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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Eye Toy: Groove (PS2)

While Sony's unique EyeToy device has won praise from gamers and the press for its innovative, interactive approach to gaming, the one thing that has limited its potential is the lack of a full game. The mini-games on the Play launch disc were enjoyable but too simplistic. Sony has introduced EyeToy Groove, a full-fledged rhythm game that allows players to dance to about 24 classic and current dance music tracks. Despite the increased complexity, EyeToy Groove's gameplay is still relatively simple, making it accessible for players of all levels. While it's not as challenging or deep as Dance Dance Revolution, this is still a solidly enjoyable title that makes for a great social experience.

Initially dismissed by many as a gimmick, Sony's EyeToy has shown a remarkable level of interest amongst developers and fans alike for its unique user interface, which allows for a unique style of play. Instead of interacting with games using a standard controller, the EyeToy uses a camera to project an image of the player onto the screen, and then records body movements to control the action on screen. The EyeToy probably seems strange on paper, but the device is surprisingly fun and intuitive to use. However, the initial launch games included with the system were a bit simplistic, despite the potential of the innovative device. Sony is looking to rectify the situation with EyeToy: Groove, a full-fledged dancing/rhythm game that allows players to dance to a number of tracks. Unlike the mini-dancing game on the first disc, the Groove game is much deeper and more complicated than the first game, requiring more concentration and skill on the part of the player, though without losing its broad appeal.

At first, EyeToy Groove's gameplay is fairly simple, and easy to understand, but the real challenge comes later on as the game throws more complex patterns at you. You are standing in the middle of the screen and have to hit the icons at the side of the screen by moving your arms around and dancing. You have to hit buttons on the sides of the screen as the small icons reach them. There are several types of icons, including ones where you have to wave or hold your hand over them for a short time. You must hit the buttons in time to the music as the indicators reach them, taking too long will cause you to miss the icon and lose points. There are also special directional icons where you can make a chain of moves and Motion Quota icons where you have to wave your hands over them for a time to make them vanish. The initial levels introduce the basic mechanics and are easy to get the hang of with only one or two icons coming at you. More difficult levels are also available and throw multiple icons and challenging patterns at you. Reacting to these requires a lot of dexterity and skill on the part of the player. The more complicated moves lists give the game an edge the initial games on Play didn't have. While experienced players should be able to anticipate most of the moves, its still quite a challenge. Making the higher difficulty levels even more challenging is the increased speed of the icons. These advanced levels really get your heart racing as you try to keep up, especially during the faster tracks. As you play the game, you will receive points for correctly hitting the icons, and lose them when you miss an icon. As you play the game, your grade ranking will change depending on how well you're hitting the notes. Missing too many icons causes your letter ranking to decrease, and when you lose all your stars, the game ends. During each game, you can increase your score and bonus multiplier in the freestyle or Pose modes. After you have successfully completed an entire song, you'll then go to the status screen, where you ranking, score and number of missed and hit icons is displayed. If you have selected it before hand, the game will also show you how many calories you've burned up during the game. The calorie counter is calculated based on your weight and how well you did in the main game. For example, playing on the easy level won't burn a lot of calories, but you might actually be able to lose pound or two going through the more intense levels.

In addition to the addictive single player mode, EyeToy Groove also allows you to play along with a group of friends. There are both cooperative and competitive modes included with battle and posing modes included to extend the action. There are two Sync modes where players have to play cooperatively and a Battle Mode where you compete against a friend. If you really want to go crazy, you can start a tournament with up to four players. Each player takes turns playing a group of mini-games and the player with the most points at the end wins. While these modes seem simple, they add a lot of variety to the game and give EyeToy Groove a broader appeal. The game's multiplayer modes are really where it shines, and adds a social element to the experience. The variety of gameplay modes and fun, accessible play makes for a great party game that can be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore players. Eye Toy Groove also lets you create your own dance routines by dancing to a song freestyle. Once you have recorded your moves, you can go back and play them in the game mode. This is a cool feature that extends the game's longevity and replay value. While the icon system is a bit simpler than Dance Dance Revolution, the game still provides plenty of challenge at its harder levels. In addition to these modes, there are also a few bonus features such as a chill-out room, where you can listen to the tracks as special effects and colors fill the screen. Players can also save and record video messages on their memory cards and trade them with other players if they want to.

As with any music game, the soundtrack makes a big difference in the game's appeal. By taking a look at the game's track listing, you can immediately tell that the developers were going for a broadly appealing title. Well known dance tracks from the Village Peoples' "YMCA" and Gloria Gaynor's classic "I Will Survive" will please fans of the classic disco era, while more recent hits from Junior Senior, Madonna and Fatboy Slim should make the younger crowd happy. The tracks offer a good mix and a variety of styles that will please dance music fans of all ages. With such a mainstream song selection, it should come as little surprise that the game is perfectly suited to gamers with mainstream tastes. The unpretentious gameplay is quite accessible but gets a bit more challenging as you progress to the later levels. Unfortunately, the single player game becomes monotonous after awhile, but the saving grace here is the multiplayer party modes, which add variety and enjoyment to the experience. EyeToy: Groove is an excellent showcase for its unique hardware, and taps into it potential nicely. In addition, it's well-produced, challenging and quite enjoyable, with instantly accessible controls that make for a great party game.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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