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Game Review: Groove Coaster

By / Posted on 10 August 2011

Groove CoasterIt’s hard not to appreciate whatever it is Reisuke Ishida is doing over at Taito’s mobile games division. First he cooked up the synthadelic Trance Pinball, a Japan-only mobile phone game that blended traditional video pinball with the Shibuya nightclub aesthetic of neon lights and thumping reactive music. Then came the phenomenon of Space Invaders: Infinity Gene, another mobile game that exploded in popularity when ported to iOS and later to Playstation and XBox. Infinity Gene took the synesthesia elements of Trance Pinball and applied them to the three-decade-old Space Invaders franchise, added a dash of Charles Darwin and resulted in an instant classic. In a gaming landscape overwhelmingly dominated by surefire hits of gritty war shooters and endlessly gentrified sequels, Ishada continues making quirky and compelling experiences designed to fit in the player’s hand during their morning commute to work rather than their hi-definition television at home. His newest game, Groove Coaster, is an iOS rhythm game that puts Infinity Gene on a virtual reality roller coaster. There must be something very interesting in Ishida’s morning coffee.

The gameplay is relatively simple to understand: your monochrome avatar scoots along a 1-pixel line that swoops across the screen, in and out to create depth and all around to simulate the sweeping thrills and visceral excitement of a roller coaster ride. Electronic music plays, much of it remixes of tracks from Space Invaders and Arkanoid, and targets appear on the coaster track in beat with the music. The player must tap the screen on beat with these targets in order to score, just like so many other rhythm games out there (Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution, Elite Beat Agents). Once you’re comfortable tapping targets, the game switches things up by introducing different beats that need to be tapped and held, tapped repeatedly, scratched, or swiped.

Groove CoasterJust like in Infinity Gene, the player “levels up” as they continue playing, unlocking new features including different avatars and music visualizers. The avatars each have different stats affecting how quickly you fill the completion bar for a stage or how accurate your taps need to be to the beat, so if a particular stage is giving you trouble, maybe a change of avatar can affect your fate. If you’re still having trouble, you can buy power-up items from the in-game shop as microtransactions. That’s right, our old friend, microtransactions – the corporate mandate of all modern games. The base game includes 17 songs/levels with three difficulties each and two more songs already available for 99 cents each, with more likely to come in the future. The concept is easy to understand – if you like the game, you’ll pay for more of it. The problem is that the game doesn’t really charm enough to incite further purchases.

While the main gameplay and design of Groove Coaster is undeniably attractive, it ultimately feels shallow. Dedicated players will scorch through the content in an afternoon, though it is clearly targeting a more casual playset, and there is never anything so innovative or unique as to warrant excitement for more. Perhaps future updates will bring more variety to Groove Coaster like they did with Infinity Gene, but it looks as though such experiences will come at a premium price. We’d like to give Ishida the benefit of the doubt, that whatever tricks he’s got up his sleeve are worth it, but frankly we just don’t trust publisher Square-Enix enough.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.