A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
As the game allows the player to direct the flow of the storyline, messages received may vary. Some are questionable, such as the idea that watching television is necessary to be popular (so that you are familiar with pop culture). But even messages like that are tempered because in this game too much TV-watching can lead to your grades dropping or athletic performance sagging. Storylines also promote friendship, loyalty, acceptance of differences, forgiveness, and lots of other great stuff. And there's plenty of focus on the importance of exercise and studying. While the opportunity to be a poor student exists in the game, many comments and events in the game make it obvious that it's better to be a good one.
Positive Role Models
For every kid in the game who suggests you work out or spend some extra time studying, there's another who tries to start a fight or tempt you into skipping class. What you do in the game is your choice, but there are always consequences to every action. Skipping class may make you a slightly more popular with certain kids, but your GPA may slip and your dad may not buy you that car he promised.
Ease of Play
Most of the time, you're simply choosing from a list of possible lines to say to people, but many events are played out through either word games or quick-tap reflex games, all of which start off relatively easy, but become gradually more challenging as the game goes on. The quizzes, which are very much like actual high school quizzes, can be quite tough sometimes (Do you know the last ruling dynasty of ancient China?), but failing just means you need to do homework for extra credit.
Violence & Scariness
There are a few points in the game in which fights take place, but those fights are not depicted visually, and are only "acted out" through Boggle-type word games in which players search for terms like "punch," "shove," or "dodge." Depending on their choices, players may also come across jokes about horror movies that the characters watch, with references to serial killers, zombies, etc.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A big part of the game revoles around dating. Characters consistently refer to the "hotness" of others, and opportunities to "make out." Kisses between teens are described verbally in the game, but never shown. One story arc can involve a date in which the male protagonists spends the night in bed with his girlfriend, but the scene ends with them merely snuggling and saying they should get some sleep. There are also scenes in which students may catch faculty members kissing and engaging in some randy talk ("Bite my ear, you saucy strumpet") which is meant to be humorous.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Surviving High School touches upon some realistic aspects of teen life--dating (and the physicality associated with dating), cutting class, fighting with bullies -- that may give certain parents pause. One possible scenario has a boy snuggling with a girl all night long. Whether or not such behavior occurs in the story depends upon the player's choices. Understand, though, that nothing graphic is ever shown on screen, and pretty much all behavior in the game has its own consequences. In fact, the game can be looked at as a lesson in the importance of making good choices. This game is only available on the Nintendo DSi as a download.
Is It Any Good?
Surviving High School is basically a playable teen soap opera, but that description doesn't give it enough credit. The characters are incredibly well-drawn (and not just visually), the dialogue can be very funny, and the plot can even be surprisingly touching in parts. Teens will definitely be engaged--and probably unwilling to put the game down between episodes. The inclusion of very real educational material is surprising, but laudable. And the tap-style football games (quickly tap the highest yardage numbers as they appear) makes the game palatable for non-jock types (who are probably a big part of the audience). Although the protagonist is a male by default, girls will probably also be interested in playing--and several of the bonus episodes have female protagonists. The game flirts with some ethically challenging scenarios, but that only makes it more appealing and, frankly, more relevant. Teens who are into the interactive story format should absolutely love Surviving High School.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.