There's a curious primal comfort to be gained from making a fool of yourself in front of other people, so it hardly came as a great surprise when the EyeToy became this year's innovative success story, selling hundreds of thousands of units all summer long when most other publishers had shut up shop. The chance to leap about in front of your own TV and see the results of your apery was a masterstroke by Sony, for the fact that it dragged in thousands of previously unwilling 'casual' gamers into joining in this evil pursuit we call videogames.
Personally, we literally tired of the 'wave your arms in the air' gameplay, returning occasionally in appropriate party situations to amuse those who hadn't seen it before, and to laugh at their hapless Kung Foo and Wishi-Washi efforts. It's one of those games you can put on for a quick half an hour session and guarantee to have a laugh at, but outside of the multiplayer zanity it quickly becomes a quirky novelty title that makes your arms ache.
You should be dancing
Small wonder, then, that Sony wants to cash in on that novelty value quickly, and the result is EyeToy: Groove, a game knocked up in an incredible four months, which takes the popular 'Boogie Down' element of Play and expands it into a whole game. On the surface it's virtually identical to the Play mini-game, which is to say it takes the relentlessly popular Dancing Stage concept and applies it to the screen. Instead of matching your dance steps to the symbols on a mat, Eye Toy: Groove requires the use of your arms, essentially tasking you with pointing to the correct area of the screen in time with a blob's arrival at the appropriate marker. Like Dancing Stage, the more you can keep in time, the higher your score. Simple.
And also in keeping with Konami's evergreen series, it comes complete with numerous popular licensed tunes to strut your stuff to - in this case 25. Credit is due to Sony in this department with some club classics from the last four decades including such classics as Dance To The Music from Sly and the Family Stone, Let's Groove from Earth Wind and Fire, and Jungle Boogie from Kool and the Gang, as well as some modern travesties such as Hooray Hooray (It's A Cheeky Holiday) from the bloody Cheeky Girls, and Keep On Moving from Five. Despite the odd glaring crime against humanity, it's a pretty inspired selection and genuinely has something for everyone.
Although the main crux of the game is exactly the same as Boogie Down, there are a few neat new additions to justify it as a standalone product. For a start, all 25 songs can be selected from the off, with no need to tediously unlock everything, and at five degrees of difficulty. The game is still mainly just a case of attempting to score points by pointing to the right blob at the right time, but adds an excellent arm sweep move which tasks you with moving your hands in time with an arrowed icon. This adds a much more choreographic feel to the proceedings, and once they start arcing halfway around the screen you'll start to feel more like you're actually dancing rather than just playing an interactive 'Simon Says'.
But the really fun element of the package kicks in when the game suddenly records a small segment of footage - not to mention audio - of your performance, which inevitably causes much guffawing after the event. Likewise, the game requests that the user poses at various times, and the results are as 'hilarious' as you might expect. It might be ultimately limited, and only really a worthwhile purchase as a multiplayer game, but you can't beat the fact that it's you and your mates up on that screen making an arse of yourselves. The fact that you don't need the PS2 controller shouldn't be overlooked, and pretty much guarantees its success with a much overlooked selection of would-be gamers.
In terms of multiplayer options, the Group Groove offers up plenty. Whatever mode you choose each contestant has to pose for the inevitable photo to kick off proceedings. The first of the four modes, 'Battle Groove', is a simple take-it-in turns score-based competition to a tune of your choice; 'Battle Sync' is a tug of war-style two-player dance competition, while Team Sync has you working together to complete otherwise impossibly difficult routines that would require four arms to manage!
'Tournament' is arguably the main event of the multiplayer modes, offering up a little more variety than the more straightforward offerings elsewhere, with four mini-games available for up to four players at three difficulty levels. Kicking off proceedings is 'Copycat', a basic Simon Says duke out, followed by 'Frenzy', which gives each player three lives and requires you to match a fast succession of icons without hitting the skull icons. 'Perfection' is "all about accuracy" with the idea to match the icons exactly in time with only three lives, while Tag has players matching the icons but forces players to swap over a couple of seconds after their photo appears, with the highest scorer from the four games crowned the winner.
See who's got rhythm, huh, HUH?
All the multiplayer modes are welcome offerings and add a vital element of competition to the proceedings, but you can't help but feel that more variation on the mini-game side of things would have extended its lifespan and added a crucial degree of value that Groove badly needs. Given that an almost feature complete version of Groove already exists in Play, you'd have thought it would've gone to town with added extras to make it irresistible.
Instead, the package is padded out with some cool, but fairly short lived extras. The presence of seven music videos from the 25 tracks (including the awesome 'Praise You' promo) is an unexpected bonus, while the Chill Out Room allows you to choose any track and be bathed in a whole suite of damned cool visual effects, including 8-bit-style pixilation, strobing, psychedelia sunbursts, negative, and - our personal favourite - the Incredible Hulk effect, all while a couple of balls float around the screen for you to bat around to your heart's content. All pretty pointless, but a nice way for Sony to show off what the PS2 can do.
On top of that there's another flagrant Dancing Stage lift in the form of the Calorie Counter, as well as the ability to create your own Dance Moves, record all of your best snaps in the Photo Album and even record some obscene video messages (although these eat memory card space like you wouldn't believe).
We can't blame Sony for wanting to cash in on its own invention, but let's make no mistake here, this is a fairly blatant case of striking while the iron's hot, and anyone who's already got EyeToy: Play might feel a little stung if they shell out full price for Groove. Later in its shelf life, Groove will be an excellent little budget purchase to have in your collection for those amusing drunken party moments, but right now at Ł29.99 we'd strongly advise potential EyeToy converts to check out Play before they go splashing the cash on Groove. We had a lot of fun, again, but then we're not the ones having to fork out hard earned cash for it. File under 'wait for a Platinum release'.
P.S If you're curious, here's the track listing in full...
- Madonna - Music
- Kool & the Gang - Jungle Boogie
- The Superman Lovers - Starlight
- Earth Wind and Fire - Lets Groove
- Sister Sledge - We Are Family
- Jamiroquai - Deeper Underground
- Jamiroquai - Canned Heat
- Las Ketchup - The Ketchup Song
- Top Loader - Dancing in the Moonlight
- Five - Keep On Moving
- Sugarbabes - Overload
- Junior Senior - Move Your Feet
- Village People - YMCA
- Apollo 440 - Hustlers Groove
- The Jacksons - ABC
- Mis-teeq - All I Want
- Daniel Beddingfield - Gotta Get Through This
- The Commodores - Machine Gun
- Groove Armada - Superstylin
- Living Joy - Don't Stop Moving
- Cheeky Girls - Hooray Hooray it's a Cheeky Holiday
- Puretones - Addicted to Bass
- Liberty X - Jumpin
- Elvis - Rubberneckin'
- Fatboy Slim - Praise You
- Elvis - A Little Less Conversation