Sony’s EyeToy peripheral for the PlayStation 2 is about to show rhythm action fans a whole new perspective on their favorite genre. As you may or may not know, the EyeToy is a small USB camera that plugs into your PS2 and sits atop your television set, projecting your stunning visage onto the screen and allowing you to interact with the game’s graphics. The end result is an experience that is uniquely immersive, carrying with it the immense novelty value of using your body as a controller. EyeToy: Groove is the first standalone title to utilize the innovative camera doohickey. This game attempts to take the concept one step further by introducing musical gameplay mechanics in tandem with the device’s video capture capabilities.
Like last year’s collection of EyeToy mini-games, EyeToy: Play, there isn’t much of a story to speak of in Groove. Basically, you are a dancing machine and your performance is being scrutinized by a panel of unseen judges who will not hesitate to end your routine should your boogie not be up to par.
Your image must be positioned properly in the center of the screen for an optimal experience. A helpful silhouette displayed at the beginning of the game indicates where you should stand. That’s the easy part. The EyeToy’s lighting requirements have the potential to be a whole ‘nuther bucket of chicken, however. If adequate light is not shown on and around the player, the game’s level of precision, and its ability to detect your movements, dramatically decreases. Basically, the more light you can produce within the camera’s field of vision, the better. And, of course, you’ll need to free up enough space in front of the TV for you and your flailing arms. Hmmm, I wonder how popular the EyeToy is in Japan?
The gameplay mechanics are fundamentally simple so that most players will have no trouble jumping right into the rhythm-based action sans prior experience or instruction manual research. But just because you understand what needs to be done, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to actually do it, especially on the more challenging levels of difficulty.
Six icon pads are displayed onscreen around the player’s image, three on the left and three on the right. When one of the 30 included songs start, inset images of the icon pads will begin moving from the center of the screen towards their respective icon position. Once the icon image floats directly over the corresponding icon pad, that’s your queue to place your hand over that pad. The more centered the icon image is when it is triggered, the more points you’ll be rewarded.
It may sound easy, and indeed it is…at first. But it isn’t long before the game starts throwing you curveballs, mixing it up by requiring that you move your hands across a path of arrows in time with the cursor, or shake your hand in front of the icon pad for a few beats, or place your hands within two circles that randomly appear during the song’s “pose” sequence. The icon pads also have a tendency to move around and morph into different shapes and sizes, giving the player some extra room to mess around with by making the pads much larger. Combine these dynamics with faster and drastically different paces of rhythm, depending on song and difficulty level, and it proves to offer more than enough variety to keep things interesting and challenging.
The aforementioned description of the gameplay is a foundational constant throughout the title’s entirety, but the UK developers included a few interesting additions to spice things up a bit. For instance, players with a lot of heart but not a lot of rhythm are given reprieve of complete failure thanks to a built-in gameplay system that awards points based on unusually high detection of player movement. This essentially means that you can make up lost points by fervently waving your arms and jumping around like a jackass, which seems like a fair tradeoff for those lacking experience, timing, or both. You can also create custom dance routines that can easily be exported into the single-player mode.
What, you didn’t think Sony would release a new EyeToy game without including multiplayer support did you? Up to four people can participate in Groove’s festivities in either cooperative or competitive modes. The co-op mode basically just tosses double the number of icons on the screen and challenges you and a friend to take care of business. The Battle Sync mode is the same thing but scores each player individually. The included multiplayer tournament mode will likely be the most preferred form of group entertainment, however. In tournament mode, up to four players can compete in a series of different challenges, ranging from Tag, which alternates between turns whenever a digital image of a different player appears; Frenzy is a whack-the-mole style rhythm mode; Perfection challenges players not to miss a single beat; and Copycat tests your memory by flashing a sequence of buttons on the screen for you to recreate.
Visually, Groove isn’t exactly a Halo 2 killer. The graphics that are overlaid onto your onscreen image are colorful and simplistic. The consistent special effects, such as trailing waves of differently colored particles that manifest through player movement, are kinda neat – but hopefully developers will start programming in more impressive visuals for future EyeToy games as this cartoon kiddy stuff isn’t going to fly for long. The majority of what you will see on the screen will be you, however. So ascertaining the quality level of Groove’s graphics must then require a closer look at the camera itself. The EyeToy hardware does an adequate enough job of capturing digital images of moving players, but the resulting effect is somewhat blurry (regardless of focus corrections) and the resolution is low. Maybe if Sony opts to include a camera on their upcoming PlayStation 3, as rumors suggest, we will see a drastic improvement in the quality of captured images, but until then it must be pointed out that the current generation of EyeToy hardware has considerable room for improvement.
The audio presentation in Groove consists mostly of appropriately cutesy sound effects triggered by player movement and 30 licensed musical tracks ranging from 70’s disco to contemporary techno. If the game’s soundtrack can be said to have any particular centric theme it would undoubtedly be one of lighthearted fun. Expect to get your hands and body moving to classic tunes such as Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and The Jacksons’ “ABC” to block rockin’ beats like “Hustler Groove” by Apollo 440 and Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.” Groove’s assortment of songs offers up enough diversity to appeal to a wide audience of music lovers.
If you’ve got a group of people around and you’re up for some laughs (and mild to moderate cardio) then Groove may very well prove to be an amusing diversion, but playing by yourself it’s difficult to be properly motivated. Overall, EyeToy: Groove is an interesting attempt to integrate videogames, music, dance, and you into a single package, but ultimately fails to leave much of an impression after the first few hours of play.