There are not all that many games that can say they are an entirely new franchise designed around the audience and architecture of the Wii. Boogie, from EA has been working on just that for almost a year now. Its recent release means that we can now see for ourselves what this looks like in practice. EA certainly offered plenty of press releases to try and get the concept across beforehand. The various game modes seemed to hit all the right buttons for the Wii's largely family gamer demographic (something we are going to have to fess up to sooner or later). However, the pieces of the puzzle didn't seem to fit together in any tangible way, certainly not one that sounded like a coherent game in any case.
Playing the game proper, you can see why the concept is hard to communicate without actually getting your hands on the game and giving it a go. Boogie provides a variety of disparate play options that are largely tied together by the use of your disco styled character in each. This unavoidably results in a game that has the feel of a series of party games. There is the Mii-esque dress up stage where you create your character. There is the karaoke sing along game and the rhythm action dancing. This is all rounded off with the video creation toy. Whilst some of these different ways to play overlap each other, there is no real moment where they coalesce into a whole. Because of this, as we shall discuss, the game feels more like a proof of concept than a fully fleshed out experience.
This is not to say that you can't have plenty of fun. In fact one Sunday afternoon my family spent some considerable time being entertained by the dancing. And one evening the grown ups even tried our hands at a spot of karaoke. There is certainly plenty here to please the casual gamer. It excels at providing an experience that scales right down to the youngest family players. Whilst this may not be on the shopping list for more serious gamers, if a game can involve the kids for an hour or two and get you playing together as a family, Mums and Dads are going to be chomping at the bit to get their hands on it.
Before you can get started, you need to unwrap and plug in the microphone. I was expecting the mic to plug into my Wii-Mote like the Nun-Chuck, but instead it plugs into one of the USB ports at the back of the Wii. It's a shame it isn't wireless, but I guess the power consumption may have been too much, or there were complications with having a microphone and nunchuck plugged in together. The cable is long enough to avoid becoming a problem, although it is a little galling to have to mess up my nice neat array of lounge gadgetry. Unless you are going to grope around the back of the Wii each time you play, you will end up with a long white cable trailing out of your AV cabinet. A minor point I know, but this would all have been solved if the mic had been wireless and could have been stowed away with the other remotes.
Once you have loaded the game you are taken straight to the character creation tutorial. I was surprised I couldn't just jump in and get dancing or singing without faffing around. By the end of the tutorial you will have selected a character, named them, dressed them, had a dance and a sing and cut a video. Whilst this does a good, if a little heavy handed, job of introducing you to the main features of the game, it does take a good 10 minutes.
Once you have got through the setting up stages you can start to uncover the fun of the various game elements. The most obvious of these is the SingStar style karaoke. This uses the packed-in Microphone to get you singing in front of your peers, friends and family in karaoke style. If you are not used to busting tunes out in your lounge, your initial reaction may well be 'I'm not doing that'. But given some time, a little humiliation and a spot of alcohol, your British reserve will come tumbling down (or maybe those with other national backgrounds will find it easier to dive straight in). Once we got going, we found the singing game to be a lot of fun. Although the selection of tracks could have been better for a family audience, and a greater variety of tracks would have been welcome. The songs all work well enough, but I know our kids would have loved some Disney themes or Children's TV themes. Maybe that's still to come in Boogie kids. In an era where Rock Band and Guitar Hero are looking to provide songs on demand, the limited selection does look a little sad.
The most popular part of the game for us was the dancing. Rather than have to perform very specific moves with the music you can just wave the Wiimote around to get your on screen character busting some moves, to use the vernacular. This was great for the kids (2 and 4) who found they could prance around the living room waggling to their hearts content, and watching as their on-screen player pulled off jumps, spins, hops and the like. Where they are often frustrated by the complexity required by Wii games, the only frustration here was whether it was their go or not. Time to buy another couple of Wiimotes I think.
The singing and dancing are topped and tailed by character customisation and video production. Before you dance you can accessorise your dancer with the various articles of clothing you have won or been given. Whilst this doesn't play a huge part in the game itself it is nice to be able to play dress up now and again. After the action you can then create a music video featuring your singing and dancing. This proved to be something of an alarming prospect to my other half, who didn't realise her dulcet tones were being recorded. The video creation is fully featured and enables you to spend hours editing and splicing if you are that way inclined. I was surprised that there was no online mode, as the ability to dance, sing and share videos with our Wii friends would have been a big boost to the over all fun.
Overall, Boogie delivers on what it promised. Although if you go back and read the pre-release information that doesn't actually amount to very much. The separate elements of the game each work well in their own right, although we were left wondering if they would ever come together to make sense of the game as a whole. The kids certainly got great value for money here, but I don't think there is nearly as much for the older or hard-core gamer. Essentially, this is an excellent proof of concept, now we just need to see a fully fleshed out game along the same lines.