It's the eve of the big performance. "I've waited for this for so long!" says Madison (or whoever). You, on the other hand, have waited for about half an hour. That's how long it takes to get from one side of Princess on Ice's Story mode to the other, and while they sometimes say that less is more, the oxymoron is no truer for this game than it is for genitalia or restaurant portions. That is, not at all.
Princess on Ice is aimed is squarely at girls (or boys – I'm not here to judge) who value the opportunity to dress up their characters and spend at least half their time reading cut-scene dialogue about achieving against the odds and spending time with girls who make improbable pledges concerning the longevity of their friendship and say '4' instead of 'for'.
It's a neat and familiar tale. After being spotted by an ice-skating coach while out practising, you participate in a series of increasingly grand contests before finally being crowned 'Princess on Ice'. Between competitions, you spend time with your three friends (the three girls you didn't choose to play as) learning about yourself and buying clothes.
You can play the game with four different characters – Madison, Kelly, Alyssa, Gabrielle – all of whom have comprehensive biographies detailing not only their birthdates and favourite colours, but what they're like to be around.
The problem is, there just isn't enough to the gameplay. Each performance consists of four elements. First, a numbered sequence of ice crystals appears on the screen. Each of them has a shrinking corona, and to skate successfully you have to tap these crystals in the right order and as the corona meets the outline of the crystal.
Then, there are three special moves: jumping, spinning, and stepping. In order, these involve tapping on markers as they overlap in the middle of the screen, spinning a symbol around, and frantically stabbing at an array of tiles that appear and quickly disappear.
Between competitions, you can decide at what level you want to perform these moves. If you choose to do the four star Arabesque, for instance, this is worth more to you if you pull it off than doing the two star Kerrigan.
As you accumulate points, you can spend them on fancy new clothes for your avatar to wear as she dances. Not only is the selection limited, however, but it manages within the modest constraint of just ten options to become bizarre. If you like, you can dance with a rocket pack (disappointingly non-functioning) and cat ears, which is pretty far from the sort of apparel in which a fashion conscious girl is likely to exhibit herself.
To succeed, you need to hit the markers quickly enough to keep the judges happy. Their pleasure is indicated both visually, as they scowl or smile in the top screen, and abstractly with a 'Heat Gauge' that fills and empties in concert with your performance. As you go from level to level the criteria for success grow more demanding, but never enough to give you real trouble. Perfectionists will struggle to attain perfection, and the rest will sleepwalk to the end.
Unfortunately, while the levels may vary in difficulty they don't really vary in anything else. Once you've played the first level, you've played the last in all but difficulty, backdrop, and music.
Music, incidentally, is one of the game's better features, with each competition scored by classical pieces like Pachobel's 'Canon' and Waldteufel's 'Les Patineurs'. They've all been molested by corny drum tracks, of course, but you can't have everything.
The graphics are also fine. In the top screen sits the panel of judges, and in the bottom your avatar sweeps and spins on the ice as you tap the screen. It's an economical interface, and all the information you need is easily visible.
If you want, you can even watch replays of your performances, but I suspect only the most avid ice-skating fan will avail of this opportunity. Why? Because the relationship between what you do with the stylus and what your little skater does on the ice is abstract at best, and every replay comes out looking more or less the same save for the costume you've chosen for her, which itself serves no purpose other than decoration.
What there is of Princess on Ice isn't bad, and while there's very little variety in the gameplay, it simply doesn't last long enough to become boring. It'll provide a passable half hour of entertainment for an adult, and possibly much longer for its intended pre-adolescent audience, but it doesn't quite meet the demands of either.
That is to say, there are too few moves for a proper gamer, and (I suspect) too few costumes for the pre-adolescent girls at whom it's aimed. It's okay, in other words, but there should have been much more of it.