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Right, we're going to come clean with this one straight away. The only reason this is on the list is because we happened to be perusing Xbox Live's Indie Games section when the word 'cheerleaders' caught our eye and we couldn't help but notice how terrible it looked and thought holy shit this game absolutely has to go in the Top 7 as a joke wildcard entry and it will be brilliant because it's terrible and everyone will think we're great and cutting-edge and alternative and all the other things we really wanted to be when we were kids but weren't able to because the bigger boys would beat us up and throw our shoes in a tree and do big spits in our hair.
Above: At first it seemed like such a good idea
But now it's in the list we have to admit that we don't really know how to justify its presence. It's not even terrible in a funny-ha-ha-look-how-terrible-it-is sort of way. It's just terrible. We feel like we've invited the world's ugliest giant to a beauty pageant for dwarves and expected nobody to notice. The idea of the 'game' (we use that term in the same way as we would use 'sports car' to describe a shopping trolley) is to outsmart a cheerleader by correctly answering multiple choice questions from a category of your choosing. The game's USP - which here stands for 'unfeasible shit pile' - is that it features actual real cheerleaders from real life. So we guess that could be a reason why this deserves to be on the list. Real cheerleaders? That's got to beat cheerleaders made of graphics, right?
Above: Then not so much of a good idea
But the fact they are actual human-beings with minds and emotions and feelings and stuff like that makes it worse. And the whole thing just feels really wrong. Like it's some elaborate ruse by a deranged serial killer with a digital camera and a metal plate in his head to audition his next victim. Actually, come to think of it, these women might not even be cheerleaders at all. We're just blindly believing what is in front of our eyes. They could just be women cunningly dressed as cheerleaders. Those pom poms could just be props. Think about it. Anyone with the right contacts can easily lay their hands on pom poms at short notice...
So then. The cheerleaders in 'Are You Smarter Than A Cheerleader' deserve to be on this list because they're the best cheerleaders that are actual life-based organisms that may only be pretending to be cheerleaders in a game that is not so much a game as more just amateur footage of women answering questions about 80s cartoons in locations that look suspiciously like crime scenes waiting to happen. There. Justified. The Top 7 is saved.
We don't really 'do' cheerleaders on the grey and drizzling isle of Englandshire. The local constitution round these parts is one of shuffling, abject glumness and dedicated moping. We languish in a state of self-imposed depression, making endless cups of tea, hoping to drink ourselves into a caffeinated coma and escape the omnipresent gloom of the daily pain. And when that doesn't work we resort to putting kittens in wheelie-bins because that's a better option than actually having to make eye-contact with another human being and 'talking' about our 'emotions' and doing 'therapy'. The whole boundless, carefree enthusiasm thing just isn't for us. But if we did do cheerleaders, they'd probably be something like Clem and Crystal.
Above: Clem and Crystal having a great time in the happy sunny streets of England
It's impossible to not notice that they both have the crazed look of two people whose single purpose in life is to whoop and scream and be bewilderingly happy for the simple reason that cheerleading is, like, totally the best thing to do in the whole wide world and let's hold hands and sing a rainbow for the team. They even spend most of the time talking in the idiotic language of cheers. So on the surface they're pretty much the most annoying mentalists at Psychconauts' Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. But there's a hidden side to Clem and Crystal that appeals to our national sense of despair and despondency.
Above: Clem and Crystal get their own fan art because they deserve it (art by GothicSky)
Beneath the irritating exterior, behind the puppy panting and wagging tail façade, Clem and Crystal have problems of their own. Not stupid shallow problems - like ohmygod Phoebe's such a total bitch and whatever get over it already god what a bitch whatever ohmygod totally - but deep problems. They feel inadequate and insecure. And also a bit psychotic. It turns out that their favourite thing isn't actually cheerleading at all, but trying to commit suicide. First by poison and, when that doesn't work out, they try jumping off a building. However, owing to a lack of structural height, that too doesn't have the desired outcome. But we admire a dedication to failure much more than we admire a dedication to shrieking and jumping and being aggravatingly cheerful. That just winds us up.
In many ways, the cheerleader from Zombies Ate my Neighbors is a perfect analogue for the progression of video games themselves. There she stands, all wide-eyed and happy, sculpted to bright, breezy perfection by naught but the most colourful pixels a SNES can muster. She says everything you need to know about the 16-bit era’s differences from the modern age of gaming. She’s bright. She’s bold. She’s a little brash, but in a warm, well-meaning way. She’s fun and perky. She’s benevolent and unsullied. Despite all of the zombies slinking around the neighbourhood, she’s jumping in the air, waving her arms, and having fun.
Above: Like this
Look at her. Look at her go. There are zombies eating brains, and kids blowing up reanimated corpses with water pistols all over the place, and she’s having a great old time. There are seven shades of gleeful Technicolor carnage going on, and she’s in the middle of it all jumping up and down and cheering. That, friends, is 16-bit gaming. The bit about the progression to modern-day gaming? That comes with the threat of the zombies. You see one bite from a zombie will see an innocent 16-bit cheerleader decay and die, before (according to zombie logic, although you don’t see it in-game) being resurrected as a shambling, monstrous parody of her former self. A horrific, lurid subversion of all that she once was and once stood for. Which bring us to what she would be today.
Above: Like this
Yeah, a generic busty female character in a modern video game. In a modern version of Zombies Ate my Neighbors, this is what she’d look like. And she’d be using one of the game’s many iconic trampolines to get her jiggle-physics-equipped boobs right up in your face at every opportunity. Think not of this image, noble readers. Think of video game women as they once were. As they should be. Not as a simple frame to which to attach boobs and midriffs.