Coming up with a new rhythm game has to be one of the most tricky genres to design for. Just about every kind of music game that could be made has already been done, which makes it hard to come up with a unique spin on the format. It's even harder when you're attempting to make the title appeal to an art form respected worldwide for its expression and its creativity. Definitely a daunting task to take on, but Evolved Games decided to try with its take on breakdancing with B-Boy. Although it came out in Europe a few years ago, SouthPeak Interactive has decided to bring the game over to North American shores, recently releasing the dancing rhythm game here. Unfortunately, with weak controls, somewhat bland gameplay and missing features, even fans of breakdancing will find themselves less than thrilled with this title.
The main thrust of the game revolves around Livin' the Life, the story-based mode where players take their created B-Boy or B-Girl from complete obscurity to dancing superstar. The tale is rather standard as far as most of these stories go -- your created character is mentored by a well known B-Boy, Kool Rock, who instructs you on how to become an incredible dancer. He also introduces you to The Lab, the hub of the game where he tutors you in the basics of how to move. Unlike most dancing titles, B-Boy revolves around one of four separate kinds of base moves: Top Rock, Six Step, Windmill and Baby Freeze. Each one of these are assigned to a face button, and the basic format of these moves can be triggered by hitting the corresponding button. However, things get trickier as you start defeating opponents and start learning steps, as you assign various combinations and harder moves to more complicated button inputs. For example, by hitting Circle, you can trigger a windmill, but hitting Up and Circle will cause you to perform a backspin.
Part of the challenge with the dance moves is stringing together these steps into a cohesive routine, one that highlights your style and your rhythm with each particular step. For example, as a basic step, the Top Rock is a great way to set up a secondary move like the Windmill or the Six Step, eventually ending with a Baby Freeze move. But as you'll quickly discover, dancing is much more complicated than hitting the face buttons. Players also have to focus on maintaining the rhythm of the songs that are playing during their performance, tapping either the L or R buttons in time with the music makes sure that your dancer keeps the beat of the track, which determines how well you are performing your various maneuvers.
Improperly timing or missing your button presses will throw off your character, and hitting specific moves on the wrong kind of beat will throw them off as well. There are two different kinds of beats (apart from the yellow freeze zone): a blue beat that is set up for transitions between moves, and orange break beats that keep the song moving.
This actually contributes to one of the largest problems within the game, which is that you'll find that the control scheme is way more convoluted than the title actually needs to be. For instance, you'll use the D-pad to both move your dancer and set up specific moves. The problem is that the game won't always distinguish what you're trying to do, so you'll frequently find that you're trying to trigger a dance move and your character will move to the side, completely missing the transition beat and ruining your rhythm or timing. What's more, some of the dance moves completely throw off the possibility of maintaining the rhythm of a song, which can destroy your chances of successfully keeping the beat. For example, if you perform any Freeze move, you'll need to use the L and R buttons to balance yourself. But since you also need to use these buttons to maintain the beat, you're already missing elements, and when you come out of the sequence, you're behind the eight ball as far as rhythm is concerned. If you solely had to focus on button combinations for dances, or hitting various buttons for certain songs, that would be one thing, but this is way too messy for any title.
Even with this hampered control system, players will find a surprising amount of depth as far as the dance moves are concerned. As players earn new steps, they'll be able to take these steps to their practice floor and attempt to work on their timing. The more you use a particular step either in practice or against your competition, the more your dancer will become comfortable with it, eventually "leveling" it up by adding new transitional moves. This RPG-lite functionality means that you'll be able to expand significantly on your repertoire, and you'll start to notice that your dancer will break out a different move from one to the other. That doesn't wind up alleviating the control issues that the title has, but it is a different twist on constantly seeing the same transitions from one to another over and over again ad infinitum.
Once you start to feel comfortable with your dancing, you'll want to take on skill challenges set to you by opponents, who are scattered across 21 separate locations. As you get ready to battle your opponent, you'll be informed of what kinds of performance elements you need to focus on to win medals. There are five separate medals that you'll be evaluated on, ranging from chaining moves together cleanly to trying to use as many steps as possible. At first, players will follow their opponent, but as time goes on, you'll be able to throw down a marker to try to determine who goes first during a round. If you choose properly, players try to swing the momentum of the crowd and the performance in their favor, dancing as well as possible to lock down these trophies. Once time is up, their competition follows them up, trying to swing the medal back to their side. Since you only need to have one medal on your side to win when time runs out, a hard fought battle can be won or lost in the last few seconds of a performance.
While that adds to the tension of a battle, a couple of problems complicate this concept. For one, since the medals won aren't hidden by the computer, players will discover that it's much better to let the computer go ahead and attempt to set the tempo of a match. This way, they know exactly what kinds of moves they need to focus on to beat their opponents. As a result, most of the battles are way too easy for you to win, which decreases the fun and challenge associated to the title. For another thing, players are supposed to be able to perform disses or other distractions to interrupt opponents or capitalize on their mistakes. This is important because this allows you to perform special entrances and finishing dance moves. However, because the game doesn't always recognize what direction you push on the analog stick or accurately display the corresponding maneuver, you'll find your dancer standing around more often than actually doing something on the sidelines. That makes these steps useless and ineffectual, and is particularly exaggerated when you put together a crew and attempt to switch back and forth between dancers, only to watch as both don't do what you want them to. Since these issues also carry over to the single play B-Boy Jam sessions, which are quick round battles, it's rather apparent that this is just an overall flaw with the gameplay instead of something that's simply restricted to one mode or another. Since you're constantly going through this over and over again battle after battle, this gets rather tedious very quickly.
Apart from these gameplay elements, it's rather disappointing to read segments of the instruction manual that are blatantly pulled from the PS2 version of the game without addressing the PSP hardware. A couple of times within the manual, you're directed to use the R3 and L3 buttons, which plainly don't exist on the PSP. Considering that it tells you to do so for crew switching during two on two battles, this is pretty bad. On top of this, the game advertises on the box and even writes in the manual about having Ad Hoc play, but the option is simply not included within the PSP version. Greg and I both tried to hop into a multiplayer match, but weren't able to even when we tried to follow the instructions in the manual – the network option isn't included whatsoever.
One thing that does stand out are the dancing animations for the game, thanks to the attention paid to the motion capture of more than 800 moves. As a result, you'll see an amazing variety of maneuvers that are truly incredible, from head spins and helicopters to turtles and halo steps. It's clear that the dancers associated with the game are unbelievably talented. Unfortunately, you'll find that the animation on the PSP version feels a bit slower than the action of the move, so a few frames will stutter, making some of the transitions not move as smoothly as it should. The rest of the visuals are rather poor. Most of the faces of the dancers look about the same, with a limited amount of variations for their heads, clothes and body types. The same can be said about the crowd, which is practically stamped out with the exact same crowd animations that are carbon copied over and over again. It would be fine if the battle was taking place in an arena, but when you see three or more guys in a row on the sidelines of a beach constantly perform the same action at the same time, that doesn't work well. Then again, it doesn't really work well when the camera obscures your view of your dancer performing as well, making it hard to see where the rhythm beats are so you can pull off your steps. It's one thing if the game focused on your feet or on your dancer from a top down view, but the camera will frequently get stuck within a crowd member or a rival, making it almost impossible to complete a sequence of steps. Finally, for a title that has an incredible set of mo-capped moves, the limited number of cutscenes that are constantly replayed over and over again at the end of a performance are truly disappointing.
Fortunately, the soundtrack that's included within the game is excellent for hip hop fans as well as newcomers to the genre. There are more than 40 licensed tracks from artists like James Brown, Eric B and Rakim, Tha Alkaholiks, The Beatnuts and others. While some of the beats that the game associates with some of the songs are rather funky (adding additional break beats at times that don't seem to make sense), for the most part, these tracks are well handled within the game. It's pretty cool, particularly if you're a fan of some of these groups, to hear some of the songs that were included, because the developers did come up with a diverse track list to keep you engaged.
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