Review: B-Boy (Sony PSP)

B-Boy
Developer: Freestyle Games
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Genre: Rhythm/Dancing
Release Date: 09/23/08

Welcome to the world of competitive break dancing.

Here we have young men and women who all wear hats turned sideways, graffiti adorned t-shirts, and pants with one leg rolled up. Sure it looks silly, but some of the things these people can do on a dance floor is flat out incredible. Even if I’m not a fan of the culture, I tip my hat to their abilities.

Anyway, I guess someone finally decided it was time to create a game based on the concept. After all, break dancing has gotten some mainstream attention fairly recently with movies like You Got Served and special episodes of South Park.

So it’s time to bust out your PSP and start toprocking and freezing with the best of them.

Story

You play as Custom. No, that isn’t really his or her name. You just can’t chose your name, and this is the one it gives you. It won’t matter though. No one ever calls you by name anyway.

I guess your goal is to become the best B-boy or girl in the game. Custom never says anything and there is absolutely no character interaction, save for a couple of cut-scenes where the famed B-boy Crazy Legs will give you some advice as to where to dance next. Even the start of the story, called “Livin’ Da Life” is just a decent tutorial followed by a few emails of established rockers challenging you to a throw down.

Your task is to compete one on one with as many people as you can to learn new moves that you’ll take to tournaments and sponsor opportunities. Tournaments tend to feature 4-8 people who will compete until they lose. Sometimes, you’ll each get one throw down a piece. Sometimes you’ll get two. Sometimes there will be multiple rounds consisting of one throw down each or even a Crew battle where you can switch to a named character in between. Unfortunately, you’re rarely told what type of tournament it is going to be. You’ll find out once the music starts or when the round ends.

Sponsorship opportunities consist of you performing a solo act to try and win over the crowd. You’ll try to win a specific medals (more on those later) in order to obtain new clothing.

Winning these events will boost your rank and allow you to move up from the streets to the clubs and eventually major tournaments. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you when your rank goes up. You have to go to a separate folder on your laptop to do that. Speaking of which, the laptop is awful. If you open a message from a rival but don’t immediately accept the challenge, the email will disappear and head to your schedule instead. If you don’t look there, you’re likely to miss your opportunity to earn most of your moves. You can view the names of songs you’ve unlocked for practice mode, but can’t listen to them at will. You have to physically add all learned moves to your move book or else you won’t be able to use them during play. All of the clothes you unlock are just different colored t-shirts with slightly different logos on them.

Apart from “Livin’ Da Life”, you can try a free battle at any time, watch the opening cinematic, or view the credits. This is as barebones as it gets. You may be able to dance like a B-Boy, but you won’t be able to live “Da Life” anymore than a born and raised suburban kid like me can.

Graphics

This is one of the make or break factors of the game. If you have to stare at a bunch of white guys dancing their asses off for hours and hours, they better be doing it right. Fortunately, all of the moves were mo-capped by some of the culture’s best and look absolutely amazing. From windmills to baby freezes, the animations are fluid, lifelike, and transition as if a real person were doing them. It was a treat to look at from start to finish.

However, the environments are a bit bland. I know the streets may not be the most colorful places on earth, but starting at asphalt and concrete at nighttime gets pretty old fast.

When they aren’t dancing, characters looks stiff and move awkwardly. They don’t emote very well either. There isn’t a lot else to look at besides a few menu screens. You jump directly from your laptop to the streets or clubs. The game doesn’t look ugly, but the rest of the game seems flat compared to the beautiful animations.

Audio

Yet again, here is an aspect of the game where one part vastly outshines the rest. This time around it’s the music.

Obviously, in a game where rhythm and timing are integral to the gameplay, the music takes center stage. B-Boy features and eclectic soundtrack of some the biggest funk and hip hop songs. Even better, the variety is astounding. You’ve got classics like Jim Brown offering up a few songs and modern day hits such as the Black Eyed Peas. This isn’t normally my cup of tea, but I was enjoying myself and best of all, it fits perfectly.

The voice acting is few and far between, but manages to sound decent if not a little exaggerated. You can tell the dev team respects the culture and aren’t mocking it with bad stereotypes.

Beyond that, there are almost no other sounds in the game. You have a couple of record scratches when you make menu selections and that’s it. There isn’t even the sound of your feet hitting the pavement. It can take you a bit out of the experience. A couple of crowd noises round out the aural experience. On the whole it’s lacking, but the music is fantastic. I just wish you could choose to listen to a track whenever you wanted.

Gameplay

While you may have different tournament set ups and goals, there is only one way to play B-Boy. You’re going to break dance a lot in this game. I mean a LOT. Since you’ll be spending you’re time on this, let’s see if it is any good.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start is you’ll have several swirling markers around your feet. These are beat markers. Once you start a move, the yellow beat markers will turn white and you’ll need to tap the R button in order to build up your rhythm score. Hitting the blue markers will increase your foundation score. There’s no penalty for not hitting these, but if you don’t, your score won’t go up and you’ll probably end up losing. The idea is to transition your moves so they coincide with the blue beat markers. They do an excellent job of matching the music, but you can’t always see them because the camera can get stuck and they’ll scroll below the bottom of the screen. Considering keeping rhythm is the lifeline for your score, this is unacceptable.

There are four base moves that you’ll need to master. First is toprocking, which is activated by tapping the triangle button. Toprocking is basically some fancy footwork while in a standing position. On the opposite side of that, footwork is delegated to the x button and is fancy footwork while on the ground. The square button activates a freeze move, in which you’ll use the shoulder buttons to keep your balance while striking a pose straight out of yoga class. Finally, circle activates power moves.

Using the directional buttons in conjunction with these base moves allows you to perform an additional twelve moves per base. You can tap each direction once, twice, or even three times once you’ve unlocked some of the fancier moves. Some of these higher level moves require you to play a little mini-game to activate. For instance, if you want to switch from the baby freeze to the handstand, you’ll have a meter pop up. You need to press X at the right time to hit the move. Otherwise you’ll fail and the crowd will boo your sorry butt.

The real problem comes with transitions. You can’t just from any move to any other. The more you use moves, you’ll get a higher rating for these and you’ll be able to transition to it from more other moves. Sadly, you’re not told what these transitions are. The only way to find out is to experiment with the practice mode. I get how this is a great tool for a thematic feel, but I don’t want to have to spend an hour in practice mode every time I level up a move and have to find out which transition I unlocked. The more moves you earn, the more cluttered this ends up being.

The goal of each battle is to win more medals than your opponent. There are five in total. These are flow, rhythm, foundation, creativity, and blow-up. Flow judges your ability to string moves together in one chain without any break or trying to transition to a move you can’t from whatever move you’re currently in. Rhythm simply means how well you’re able to keep tapping R to the beat of the song while performing moves. Foundation is all about the base moves and your ability to use them all. Also, tapping the R button on the blue beat marker builds up your score. Creativity is given when you transition from one of the base moves to another. Let’s say you go from a handstand, which is a higher level freeze move, to a windmill, which is a power move. This would build up your creativity meter. You also get points for using as many moves as possible. Finally, blow-up is awarded to the competitor who busts out the biggest, flashiest moves. Depending on how well you do, you can earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. If you first, your job it to just build up points and earn medals. If you go second, you’ll need to steal those medals away by first building up enough points to cause your opponent to lose their medal and then earn some more to get them yourself. Whoever gets the most medals at the end of the round wins. If you have the same amount, the cumulative points are used to decide a winner.

Everything works like it should here. Sometimes you’ll come across times when you can’t use a new move because the animation for the previous one isn’t done yet, or you simply haven’t unlocked the transition yet, but for the most part the game delivers on its promise to let you be as creative as you want in terms of stringing together moves and combos.

The real problems come in the pacing and balance, which I’ll get to below.

Replayability

Unless you are some sort of video game god, this game will take you a while to build up your rank on. You’ll spend so much time practicing that you’ll know all the songs by heart. I can’t see anyone going through the motions of practicing, leveling up, and unlocking all the moves again. There isn’t any story and no point into doing it all again with a different gender. It won’t change anything.

If you really feel like breaking some more, there is a free jam mode so can jump right in and throw down with either computer characters or other humans if you have a friend with a PSP and a copy of the game nearby.

Truth be told, there is no reason to come back to this game once you’ve finished it.

Balance

Throughout the game, I got the feeling that it didn’t really matter how good I did during any particular performance. What really mattered was how my AI opponent did. It seemed that most of the time he or she would either do amazing and rack up the medals, or fall flat on their face and let me coast to a victory.

Also, some of the medals are shockingly easy to manipulate. You always do better on rhythm than the AI as long as you can keep a beat. If you start off with a toprock move, your flow meter will build up much faster than with any other. Also, using the freeze moves and balancing the shoulder buttons rapidly builds up your foundation meter.

It can be no end of frustrating to make it the finals of a tournament just to watch the AI pull out golds in every category. They don’t do it towards the beginning as much, but the middle and the end was torture. I simply didn’t have enough moves or time to compete. The game rapidly goes from you having to win only two medals to having to compete for all five. The jump is so sudden that you’ll lose a lot trying to adjust.

The challenge isn’t in mastering the mechanics. The challenge is in beating lady luck.

Originality

B-Boy offers the most creative freedom I have EVER seen in a rhythm game. You don’t just tap buttons as they appear on a screen or follow notes. You get to choose the moves you perform and you can link them up any way you want to express your own tastes.

As far as I know, there aren’t any other games that handle break dancing as the theme. Sure we’ve gotten some movies and a few TV specials, but there aren’t really games out there for this. It really captures the feel of the culture and I give the developer a ton of credit for finding a way to bring this experience to gamers. It may not be the best game out there, but it is the only one of its kind.

Addictiveness

I know this review has been a little bipolar for the past few paragraphs, but I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse.

You see, you have to watch your opponent’s performance each round as well as yours. That means you’re spending half the game watching it play itself! There were times I put down the game so I could do a word find or a fill in. I’m playing other games because I’m there’s nothing for you to do!

The game tries to make up for this by letting you taunt your opponent and perform a couple of dance moves with the directional buttons, but you can’t even see yourself on the screen half the time and there’s no reward to this at all.

I know there isn’t much of any other way they could have recreated the feel of a throw down, but it is boring. When you lose, it’s even worse because you’ll have to watch the AI perform again. I’ve never seen something in a game get as old as fast as this game has done. I couldn’t play it for longer than half hour bursts at a time.

Appeal Factor

This game is actually two years old.

It was released in Europe back in 2006. However, Sony, who published it over there, decided not to give it a North American release. That should tell you something right there. SouthPeak has picked it up and I guess they wanted to see if it could bring in some cash.

I have a feeling that the cultures of video games and break dancing aren’t quite ready to mix, meaning this game isn’t going to appeal to many people. Everyone I’ve told about this game has started laughing. It’s a good concept, but I don’t think the North American audience was ready for it.

Miscellaneous

No game should ever give you time to play something else while you’re playing it.

No game should ever force you to watch it play itself.

B-Boy ends up being a huge disappointment because it fails those to principles. I’ve had games frustrate me to the point where I nearly threw (and in one case I did) my controller across the room. I’ve had games that bored me so much that I’ve never touched them again. I’ve never had a game that practically encouraged me to do something else while it played itself.

Congrats, B-Boy. This was a first.

The Scores

Story: Poor
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Enjoyable
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Very Bad
Balance: Awful
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Awful
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
B-Boy is an original game with some awesome mo-capped goodness and refreshing if not great gameplay. However, the balance is shoddy and you literally spend half the game watching it play itself. This is unforgivable for a single player experience. I can’t recommend this to anyone. If the developer takes another crack at the genre and makes a few tweaks, I’ll be happy to give it another shot, but this attempt falls short of what the concept could have been. If you’re looking for an original game, look for something that’s both original and good. Don’t look towards B-Boy.

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