Developer: Little Boy Games
Release Date: July 23, 2008
To paraphrase Scott Adams' "The Joy of Work," creativity is good, but if you're not creative enough, stealing other concepts and warping in new elements can work just as well. The puzzle genre seems significantly based on this, with so many games clearly traceable to the original falling-block game, Tetris, with the occasional unique variant as evidenced by Puzz Loop (AKA Ballistic) and more recently, Nintendo's Magnetica. The same can be said of the rhythm genre, with almost all games being clearly derived from Konami's Beatmania. Little Boy Games' solution to creativity is to steal both concepts, slam them together, stir liberally, and create one of the most manic and entertaining double-genre combinations I've seen in a while.
Go! Go! Break Steady actually has some semblance of a story: A dance competition in a large city with a thriving break-dance community pulls several simply drawn hip-hop stereotypical characters together as the "All City Crew," and they try to collect all of the prizes that the competition offers. It's not much, but at least a little bit of writing was used to help set the tone, which, surprisingly enough, isn't as hip-hop as one may expect. The DJs of this competition seem to really like their techno-inspired break beat forms, two turntables setting the tone for the heavily circular game that the dancers — and players — experience.
Gameplay in Go! Go! Break Steady is split into two halves that regularly switch back and forth. Players begin with a basic pattern of buttons, which home in toward a dot on the center of the screen. Initially, they'll simply come from one side to the center, but as you progress, the motions will get increasingly wild; for example, the entire line may spiral inward or twist and turn in varied directions. Tap when a button meets the dot to build up the dance gauge, and after a few beats of this, the puzzle aspect comes to the forefront, and how well you did during the dance gauge determines the number of pieces you get. Rotate the circle of different-colored pieces, and then drop a piece between two others. Get three in a row to eliminate them, and if you set things up correctly or are just lucky, you'll get a combo going. A bad dance segment will get you one or even zero pieces, while an entirely perfect set, which is more difficult than one might think, will net you three pieces.
This is important because there are two ways to win. Stringing together enough correct dance segments will fill a gauge that will end the song on a successful note, but it is almost invariably faster and easier to simply remove all pieces from the board. You can also lose fairly easily, though; if the entire circle is filled with pieces or the song has run its course (timer conveniently set atop the screen), your run is over. The game's Endurance mode drops the time limit in favor of an endless mix of the song, and only filling up the screen will end it at this point. Versus modes work similarly, while cooperative play has the switch-offs synchronized so that the circle passes back and forth, encouraging fast actions more than precise thinking — authentic to its puzzling source.
Surprisingly, the play style holds up very well in its switch-off method; besides feeling authentic to the style of actual break-dance duels, it creates a very distinct pace that neatly avoids feeling like either of the games from which it originates. This is handled by both the quality of the rule set and the details of how gameplay is presented.
Go! Go! Break Steady's presentation is split into a basic but well-styled menu system, designed to quickly get you into the game with relatively few button presses. Selecting the song you play is done in a 2-D d-pad formation with your character being defined by the song choice and game difficulty level, so going into a scenario is quick and easy. Even in the menus alone, the game manages to emanate one of the most authentic hip-hop feels I've seen in a long time. The animation styles are strongly reminiscent of graffiti and feel well-integrated.
Clips of the characters use a slightly avant-garde animation style (very heavy lines and carefully exaggerated proportions), hinting at how they'll look during the game. Once actual play begins, it becomes very clear that the animations are entirely hand-drawn and then computer-finished; the frames are precisely balanced so that, even if there are not a lot of them per motion, the resulting motions look very smooth. For one used to animation being either low-frame rate anime-style or extremely detailed cinematic-esque works, having things be simple and balanced like this had me extremely impressed — especially given the game's size, a mere 150 MB. During gameplay, the motion switches tend to be sudden — the DJ says "six step," and the character does it instantly without a transition — but it is rather difficult to notice, since your focus will be on the game tiles.
Similarly, the in-game interface avoids a clean or technical style in favor of exaggerated lines, both on the text and the gauges, producing the kind of hip-hop feel that almost anyone can get into with ease. The game tiles are simple but similarly evocative; about the only element of the interface that doesn't feel like a part of hip-hop culture is the controller button icons. Choosing to keep these normal was probably a good thing, since half of the game relies on reading them rapidly.
Where Go! Go! Break Steady really comes into its own, though, is in its sound quality. Not only do the (few and appropriate) voice clips help set a background, but the music represents some of the most awesome variety of original break beat music I've heard in a while. While the tracks are essentially loops by design, they are very, very enjoyable loops, with all the catchiness and dance feel upon which real-world break beats rely. Ultimately, more than anything else, it's the music that sets the mood of a game, and the sheer style of Go! Go! Break Steady's beats is what takes it from "interesting" to "awesome."
Go! Go! Break Steady isn't really unique, and it isn't really a must-get game, but it's a successful mishmash of three genres that, in my experience, don't usually go together — hip-hop, puzzle and rhythm. For the price ($10 or 800 Microsoft points), you could do a lot worse than this supply of songs and unique gameplay mixture, though the combination may not be intuitive for everyone. At the very least, give the demo a try and see if you like it. I certainly did.