Version tested: PSP
For a game built on looking your most stylish, B-Boy is as slick as it should be. Like Atari's Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, the presentation and sheer justice it does to the culture it's emulating is tremendous. With the soundtrack, the Montana paint scrawls and the motion capture of Crazy Legs and other legendary rockers, this is one of the best examples of hip hop culture captured for a game we've ever seen.
Where something like Saints Row stole from rap like a wannabe pimp that couldn't get no ass, B-Boy is the real deal, sporting its shelltoes with authenticity and giving as much back to the culture as it takes. It's genuine, like very few other titles. Compare it to the extreme sports trend from a few years back, where numerous Tony Hawk imitators shamed themselves with a poor understanding of the of the culture as much as shoddy controls. We can file B-Boy next to Ecko and the Def Jam fighting series as perfectly understanding and reproducing the influences of pop culture.
Which is a real treat for hip hop heads, but no matter how far rap is stretching into the mainstream, if you're not a fiend for beats and rhymes, B-Boy isn't going to capture your imagination. It's not gripping, it's not essential, even for those that spend weekends flipping hamster switch on their 1210's, digging the crates, racking paint or laughing at Ice-T in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Players dance off against one another like a beat-'em-up without any connections - players take it in turns to prove themselves with their best moves. Pulling the slickest and most accomplished moves, linked with well-placed timing, is rewarded with medals that can unlock more moves and combos for later battles. Each throwdown lasts around 45 seconds with four buttons assigned to Toprock, Freeze, Windmill and Sixstep. They may not mean a lot to you, but tapping the buttons and watching the motion capture soon makes it easy to understand how you link these moves into combos. Balancing on your swede, or any limb, is done with the left and right shoulder buttons.
Which is fun while it lasts, but watching your opponent throwdown in front of you quickly becomes frustrating. It's like watching someone else play a game. Turn-based dancing just isn't compelling enough. This stop-start nature never feels like a full game where the player is progressing. It's more a case of going one-on-one for a few cocky rewards, making it feel like a practice session rather than the real thing. It suits the handheld nature of the system, but it's not something I want to keep switching my PSP on for in the first place.
Another big problem I have with B-Boy is that I'm a fussy consumer. With so much media to entertain me, I can afford to be fussy. So with a game like B-Boy I want it built around my soundtrack. The gameplay is fine, but it never feels much more than a stretched out mini-game. A customisable soundtrack could have given it a much longer lease of life, adding a little more interactivity to my personal music collection.
Don't get it twisted - I'm down with hip hop (if that doesn't make me sound like David Cameron campaigning at a youth club). But any game that's built around music needs to be able to handle customisation as far as I'm concerned. We've had the option to import our own soundtrack for long enough now that we pretty much expect it as standard. And it's no excuse if the hardware can't support the feature - if that's the case I question the reason for creating a game with music as its central appeal.
Guitar Hero got away with it because there was the novelty of a big plastic guitar to pose with while banging along to The Ramones. But for the next-generation sequels we'll be able to buy specific tracks to download and play along to. No more filler from Franz Ferdinand. Sony knows this with the PS3 version of SingStar too. Microtransations are good for me when I don't have to put up with some one else's' Madonna choice and can instead opt for Gina G, no matter how naff. I don't want some marketing committee on the other side of the world deciding for me what's cool. I don't even want to be cool, I just want to sing Ooh Ahh, Just a Little Bit. Like I said, I'm a fussy consumer. And games have been about customisation and choice for long enough now.
So with B-Boy, no matter how much I dig Eric B & Rakim's Don't Sweat the Technique - and believe me it is a stone-cold classic - it still gets old too quickly. I want a change, that's why I've got 3,000 plus songs on my MP3 player. In B-Boy I'd like the option to throwdown to Aspects, Booty Bouncers and Celph Titled. And I'm not being a smart-arse by name-checking obscure hip hop. It's the digital age, don't give me a soundtrack of 20-plus tunes. No matter how banging they are, it's not going to be enough in the long run.
Ranting about music? Well, I'm passionate about it, as I am about games. And I suspect anyone reading this far is as well. The B-Boy soundtrack is good, but it's not enough. It's like the Beatmasters and Betty Boo sang, "I can't dance to the music you're playing". And I say that without fear of ridicule for loving '80s pop. B-Boy has limited itself, partly by playing on Sony hardware and partly by gameplay that's not inclusive enough; it's so stylish it's for poseurs not players. Not into hip hop culture? No reason to pick this up, no matter how pretty and slick the dancing is.
6 / 10