Bust A Groove (PlayStation) review
"After an ongoing farce in which I kept trying to buy 'Bust a MOVE' second-hand, and kept failing miserably (right disc, wrong cover... right cover, wrong disc... you name it, it happened), I unexpectedly found myself the confused owner of the famous but untried-by-me Bust A GROOVE. And before I knew it, I was "
After an ongoing farce in which I kept trying to buy 'Bust a MOVE' second-hand, and kept failing miserably (right disc, wrong cover... right cover, wrong disc... you name it, it happened), I unexpectedly found myself the confused owner of the famous but untried-by-me Bust A GROOVE. And before I knew it, I was
The uber-dance battle game is so tremendously, insidiously enjoyable, that it will make you weep for your lack of real dancing ability. I like to tell people in everyday life that I have 'Dancing Genes', which I can get away with since they know my sister is a real dancer. Then I tell them that I've made a conscious choice not to use my powers. Or at least that I only use them for good... which means when nobody else is looking.
In Bust A Groove, ten of the world's coolest dancers must outdance each other, almost in the style of a one-on-one fighting game, in the quest for ultimate dance supremacy. There's a mad subplot about an inspirational power from outer space called DANCE ENERGY GROOVE-A-TRON, but the less you think about that, the more brain cells you will retain.
The premise is fiendishly simple. In each round, which lasts for the duration of a song, you control your dancer by keeping the beat with the Circle and X buttons, inbetween pulling off patterns of D-Pad movements delivered onscreen via the Dance Meter, five at the most. Successfully executed moves increase your Coolness meter, which in turn increases your dancing level in graded fashion. With each level increase, known as a FREEZE!, you will be offered more exotic (and harder to execute) dance combinations by the Dance Meter, with alternative lines appearing where you can choose which way to bend your dance routine. Choose the first line if you're sweating and want some easier moves, and choose the second if you're ambitious and you know you are well on the way to a booty-shaking extravaganza.
The more routines you string together, the more combos you rack up, which is the primary method of scoring invisible points and making the game's camera crane away from your opponent and towards YOU! Yes, this game's scoring principle is vanity. If you dance up a lather of coolness, the camera first swings your way then zooms in to exalt in your greatness. When the song finishes, whomever is favoured by the camera is the winner. You can also try to knock your opponent down twice per song with 'hinder' moves (except during their solo sections) but with good timing, you or your opponent can dodge each other's hinders and actually gain in Coolness by doing so.
Some people find the camera system a bit cheap, since you can dance well for a fair while, then fluff up maybe once at a critical point and lose the battle. But I say, 'It is what it is.' It reflects the cattiness of two dancers trying to outdo each other dynamically. You'll see your foe do something really amazing, then you'll think, 'Right, I'll show them!' The camera system captures this mentality very well, and it produces many great moments of excitement as you struggle to pull the camera back your way.
The Big Production Number
For technique and sheer joyful energy, Bust A Groove would have to be one of the most brilliantly executed games on the Playstation. The characters have a degree of cute anime design about them whilst retaining the lithe human qualities which allow them to dance their little hearts out. The motion-capture and its implementation is, frankly, unbelievable. Each dancer has an utterly distinctive dancing style to match their theme song. Hot-pantsed Pinky does seventies funk, the gangster Strike moves Dangerously like Michael Jackson, and Gas-O can break dance whilst wearing a gas-mask (YOU try that! Heck, just try breakdancing, period.) Hiro, the white-suited Travolta wannabe, tends to be most people's favourite, as nobody can restrain laughter at his hilariously vain gestures or the unbelievable lyrics of his theme song:
I'm the natural playboy of town
and I'm blowing every mind,
'cos I'm one of a ki-ind!
My least favourite dancer would have to be the dreaded Kelly, with her fluffy baby suit (ARRRRGH! She's a grown woman! GET HER OUT OF THERE, GET HER OUT!) and her diet lite theme song:
'Nobody knows meeeee, til I say 'HI, I'm Kelly!'
My favourite character has come to be Shorty, the twelve-year old scamp with her back-to-front baseball cap, floppy oversized sweater and soft toy stuffed in her backpack. I'm not sure how to describe her dancing - it's the kind of groove that might evolve into the moves of Billie Piper when she grows up - but I sure do like her attitude.
The songs are uniformly excellent too, and very entertaining. Everyone will quickly find a favourite amongst the various techno, rap, hip-hop and funk styles, and the cute lyrics will come back to haunt you after you've turned off the game. I like Kitty-N's song the best. It has a lot of techno energy, but somehow also has poignant minor melodies, and lyrics which are at once dumb and of interplanetary significance, like those of any great pop song.
There's a home stage for each dancer, and in the style of Parapper the Rapper or Um Jammer Lammy, these are set-pieces with fun visual developments occurring as the song plays. In Shorty's candy park for instance, lollies start blowing across the arena as snowmen and friends join in the dance in the background. Heat (ex car-racing breakdancer) has the whole building erupt into flames around him, and Frida (cute and healthy graphic artist) finds her beachside apartment torn apart by a storm.
So much care and imagination has been put into every element of Bust A Groove that it's the kind of truly endearing game experience you can grow to love. The only tension remains in the gameplay, which isn't sophisticated enough for longevity. Still, as with any musical game, there's a certain vibe that makes it stresslessly fun to play at any time, especially against a friend. There are some neat secret characters you can unlock. The dancing is always a joy to behold, and I'd rate it as one of the most surprising achievements on the Playstation. For the majority of people interested in this game, these things will be more than enough. However, I'm still going to take you further into the gameplay to show you something surprising.
Yes, deeper scrutiny of the gameplay by a Bust A Groove master (that's ME you fool!) reveals that it's not deep enough to discriminate between players beyond a certain not-too-hard-to-attain level, thus the challenge factor is wounded. But I found one crazy road you can go down to overcome this and then some...
First, everyone goes through the learning stage where you get on top of the game's basic disciplines, keeping the beat, copying the patterns. Second, you'll work in the skills of hindering your opponent, and dodging his/her hinders, which becomes especially relevant when you play on Hard. The third level is when you're starting to learn and know the dynamics of the individual songs. You'll know when and where the solos strike, when best to dance your heart out to achieve a FREEZE!, and when to unleash a hinder for maximum damage.
At this point (and it didn't take you that long to get here) you're really good, and persistence on Hard will bring a certain degree of mastery of the game as a whole. There is very little to discriminate between two players who have reached this level, which means that your two player battles, as fun as they can still feel in spirit, are lacking in skill and zest. It's mostly a question of 'Who won't make a mistake this time?'
Which is why I suggest you press on to the following INSANE discipline!
TURN OFF THE DANCE METER
'But with the blast-shield down, I can't see a thing!'
-- Luke Skywalker whining when Obi-Wan started teaching him THE FORCE
So you've turned off the Dance Meter. Now you can't see the flashing beat-keeper, you can't see the proffered dance combinations at any point, no-one's telling you which way to push the D-Pad or what buttons to press... You can't see JACK my friend! It's just you, the music and your controller.
With absolutely no onscreen aid, you're going to have to learn and memorise line after line of combos and button-presses to put together a basic dance inventory. Better still, you'll now have your eyes glued to your dancer's body movements instead of the Dance Meter as you play, so that you can actually feel and judge when to do what, and you will start to really live the dance moves. If you mess up, you'll have to have a recovery strategy which varies for the different dance levels, and this requires a lot of mental dexterity on top of the physical.
Savage as this was at first (start out on Easy to practise your basic moves), I found this to be a galvanising experience which took my enjoyment of the game to a whole new level. When you can beat the game on Hard without the Dance Meter, then you can call yourself a true Bust A Groove master!
(Good luck finding anyone else as good as yourself to play with, though.)
FINAL GROOVY ASSESSMENT
- Dancing so amazingly portrayed, you wonder how they pulled it off
- Joyous, catchy soundtrack
- Clever, endearing characters
- Gameplay is easy to pick up
- Turn off the Dance Meter and suddenly you've got a whole new game
- One of the great audiovisual achievements for the PSX
- Gameplay is a little TOO simple
In short, Bust A Groove is fantastic fun, and it's obvious why it became such an influential hit for the Playstation. I'll be seeking out the sequels and variants and hoping that the gameplay has been tweaked.
-- Bust A Groove -- 8/10 --
Community review by bloomer (March 07, 2004)
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