"Though it took a while, the wonderful, challenging, quirky and oh-so-Japanese music game genre has finally been infiltrated and butchered by the unstoppable steam-roller of mainstream America. And what better mascot to usher in this new age than Britney Spears, whose pretty voice and midriff sure can sell CDs, and now, it seems, videogames as well. "
Though it took a while, the wonderful, challenging, quirky and oh-so-Japanese music game genre has finally been infiltrated and butchered by the unstoppable steam-roller of mainstream America. And what better mascot to usher in this new age than Britney Spears, whose pretty voice and midriff sure can sell CDs, and now, it seems, videogames as well.
Britney’s Dance Beat is for all those people who complain that PaRappa the Rapper, Guitar Freaks and Dance Dance Revolution are too hard. In other words, people who are tone-deaf and have no sense of rhythm. Most music games are best enjoyed by people who aren’t total musical morons. For example, I know nothing about wrestling post-Andre the Giant, and as such I wouldn’t go blundering into a wrestling game complaining that it was too hard because I didn’t know any of the rules.
But I digress. My point is that here we have a game that is in every sense a pale and dumbed down imitation of a once-strong genre. Insane Engrishy fun has been replaced with mind-numbing American pop beats. (I don’t know, for some reason when Japanese try to imitate American music I find it much more charming than the real thing.)
All music games have several staples: there is of course a song playing, and some sort of markers scroll by on the screen at the same time. The goal of the player is to tap corresponding buttons in time with the marker to create music. In PaRappa the Rapper, this comes in the form of little PaRappa heads that scroll across a vertical line dotted with symbols that represent buttons on the controller. Guitar Freaks uses a similar lay-out, except that the markers scroll vertically, and more than one can be hit at the same time. In Britney’s Dance Beat there is a kind of round compass-shaped blob with a dial that rotates clockwise overtop of the letters A or B that respond to the buttons on the Game Boy Advance. Pressing the button at the moment the dial sweeps over it will trigger either a Great, Good, or Miss, which are tallied and worked into a final score at the end of the song.
The second staple of a good music game is that it is challenging and that the songs are memorable. While I will not deny that Britney has a decent voice, the music that frames the voice in her songs is artificial beats-from-a-can pop dreck. Even fans of Britney can’t argue with me there and win. While the Game Boy Advance is able to reproduce the sound of the music quite well, it was apparently unable to handle continuous vocal samples, so Britney is barely heard at all except for strategic snippets of voice to highlight the climactic points of the songs. Picture sitting through several minutes of boring background drum loops, listening to comped guitar chords that vaguely outline the verses and choruses of the song, punctuated by the occasional disembodied voice singing “kiss me baby one more time.” Not fun.
So the GBA can’t handle vocals, and Britney’s songs don’t contain the most original instrumental tracks. The game still could have made up for these deficiencies, but failed. The most thrilling thing about music games for me is being able to become part of the creational process of a song—knowing that the buttons I press will affect my listening experience, and that the improvisations I attempt can either enhance or destroy the groove. In Britney’s Dance Beat, the song plows on regardless of what buttons you press, and the only indication that you’ve done something wrong is that the word “Miss” appears on the screen. Therefore, the process of pressing buttons is completely detached from the music, which renders the whole process rather pointless.
The patterns themselves are extremely elementary, and don’t even necessarily follow the flow of the music. In practice mode (the easier of the two modes, the other one being concert mode), the first two songs Baby One More Time and Oops I Did It Again only require you to press the A button! In the final three songs, Stronger, Overprotected and I’m a Slave 4 U, the B button is added into the mix. The L and R buttons are nowhere to be found, which is too bad because they could have added to the complexity. In concert mode, a third technique is required which involves pressing the directional pad at the same time as the A or B button. But it still isn’t really enough to present a long-term challenge or to generate enough excitement for multiple replays.
The patterns are mostly just in quarter notes: you hit the button on every strong beat, i.e. on 1 2 3 and 4. The hardest it ever progresses to is to double the time: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4, but it’s not really that fast when compared to other music games that go totally crazy with the rhythms. All I can say about the patterns is that they were just incredibly boring. The same pattern would get repeated over and over again, before finally switching to a new variation, which would get repeated several times, and so on. I found my attention wandering frequently during the songs. While the higher levels do present more of a challenge, overall the game is way too easy. I was able to get a 99% success rate on most of the songs my first time through, and that was only because I missed a few buttons on purpose just to see what would happen.
All this to an accompanying video visual of Britney flailing around on a stage doing repetitive looped dance moves. She keeps dancing even if you miss your button presses, which is disappointing. It would have been more fun to see her trip and lurch around like the dancers in Bust a Groove do when you miss a beat. She has a new outfit for each song, and even ends I’m a Slave 4 U by posing with her back to us, looking over her shoulder and fondling her own ass. Kinky. While her looks may be enough to sell CDs, it might not be strong enough to sell this game due to the graininess and drably coloured renditions of her on the GBA’s tiny screen. For each song you win, you unlock a new photo of Britney for your “tour book” and can ultimately unlock a music video that is several minutes long. But again, due to the quality of the graphics themselves, this isn’t much of a treat except to a hardcore fan.
If I sound horribly biased, it’s because I am approaching the game from the point of view of someone who knows the music game genre quite well and can recognize that this is a very poor attempt at creating a game in that style. That being said, fans of Britney Spears will probably want to pick this game up just to look at the pictures if nothing else, even though you could better enjoy her music by listening to the real recordings. If you aren’t a fan though, stay away.
Community review by alecto (January 25, 2003)
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