueness; I can pretty much guarantee that you won't have played anything like it. It is extraordinarily entertaining, and long enough (about 20 hours of gameplay, give or take) to contain a really meaty storyline. In many ways DHSGiT exemplifies much of what I love about casual gameplay and independent designers: unrestrained creativity, out-of-the-box conceptual thinking and the quirkiness that comes from freedom of expression. I very much hope that you at the least download the demo.
Download the demo
Mac OS X:
Download the demo