In The Groove (PlayStation 2)

by rampage, 16 June 05

In The Groove for the Playstation 2 is an extremely well executed port of its arcade brother. It features an enhanced user interface, improved graphics, and a huge songlist. However, it's not without its glaring flaws and problems including long load times, UI glitches, and idiotic song censorship.

My opinions of the arcade ITG game are no secret. To summarize, I wanted to see it succeed, but as a player, I wasn't a huge fan. I enjoyed the great music and slick graphics, but in many cases, the step charts for songs just killed it for me. In any event, recently I finally had a chance to sit down with the retail PS2 version of ITG and really put it to work. It has many good things about it, but it also has many big negatives. All of which I shall address. Since most people at this point are familiar with ITG's gameplay, music, and steps, I'm going to focus mostly on how well this was ported to the PS2 and how it compares to the arcade experience.

Yes, it is almost exactly the same experience as in the arcade. It's got all of the same songs, and the UI is very similar. I actually prefer the PS2 UI. The colors are slightly darker and the fonts are much better. The whole thing is much crisper and easier to read than in the arcade. I never had any real complaints about the arcade UI, and they not only duplicated it, but made it even better.

The frame rates are very smooth, although I experienced some jerkiness using 2.5X and higher on some expert songs or when using lots of mods. For the most part, though, it runs very well. In normal circumstances, it's just as smooth as DDR Extreme is with arrows that feel like they are marbles rolling down a glass sheet.

The graphics are crystal clear, as one would expect. Much, much nicer than in the arcade. The textures and sprites are very well defined, the colors are vibrant, and everything looks very polished. Again, no complaints here.

As far as different gameplay modes, there are no surprises here, there's a workout ("Fitness") mode, training mode, Marathon mode (with various courses and unique challenges), and standard gameplay modes. Fitness mode features a nifty endless non-stop mode.

Ok. The songs sound great. The audio is crystal clear and everything sounds really good, no real shocker.

Here's the real shocker: songs are heavily censored, and for the stupidest things! For instance, in Charlene, "sex," "drugs," and "dark side" are all censored.. uh, dark side? In Torn, "naked" is censored. Yes, "naked" is clipped out. Land of the Rising Sun's second verse is very sloppily cut and changed with a verse that is in the original. ROM-eo & Juli8 has "sexy" bleeped out. But, Touch Me, a song with blatant sexual innuendo is left, well, untouched. Mouth, which features such lyrics as, "turn me on," and lots of very obvious sexual innuendo is left alone.

Update: I recently learned that many parts of Mouth are in fact modified. Also, the word "boyfriend" is apparently censored in Normal. Uh. WTF? There's a running thread discussing the censorship whats and whys.

So, let's see.. "sexy robot," bad. "[W]ould it be so bad if I could turn you on," good. I don't get it. It's also worth mentioning that many of the censorings are very jarring and sloppy, almost as if it was a last minute consideration.

One could argue that it's an ESRB requirement for an "E" rating. However, take a look at DDR Extreme. It uses "fuck" in Highs Off You, has a cover of Like a Virgin, and has very suggestive lyrics in Wonderland. It got an E rating, too.

Carbon arcade copy, with much improved graphics, as was mentioned before. There's a few preview songs from ITG2 here as well: Liquid Moon, Tribal Style, Funk Factory, Wake Up, and Incognito are all unlockables. The timing feels spot on. All of the marathon courses are there along with some great new ones. If you're used to playing in the arcade, this should feel no different. All the songs, steps, and modes are there.

The Bad Stuff:
With all that said, and looking past the song censorship, there are some notable gripes about this game. The big one that everybody will likely be talking about is the infuratingly long load times. They are at times simply attrocious. We're talking 5-10 seconds at some places when transitioning from song to menu.

Loading the game to the PS2 using HD Loader hard drive creates an improvement, but that's by no means an acceptable solution to most. In addition, the loading screens have no music, and sometimes no background animations or any other indicator that anything is happening. Whenever I see this, I instinctively think the game crashed. This is really unfortunate. The console DDRs did a good job masking any load times by using music and background animations, but in ITG it feels very abrupt.

Another personal gripe is its "Event Mode." If you fail a song in Event Mode, it doesn't take you back to the song wheel as one would expect, it drops you back to the title screen, which means sitting through lots of menus and the long load times. This drove me batty, as I'm used to the concept of Event Mode where it's continuous play, even if you fail. But, if you cancel out of a song using select/start, it does drop you back to the song wheel. I don't know if this is by design, or something that slipped past Quality Assurance, but it's a real annoyance.

Update: I've also learned of other QA problems, such as save file corruption with certain options being selected. It looks to me like the game was quite probably rushed to market. But, that's how it goes in the world of software development sometimes. DDR is by no means bug free, but they have had much longer to perfect their engine as well. It's obviously no excuse for the problems with the game, but as a software developer myself, I am understanding of how these things happen. I'm sure that unlike the unchanging list of problems between Ultramix games, the ITG development team will indeed fix these problems if there is a future ITG console release.

Final Thoughts:
In all, this is a great console port, and great first effort in bringing ITG to the masses. I can sense that some pieces of this were rushed to get the game released on time, and in the process some things were possibly missed. But, as a fan of dancing games and of the series, I recommend this game if you're looking to augment your home DDR experience with something new. Just don't be surprised when you see the tarnished areas beneath its polished exterior.