Reviewed: July 9, 2005
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: June 10, 2005
Konami has pretty much been the uncontested champs in the dancing game genre since…well, since the genre was born. Konami invented dancing games back in the arcade then brought the addiction right into your living room. Hardware vendors were quick to jump on the bandwagon and start releasing specialty dance mats to recreate the arcade experience, but after about ten years some of these hardware people got the idea to release their own software.
Mad Catz was the first to take their shot and the wisely chose to corner the previously unexplored GameCube format. While their dance game was average at best they still enjoy the luxury of having the only title for the system.
RedOctane is another hardware manufacturer who has been making dance mats for a long time, but not just any old dance mats. RedOctane has become synonymous with the best and most durable dance mats on the market. So when it came time to bundle their own dance game with their mat they went to Roxor and the results are nothing short of [dance dance] revolutionary.
In the Groove is likely to be the best-kept secret of 2005 as one of the best dancing games you probably can’t buy, at least easily. The game has been out for nearly a month now and I have yet to see it in a store; any store, which means that after you have read this review and you are all hot for this title, head on over to RedOctane and purchase your copy right from their online store. And pick up a dance mat while you’re there.
Chances are that if you are reading this review then you are already interested in dancing games and you have likely already played the DDR games from Konami, so your logical question is, “Why do I want to play In the Groove?” Fair question.
Let’s start with 70 amazing tracks, and I’m talking tracks that you likely have never heard of before unless you hang out in European techno clubs. I’ve seen some people criticizing this game for its lack of “licensed” music. Actually, the music in this game is licensed; it’s just not the same pop-40 fluff you hear on a daily basis, but who wants to hear the same stuff you can hear on the radio everyday?
The presentation mirrors that of DDR, both in game modes and difficulty, but where the two games diverge is the sheer number of options and “mods” you can tweak in this game. Mods are arrow modifiers that change the readability of the arrow from the standard linear path towards the “target bar.” In The Groove modifiers change things like scroll speed, animation path, perspective, rotation, or even effects like blinking or invisibility.
Some “mods” change the step pattern by insert steps or even mines that explode to cause loss to the life bar. Mods are stackable so that the scalability of difficulty is exponential. Mods are also used to smooth out the difficulty jumps between the 4-5 levels of step charts for each song.
The difficulty of the game ramps up significantly. Novice and Easy are fun modes that allow you to ease into the action but once you get into the Medium and higher levels the game gets downright evil, and that’s before you throw in the mods. And some songs are just plain insane no matter what level you are playing. Take for example the final song on the list (when sorted by BPM) that peaks at 600+ beats per minute. Even on Easy the arrows are streaking across the screen at Mach 3.
As traditional with these dance games, you are graded on your accuracy and your ability to successfully stream combos, but in In the Groove your combos continue to rack up between songs within a dance session or even between separate games. My record so far is a 1,128-step combo that spans six songs, and you can’t even imagine the pressure when that combo is counting up that high.
Grades range from F up to A and even some shiny silver S rankings for the ultimate dancer. You also have a “life meter” that slowly rises the more steps you land correctly and decreases with each miss. If the meter is totally drained you lose the game, even if you are in the middle of a multi-song dance mode session.
To flesh out the dance modes you have a Battle option that allows you to go up against another dancer. The trick here is that you each have a level meter that rises faster the more accurately you place your dance steps. Fantastic and Excellent will max that meter fast and each time you max the meter the other player gets a new mod added to their side which will hopefully trip them up.
A Fitness mode allows you to set and track calorie requirements and either dance until you have burned x-many calories or just dance and keep track of the calories burned. Naturally, you can’t be sitting on the couch eating Cheetohs and playing with a Dual Shock to reap the rewards from the game mode.
There is also a Marathon mode that offers you a choice of several song “packages”, basically a collection of 4-5 songs with a similar theme or difficulty. Naturally, you could pick these same songs yourself in the normal dance mode but it’s still nice to have these collections for easy picking.
In the Groove is a visual feast for the eyes. All of the art and flash video is crisp and clean and often a bit hypnotic. There are custom screens for many of the songs and the backgrounds are event synched to change and pulse with the beat of the music making them highly integrated into the audio tracks.
The menus are colorful, easy to navigate and read. This same clarity carries over into the gameplay, which is still a bunch of arrows, but now you can chance them from metallic to cel-shaded. The various mods all have very unique and dynamic visual effects that generally make synching the arrows much more difficult.
There is a potential for the pulsing words like “Fantastic” and “Way Off” to interfere with your stream of arrows so the designers have given you the option to disable this level of feedback. The backgrounds can also get rather complicated with fireworks, rotating 3D, morphing imagery, and other stunning graphics that make the game just as much fun to watch as it is to play. Best of all, no matter how “busy” the backgrounds, they never overwhelm the arrow stream or hinder the gameplay.
My only one minor complaint was the Mods menu, which can get a bit overwhelming with line after line of mod options, but despite its complexity, it is handled brilliantly and both players can navigate and toggle options simultaneously with colored brackets confirming their choices.
I’ve listened and played through all 70+ songs in this game and everyone one of them is excellent. There were only two songs that I didn’t really get into, and even then I liked the music, I just found them hard to dance to. The song library covers all dance genres including a few trippy remixes of classical and Irish folk dances.
Many of the songs reference gaming in some way or another and there’s even a rap song about “Penny Arcade”. My only regret was that there is no jukebox option to just play the music without playing the game. And if there ever was a game that I would buy the soundtrack for, this is it. With this game and an abandoned warehouse I could run the hottest rave in town.
If you wanted to get technical and do the math you have 70+ songs at an average of three minutes each, or just about four hours to complete the entire library. Then you multiply that by five skill levels for 20 hours and factor in the impossibility and numerous retries for the harder levels and you are looking at 60+ hours of movin’ and groovin’.
The Battle mode will certainly appeal to the competitive gamers out there and let’s face it, if there is a girl (or girls) anywhere near this game while it’s running they will be irresistibly drawn to your PS2. And the Fitness mode is perfect to get you all buff before those girls start beating down your door.
In the Groove is loaded with original music, modes, and brilliant game design that is targeted toward the more advanced dancer. The mod system keeps this game fresh forever and with more than 550 step patterns to master your legs will run out of juice long before this game does.
The tutorial and the easier skill levels will certainly accommodate the novice players but there is no mistaking that this game is targeted for DDR veterans looking to take their game to a whole new level. If you think you are up for it, then it’s time to get In the Groove.