"Grease" is a musical classic. The 1978 movie, based on the early '70s musical of the same name, continues to reach people of all generations, and even those who have never seen the film are bound to recognize a song or two. Over the summer, a sing-along version of the movie had a limited run in theaters, so the time seems right for a "Grease"-themed video game. Grease: The Game may not be considered a classic among licensed video games, but it isn't bad for a short amount of time.
Grease features three different modes, though only two of them are likely to get any playtime from gamers. Quickplay mode features a variety of minigames based on key scenes from the film. One minigame has you working in the garage as you fix up a clunker of a vehicle before it becomes the famous Greased Lightning car. This is done with a combination of wrench tightening, dent banging and spray painting. You'll also try to outrace the Scorpions with your car, participate in various sporting events, and play a variety of carnival games. These examples are in the minority, though, as most of the minigames are based on rhythm. You have a few where you'll have to hold down a button or sets of buttons as you shake the Wii Remote at the right time, but most of the minigames involve you swinging the Wiimote in one of the four directions at the right time. In between the button presses, there are a few sequences where you imitate the demonstrated dance or motion for a few seconds, and while there is no penalty for failing these segments, you get some pretty big bonus points for filling the meter before time expires. As a bonus, a few of the minigames offer support for the Wii Balance Board, so you can lean in the indicated direction instead of flicking the Wiimote.
The rhythm games are good, but the head's up display (HUD) changes are perplexing. In the two games where you hold down buttons before shaking the Wiimote, the HUD is located at the top of the screen, with icons moving in from the right and the strike zone located on the left. The "Summer Nights" opening sequence displays the bar vertically on the left side of the board. Icons move in from the top and go down to the strike zone. The sleepover sequence goes back to the horizontal style but places the bar in the middle of the screen. When you get to the beauty school section, the hit indicator is placed in the middle of the screen and the directional icons come in from all directions. Finally, the dance sequence has icons emanating from the middle, and the player must perform the indicated action before the icon reaches the very edge of the circular strike zone. The HUD changes feel like they wanted to make each stage feel like completely different experiences due to the cosmetic changes. However, this decision only results in frustration for the casual player due to the many mental switch-ups needed to perform the exact same task.
Party mode is likely to be played often since it supports up to eight players. All of the Balance Board and Wiimote minigames are here and perform in exactly the same manner as they do in Quickplay mode. The big addition to this mode is karaoke, which lets players sing along to the songs while others handle the rhythm sections. Players can sing to the songs during every minigame, so there are no restrictions.
Finally, players will have to play through the Story mode to unlock a good amount of content in the game's other modes. You take on most of the minigames in other modes as you follow the events from the movie. Each game is bookended by small clips of the movie along with a text summary of what happened to provide the player with the proper context. You'll mostly be dealing with the rhythm portions by strumming the guitar and shaking the Wiimote. You'll still be able to perform the driving sequence, the car fixing sequence, and the sports challenges, but you won't be able to participate in either the karaoke or carnival game portions that are offered in the other modes. Like the other game modes, though, you have the option of using either the Wii Remote or Balance Board when applicable.
The biggest complaint about the Story mode is that it's painfully short and takes less than an hour to complete. Because Story mode is short, you can quickly unlock what you need for party situations. For the solo player, though, this simply means that you'll shelve the game much more quickly until there is a party situation. There are variable difficulty levels for the mode, but they don't seem to prolong the Story experience because there isn't a way to fail in any of the activities. The worst thing that could happen is a low score, and since you'll move on to the next level no matter what, you don't feel a sense of challenge.
The graphics are good if you're willing to overlook some questionable choices. The character models go for a caricature look as opposed to a more realistic one, and it works nicely since there is a resemblance to the movie actors. The animations look smooth, if a bit exaggerated, and there aren't any clipping issues. The colors are bright for both characters and environments, though the backgrounds can be a tad simplistic with barely animated bystanders in the background. The lack of mouth movement for any of the characters during the singing portions is perplexing. During most of the sequences where the group is redoing a musical number from the film, you can easily tell that it's prerecorded video of the game's graphics in action. The characters remain stoic or gleeful, depending on what the song calls for, but their lips never move along to the lyrics. In a game completely devoted to music, seeing characters not engage in the act of singing during a song is a big letdown and completely ruins the mood that the game is trying to bring to the player.
For a game based on a big musical, the sound should be nothing short of great. Luckily, that's just what you have here. The music may not be directly lifted from the films, but the singing cast does a good job of getting all of the tunes delivered with just the right pitch and tempo. While the music takes center stage, it is interesting to note that the rest of the game is light on voices and effects. None of the cut scenes have any voices, and the only time you hear any voices is after the minigames, when the characters cheer or sigh in disappointment. The effects are limited to menu selection screens where each button is made to sound like a riff from the soundtrack. Normally the lack of good voice work and sound effects would be a bad thing for a game, but when the title's focus is on the music and it does it so well, the trade-off is worthwhile.
Grease features the use of three different control schemes, and when they work, they work well. The game picks up on singing as well as any other karaoke game on the market, so there's no worry about it not tracking the right pitch. Using the Wii Balance Board feels odd since all you can do is lean to perform the moves. It is rather responsive, even during a few sections when a rapid succession of arrows comes in from all directions.
The Wii Remote turns out to be problematic, but not in the way you'd expect. The flicking motions for the rhythm sections are quite responsive, even during rapid arrow bouts. The same can be said for the strumming portions, where buttons have to be held down in order to count. Once you go outside of the rhythm sections, though, things become unresponsive. The wrestling and driving games are fine, but the baseball game reads your swings much later than when you make them. Your player will only be able to make his swings a little after you finish making your motion, so the mode is almost impossible to play. Basketball also feels problematic since you can never get a good sense of whether or not you're aiming correctly, ensuring you miss more often than you make shots. The Greased Lightning fixing segment also presents problems, as the game sometimes can't tell if you really are turning the wrench, and it has issues determining when you're swinging the Wiinote for a mallet hit. The controls for these sections make the minigames a chore, but since you can skip them without real consequence, the rest of the control experience remains fine.
As I've said before, Grease isn't a bad game. The minigames aren't too bad when the motion controls work, and the karaoke aspect brings out an interesting way to get a multiplayer game going without making everyone grab a Wii Remote to perform the same actions. Despite this, it isn't a great game. The controls for the Wii Remote can be laggy or unresponsive, the HUD changes for the same actions seem pointless, and the Story mode is much shorter than anyone would ever expect. At its current price of $40, Grease is impossible to recommend to even the most ardent fan. If you're a big fan of the film or musical and have a bunch of like-minded friends around, rent it for a night or two to satisfy your craving for the game. If you want to own it, wait for the inevitable price drop.
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