Developer: Roxor Games
Release Date: June 17, 2005
Buy 'IN THE GROOVE': PlayStation 2
Everyone in this day and age has probably heard of Dance Dance Revolution or DDR, a very popular rhythm game that has taken both the U.S. and Japan by storm, touted by some as an exercise and weight loss regiment. Konami has ridden this wave long enough, and we are finally starting to see other games in this genre, like Pump It Up Exceed, but to tide us over until then, we have Roxor's In the Groove, which was published by RedOctane, famous for their high quality soft dance pad, the Ignition..
So what is it about In The Groove that makes it different from DDR? Both titles have a wide selection of tunes and require a certain amount of play to unlock other songs. With over 70 songs, ITG has a larger selection than DDR, which has approximately 40 tunes. They both have several similar modes: arcade, fitness, marathon, and training, so if you enjoyed the gameplay in DDR, you will probably find similar things to like in ITG.
The mode that ITG has that DDR lacks is battle mode, which is like a dance-off, with both players dancing to the same song and steps. The game has over 50 modifiers which are used during this battle mode, so if you are losing, you will see more modifiers, making it harder for you to win. To give you an idea, some of the modifiers are: speed boost, invisible arrows, wavy arrows, spinning arrows, disappearing arrows, and moving arrows. This requires the player to really maintain the beat and not be fooled by simple changes. Unlike the DDR series, ITG doesn't provide EyeToy support.
In The Groove has also added hands and mines into their dance system, usually found in the harder difficulties. You may be thinking, "Hands?" If you played one of the songs in Pump It Up, you'll remember a certain section required you to put your hands on the pad. That featured has been added to ITG, but it's so much more extreme that it feels like playing Twister. Mines force the player to be a whole lot more accurate, making the game that much harder.
Hands and mines aside, In the Groove is much harder than DDR in so many ways. The steps are a whole lot harder, and the DDR song selection is taken from the hip-hop and Japanese pop genres, while ITG's music is from a newer selection of rock and trance tunes.
The scoring system for In the Groove is also completely different from DDR. Rather than the meter used for DDR, ITG utilizes something called a Life Meter, which must remain in the positive, or you will not pass the song. This is both good and bad: even when the life meter is empty, you can still continue and complete the song, but even if you do better in the later sections, your life meter never refills.
The performance scores are (mostly) alphabetical, with the exception of S, which stands for "Super." The scores are also stored into the records, but I think DDR's system for this is much more user-friendly. At any given moment in DDR, you can see your score for any level, while in ITG, you must scroll to that level before you can access that. DDR displays the score to the right of each song, while ITG just has a list. DDR just uses a diamond to indicate difficulty level, but ITG shows statistics of what each song will consist of, right down to the number steps, mines, holds, and jumps, which allows you to determine the difficulty of each song.
In The Groove allows you organize the songs based on the difficulty, popularity, and several other schemes. This makes choosing the song somewhat easier, but if you are looking for a specific hands song, it can take a while to find because there aren't many beginning songs with this feature, and only a handful of the harder songs have it.
Visually, the arrows in ITG are incredibly ugly, but you can actually change them to look somewhat different by changing the perspective to hallway, overhead, distant, incoming, or space. You can also change the notes to metal, cell or flat. I don't think the different perspectives change much, but you need to deal with the visuals, so I prefer the overhead perspective, which is similar to DDR. Rather than having cute anime characters in the background dancing to your song, ITG displays a graphical equalizer, which can be seen in mp3 players like Winamp, and this design decision works surprisingly well.
For this type of game, the audio is more important than the graphics. I enjoyed the nice selection of songs, and while it might not be as diverse a selection as DDR, it is definitely a good start. Another thing about the music in the game that differs from DDR is the length. DDR songs last about a minute or two, but ITG's songs are full-length so you will need a lot of stamina to pass all of these songs.
I played ITG with the Ignition Pad 3.0, and I have to say, it's awesome in as many languages I can say it and is definitely the best soft pad around. The pad is made from cloth, allowing for easy folding and packing away without losing its sensitivity, something that occurs with the other pads. To make the pad even better, there is foam padding underneath for comfort and noise reduction, and there is even anti-slip material on the bottom to prevent it from slipping. Lastly, the arrows are actually raised so you can feel where you are stepping and know your exact location at every moment in the game.
The Ignition is a great pad, but if you are hardcore about this genre, you may want to try RedOctane's Afterburner metal pad, which is a replica of the arcade version. ITG supports dual pads, and the metal pads have links to connect two metal pads together, making it a much more intense experience.
Despite the issues I had with the arrow design, In the Groove is definitely a lot better than I expected and definitely gives DDR a run for its money. The load time is incredibly long, and I also had an issue with the game's auto-save, which corrupted my save due to the poor loading crashing the system. (Naturally, I would suggest turning off the auto-save option and saving manually.) The steps are a lot harder, which motivates me to get better, and with the addition of hands, ITG is a lot cooler to watch. The song list is pretty strong, so if you are a big DDR fan, In The Groove should tide you over till Pump It Up and DDR Extreme 2 come out.