Motion sensors and the rise of all-singing, all-dancing party games and fancy peripherals have led to a decline in the number of straight-up rhythm action games in recent years. This is a shame when you consider some of the brilliant series of old that would work wonderfully well on modern hardware – particularly the handhelds, as the 3DS oddity Rhythm Thief & The Emperor’s Treasure demonstrated recently. In the absence of a modern sequel to Parappa, Lammy or the mighty Gitaroo Man, we have to make do with this sequel to Natsume’s 2011 Wiiware title, as we become reacquainted with the cutesy Gabrielle and her menagerie of spooky pals.
Gabrielle is a sassy, wide-eyed cartoon lass who is pitched stylistically in the same ball park as Coraline, Sanrio and Scarygirl. For all her gothic posturing, she has a unique problem: she has literally sneezed herself to death, and her spirit has started to work its way out of her body, ready to join the ghostly plane. Naturally, the only way to prevent this from happening and to restore herself to her former physical glory is to bust some moves and throw down the “Ghostly Groove” – a dance style so fly that it enables her to elicit screams from the other denizens of Monsterville.
Harking back to the tremendous rogue’s gallery of loonies from the wider Parappa-verse, the ghoulish characters here are beautifully designed cel-shaded creations. With a bird’s nest full of fluffy yellow chicks sat atop his bonce, Frankie is the cutest version yet of Mary Shelley’s famous monster. Lovably pathetic Vladd is the finest cowardly video game vampire since Disgaea’s Valvatorez, and even shares the aversion to blood, sucking down tomato juice instead.
Great characters are pointless if the core rhythm shenanigans are not up to scratch, and thankfully the basic gameplay is your usual familiar mix of swipes and taps in time with the musical accompaniment, and works well. Nabbing screams allows you to unlock extra bits and pieces – like dress-up items to personalise your Gabrielle avatar, some entertaining minigames and some collectible badges and artwork to put in a scrapbook. The playlist that forms the basis for the dance sequences is full of pleasantly jaunty tunes with a supernatural bent, and while there aren’t compositions here that could live with the hip hop mastery of Chop Chop Master Onion, they are fun and jolly and fir perfectly with the excellent visual style.
As fun as the touchscreen action is, the whole thing is very easy to beat, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. Once you complete a stage you have the option to return to it and have a go on two higher difficulty settings. Sadly, there is a distinct lack of actual dancing on offer and an inordinate amount of lengthy, wordy cutscenes. There are reams of text to plough through, and while some of it is undoubtedly witty, you soon find yourself longing for more actual gameplay. The plot is far too silly and packed with random occurrences and encounters, zipping all over the place like the Cartoon Network with ADHD. They sure do talk a hell of a lot in Monsterville, and having a bit of voice acting would have been welcome.
VERDICT: It’s a shame that the developer took this approach; it‘s as though they decided to almost completely eschew the best part of the game in order to present what they obviously felt was a worthy stab at an interactive cartoon. The reality is, when you pay for a retail title you expect something a bit meatier. And while this looks, sounds and plays great while it lasts, you will find yourself screaming for more.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.
Review code provided by publisher.