Before every company was scrambling to make a music/rhythm game, Bust A Groove hit the scene with solid graphics, an excellent game mechanic, and some of the catchiest J-pop around. Basically a dancing "simulation," Bust A Groove focused more on timing and rhythm than on clunky proprietary controllers or gimmicky gameplay. It's been almost two years since the debut of Bust A Groove, and now the series is back for another injection of J-pop-fueled dancing. But in an industry flooded with rhythm and dance games, does the dated gameplay of Bust A Groove still hold water?
Bust A Groove's roster has evolved. Hamm, Frida, Gas-O, and Pinky have been cut from the cast, and in their place are new dancers: Tsutomu, the Japanese schoolboy with a poor breakdancing style, Bi-O, the rotting zombie with an ax in his head, and Comet, the waitress who dances on Rollerblades. The rest of the dancers from the first game have updated costumes and dance moves.
Not surprisingly, the basic gameplay hasn't changed a whole lot from the first game. In every level you battle it out one-on-one against another dancer, completing a series of button presses before you finish the string on the fourth musical beat. You still have two attacks per level, which can be evaded and deflected back at the attacker. There are now three single-player difficulty modes that affect the control display for your dancer. The easy mode lets you play through the entire game by only using directional inputs. The normal mode is almost exactly the same as in the original Bust A Groove, except without obvious branching dance paths. The mix mode tosses in standard button presses amidst the directional-button strings.
The single-player game has changed - it now features branching paths in the single-player game that move you up to more difficult opponents depending on how well you're dancing. The popularity meter has been axed; now your character has a small border around his or her name that changes in color depending on how well you're dancing. Also, a new meter sits in the middle of the screen that tracks every "Cool, Chillin', and Freeze" event and moves up accordingly. When all three bars are filled to capacity, your points are doubled for every dance move made during that time. In Bust A Groove 2 there is a standard two-player versus mode, a practice mode to help you get accustomed to timing the fourth beat, and a dance-view mode that allows you to cycle through each dancer's individual moves and string them together to make your own dances.
The game's graphics have been completely redone, and are more over-the-top than ever. The character art is much wilder, sporting an almost graffiti look. The new characters are interesting enough, but it's the new costumes for the old characters that really shine. Kelly has ditched her bunny suit in favor of an almost mobster costume, complete with cane and penciled-on moustache. The dancing has also been revised, with new moves and breaks. The characters animate very well and move in a completely realistic manner, without any polygonal breakup. The backgrounds are crazier than ever. For instance, this time around you ride river rafts through a Disneyland-like safari, dance in front of a sushi bar run by our friend the burger dog, and ride in a helicopter over a huge suspension bridge. The levels also feature tons of craziness whenever you're dancing well enough to warrant a fever time - a dance solo awarded to the winner if they've completing enough dance combinations. Huge Japanese dragons fly about, giant smiling monkeys pop out of walls, volcanoes erupt, and bank vaults burst open with loot while you're dancing. Unfortunately, while the initial characters are cool enough, the majority of the hidden characters are somewhat ridiculous and feel contrived. Most of them are the supporting-cast animals found hanging around in level backgrounds, and they sport the same dancing styles as the initial characters.
In a game that focuses on dancing, the music is really the essential factor. And while none of the sequel's songs are as good as one or two of the tracks on the original soundtrack, Bust A Groove 2's soundtrack as a whole is a very good compilation of several musical styles, all represented with a distinct J-pop flavor. Bust A Groove 2's soundtrack was performed by a number of groups from East/West Japan's roster and was not composed by the Avex Trax label responsible for the music in the first game.
There are some interesting differences between the Japanese and US versions of the game. Despite retaining the same credits sequence, the characters' ending CG scenes are nowhere to be found in the US version. Also, the US version of the game seems a lot easier, on every difficulty level.
The key word to defining Bust A Groove 2 is "more." The game has more dancers, more backgrounds, more music, and more difficulty levels. It doesn't deviate from the Bust A Groove formula and doesn't try to bring new elements to the gameplay. More of the same will probably appeal to fans of the first game, but it might not be compelling enough for those who casually liked the game. Given what Bust A Groove 2 could have been, it's somewhat disappointing that Bust A Groove 2 is such a plain rehash - a solid game in itself but a lacking sequel.