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In the Groove
Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: RedOctane
Developer: Roxor Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2 Players
Genre: Rhythm/ Health and Exercise/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:
Hmm.... Graphics. The graphics in dancepad games have always seemed to be a bit lackluster to me; there might be some interesting visuals going on in the background, but the arrows are simply arrows - and those are the focus of the game. If you have really exciting backgrounds, they really only serve to make playing the game more difficult. That having been said, In The Groove seems to have about average visuals for a dancepad-based rhythm game. The backgrounds typically look like something from a club visualization system or graphics that might be used in a music video. They are simply animated clips, however. The only "models" in the game are the arrows and the arrow targets.

The song selection in In The Groove is not bad, with over 70 high energy songs from various music genres. In particular, I discovered that I liked MC Frontalot. A couple of MC Frontalot's songs are on In The Groove, including may wife's favorite, the Penny Arcade Theme song, referred to as "PA Theme" in the game.

There are several customizable arrow modifiers that can be turned on and off and combined to change how the game plays. These modifiers can affect the look of the arrows (and whether you can even see them at all) as well as the locations of the targets and other factors about the way the arrows move that can increase the difficulty of playing and change the overall experience. When you combine these modifiers together, the gameplay can get quite maddening. You'll want to play around with them a bit to see what is fun for you and your crew.

One interesting modifier that can be selected will randomize the steps. This basically means that in a given song at a specific difficulty setting, whether there was a single step, a jump, a hand, a hold or a mine, the same type of move will be used, but the specific directions involved are randomized on a per step basis. Put quite plainly, you can test your skill against other players without worrying about them having memorized the moves. Of course, you'll have to read as you go, too.

The Fitness Mode is a nice feature, allowing you to set a goal and to use the game to work out until you reach that goal. The game even keeps "score", showing you the number of calories you've burned so far. This would have been a much more useful feature, however, if it were possible to switch back and forth between stored profiles or to play a multiplayer game in Fitness Mode, switching back and forth. I find that my wife and I will combine our caloric goals and then just take turns until we meet that goal, but that's not as accurate as it would be if we could switch rapidly back and forth between profiles.

And for those of you who are more fit and have developed some skills at these sort of things, In The Groove supports play with two pads as well - either for competition or single-player gameplay across both dancepads. If you plan to attempt playing across two pads, be extra careful that they stay put; many of the dancepads on the market are thin, flimsy and can slip around if you are exerting force from the side. Personally, I played In The Groove on one of Red Octane's Ignition Pads - that's a fine piece of pad.

One interesting mode available in In The Groove is the Marathon Mode. In Marathon Mode, you select a "course" of similar songs that have been grouped together. These songs are then played back-to-back, allowing for a nearly non-stop gaming experience and avoiding the long load times that occur when your scored is tabulated and you have to go back through the menu system. Be warned - some of these "courses" are grueling. They'll start with some offering of hope that you might make it through and then ramp up in difficulty pretty quickly. The "Marathon" mode feels more like a "Survival" mode.

The songs in In The Groove have different levels of difficulty; the harder the level, the more involved, fast-paced and complex the choreography of the steps. In addition to these multiple difficulty levels for each song, the songs can be more or less difficult than other songs, even at the same difficulty level. This is indicated clearly in the song selection screen; there are difficulty meters next to each difficulty rating that indicate how intense that song is for that level. Also, on the left side of the song selection screen, there is a section that indicates a lot of the statistics of the particular steps at a given level, such as how many Jumps, Holds, Mines and Hands are in the level. This allows you to evaluate the difficulty of a given level on an even more personal level.

If you need practice, you can use In The Groove's Practice Mode to practice a specific song. I would suggest, however, playing in Fitness Mode. Both Practice Mode and Fitness Mode will allow you to play a level without worry of running out of "life", but the Fitness Mode is, otherwise, just like playing the game; the Practice mode allows for rewinding and replaying different parts and has a different feel than the game typically has. If you are practicing an easy to medium song, I suggest using Fitness Mode. If the song has a few really difficult parts you'd like to focus on, then you'll want to use Practice Mode for that ability.

Game Mechanics:
The song selection menu in In The Grove takes a bit of getting used to, since the songs are represented on-screen as being above and below each other, but they are selected by tapping left or right. This takes a little bit of adjustment and a bit of presence of mind or you'll find yourself changing the difficulty setting when you intended to change songs.

The large selection of arrow modifiers allows for a good degree of customization and some interesting "twists" on the standard dancepad game. If you combine a lot of these together, the gameplay can get confusing and frenetic - offering a way to get a bigger challenge out of the game than even the expert level.

One issue I had with the user interface is that the song selections rotate up and down, but you switch between them by tapping left and right. Tapping up or down twice (which you are likely to do when you're trying to figure out why the songs aren't changing) will change your difficulty setting - and if you're not looking for it, it's easy to miss. Imagine your surprise when the screen begins to fill up with arrows in all the colors of the rainbow. This can be surprising and a bit unsettling, to say the least.

Finally, I found myself getting just a bit aggravated after each song, while waiting for the score to be tabulated. Perhaps I am becoming a bit impatient with the increasing speed of computing these days, but I felt like the judges must have been arguing over the score, it takes so long.

All-in-all, I found In The Groove to be an excellent game, with a few quirks here and there, but enough originality to keep it interesting.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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