PlayStation PlayStation 1 Reviews

Bust A Groove 2 Perfected The Original's Unique Flavor

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Bust A Groove 2 (Bust A Move 2 Dance Tengoku Mix) - PlayStation 1

Bust A Groove 2

Publisher: Enix
Release Date: August 22, 2000

From the mid-90s to roughly the mid-2000s, the way players received most of their gaming news was through physical media. Monthly subscriptions to various gaming magazines were the most common medium to catch the latest previews and critic scores and play the games themselves. Each monthly issue contained a demo disc, featuring a handful of current, up-and-coming, and notable titles from the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 libraries. I’d never forget the October 2000 issue of the Official U.S PlayStation Magazine, Issue 37, which contained the demo for Bust A Groove 2. This would be my first time introduced to the series, much less a rhythm game, outside of playing Dance Dance Revolution 4th Mix for the first time at the arcade and having two left feet.

The demo featured only one level—Heat’s stage, with a choice between Hiro and Heat himself. As someone who would play the original Bust A Groove after Bust A Groove 2, I wasn’t aware of the unique “four-beat” gameplay that carried over from its predecessor. There was a single screen that “showed” the player what the controls were, but everything else was left for the player to figure out. I remember seven-year-old me was frustrated, yet enamored, by the scenery, the music, and the overall personality of “Heat.” 

A b-boy with the power to control fire, dancing throughout a foundry while raised on a freight elevator. All the while a catchy Jazz Hip-Hop track played as his theme, boasting that the “Heat will burn your whole crew” and he’s “second to none ‘cause the Heat is on” whenever the hook came on. Sure, I was losing to the AI, but at least I was getting my butt kicked in style. Much like my first exposure to Dead Or Alive 2, after having a taste of the game I wanted more. 

The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine issue that featured the Bust-A-Groove 2 Demo - Source: eBay

Once again, during the next report card, I earned a video game and I knew I needed to get Bust A Groove 2. Looking at how much the game is fetching these days, I’m glad to say I still own my copy even if it is just the disc because I was a young foolish child who didn’t know how to take care of their products back then. 

In any event, Bust A Groove 2 was released in August 2000, a few months before the Official U.S PlayStation Magazine demo, and one of the last PlayStation games to release before the PlayStation 2’s launch in October. I’d assume this was what made the games increase in value, not just high demand vs low stock, but also due to the awkward release timing as everyone was abuzz for the PS2.

While Sony fans waited with bated breath, most had missed out on what I’d arguably consider one of the best games in the PlayStation library. Everything was improved upon from the original Bust A Groove. Instead of focusing on free choreography, Bust A Groove 2 offered a simple yet skill-based progression system that would dynamically adjust according to the player’s skill level. In the first game, players manually decided which dance route to go for in order to go for high scores or their own dance routine. Bust A Groove 2 eliminated these options, instead going for a linear, single route that allowed players to focus on the commands as they appeared on the screen.

A killer kaiju robot is destroying the city and the only way to save it is by outdancing it while on board a helicopter...

The “branching dance routes” exists in Bust A Groove 2, but it’s dependent on how accurately the player hits the fourth beat. As with the last game, each command is split into the directional inputs to the left of the command and the trigger that must be pressed on the fourth beat. This time around, if the player hits the beat on the exact frame of the song, the trigger button will flash on the screen, prompting a “perfect hit.” This then increases the level of the command route as well as the difficulty of the following commands. Hitting multiple “perfect beats” in succession will increase the level of each command until it reaches a combo finisher.

An example of this is everyone’s starting route, a four-move combo. If the player hits the second move perfectly, the player will instead reach a six-move combo, ending with a ‘Cool!’ finish. In the first game, ‘Freeze!’ combos were easily accessible by going through the bottom route for each character. Bust A Groove 2 will allow players to unlock their character's ‘Freeze!’ combos early on so long as they continue to hit the trigger notes perfectly. Towards the end of each song, if the player reaches the final level of their move list while doing this, they will hear the announcer exclaim positively if the player is able to commit to a character’s “hardest” move.

In short, Bust A Groove 2 rewards a player’s precision and timing, which is far greater of importance this time around as there’s a numerical indicator that shows how each person is performing. The player with the highest score value wins, rather than using an arbitrary “groove gauge” to determine the winner. Another new addition are three different colored bars in between the player’s score counter. Every time a player does a “Cool!” “Chillin’!” or “Freeze!” combo, the three bars will raise, resetting to one once it reaches three bars. 

Kids, don't bring a gun to a dance battle.

The player who is able to align all three “Cool, Chillin, and Freeze” bars will unlock a special interaction with the stage and they will temporarily gain a huge boost in point gain. This alone is enough to turn the tides around and serve as a comeback mechanic for the opposing player, which is greatly needed as it’s incredibly common to snowball in Bust A Groove 2 with momentum. Attacking your opponent returns from Bust A Groove, with the same principles applying here. Each character has two attacks, the defender can dodge and on a perfect hit, they can repel the attack back to their opponent.

This time around, attacks, or jammers as they are known, received a major buff in Bust A Groove 2. These attacks can now stun an opponent for so long that it will skip their entire solo performance, allowing the attacker to steal their thunder—Literally. This is where player knowledge is key, as attacking just before a song’s hook will render the victim unconscious meaning the attacker gains a bonus solo performance on top of their own, potentially doubling their points. The defender can always evade the attack and if they’re really savvy, reverse the attack and put the aggressor in a jam themselves.

Just like Bust A Groove, however, the amount of time someone is stunned is roughly three measures. This means if the player is familiar with a song and knows a refrain, hook, or bridge is coming up, they can set the attack as early as possible. This means that even if the defender reverses the attack, the attacker will have enough time to react as trying to do anything before the hook will cause the attacker to tire out. There are a lot of nuances that make Bust A Groove 2 more like a fighting game than its predecessor, while also making the flow of gameplay easier by eliminating the multiple options.

Triggering the "Grooving" mechanic by lining up three colors will cause a unique stage interaction, like this cop car about to crash.

Another addition is the various styles available—Easy, Normal, and Mix. “Easy” mode uses only the directional buttons with an overly simplified move list while “Normal” retains the classic Bust A Groove gameplay. “Mix” mode not only increases the difficulty of all moves but incorporates the face buttons into the left side of the command this time. This means that players will have to keep track of two possible sources of inputs while still consistently hitting the trigger inputs. 

It’s a fun yet challenging way to try out Bust A Groove 2 and I recommend it once the player gets the basics down. Bust A Groove 2’s roster would see a major shift, with several characters being replaced by new ones altogether and existing characters having an updated move set. Here is the total roster for Bust A Groove 2, with new characters in bold, bonus characters in bolden italics, and ‘alternate characters’ in italics.

  • Heat
  • Kelly
  • Strike
  • Hiro
  • Shorty
  • Kitty-N
  • Capoeira (Now a default character)
  • Comet (Replaces Frida as her sister)
  • Tsutomu
  • Bi-O (Replaces Gas-O as his father)
  • Robo-Z Gold
  • Pander
  • ChiChi & Sally (Based on Capoeira)
  • Columbo (Once again, Shorty’s Pet)
  • Hustle Kong (The mascot of Hiro’s club)
  • Sushi Boy (The mascot of Comet’s diner)
  • McLoad (The mascot of Shorty’s jungle cruise, but has Kelly’s dance style for some reason)
  • Michael Doi (Kitty-N’s dance instructor)

There are regional differences between Bust A Groove 2 and Bust A Move 2: Dance Tengoku Mix (The Japanese version) once again. This time around, the changes aren’t as impactful although some suggestive content was left in Bust A Groove 2 that I’m surprised made it in the English localization. Specifically, the character “Michael Doi” himself is a blatant stereotype that is implied in the English version but is cranked to eleven in the Japanese version.

In certain stages like Kitty-N's Dance Studio, outdancing your opponent will destroy it to the point where a "Standby" message will appear, repairing the damage caused.

One major difference is that all of the ending cutscenes were removed, which greatly explains each character’s backstory. The segment ‘Dancing Heroes,’ hosted in-universe by James Suneoka, serves as a talk show skit that explains each character’s backstory as well as other crude humor. While the subtitles are in Japanese, the voices are in English, meaning many of Suneoka’s more suggestive jokes had almost no chance of making it to the American release.

“What did Snow White say to Pinnochio? Lie until your nose can grow no more.” That’s legit a joke James Suneoka says. I don’t think I need to explain the joke, but there’s more of its zany slapstick comedy that for sure would give the game an ‘M’ rating if anything. In my playthrough as Strike, I discovered that he was incarcerated for “gangbanging since birth,” was let out on good behavior for packing chopsticks, formed a rap group “Notorious,” and continued to gang bang. Each character’s story won’t win any Golden Globes, but it was still a feature that would have been welcomed in Bust A Groove 2.

Lastly, there’s the improvement on “Fever Time!” where the character does their encore performance once the player reaches a certain score threshold unique to each stage. While the first game was a novelty, the second game uses “Fever Time!” to determine how well a player is doing. The more a player reaches “Fever Time!” the higher the player will ascend in their path until ultimately reaching the hidden boss. After defeating Robo Z Gold under these conditions, a bonus stage appears where the player fights Pander.

The ending scenes were removed for the American release, leaving most of the story's context up in the air.

When I first reached this stage, I was visibly confused. I had already cleared the game several times, yet I was perplexed to find there was more. Seeing a liminal white space with a cute panda next to my character was weird enough. Then the panda turns into an adult man painted like a panda, with various television screens showing random images. As with every stage in Bust A Groove 2, the stage transitions according to how well the player is doing. This stage goes from the TV room to a dark room with dizzying afterimages, and finally a multicolored space.

This is by far the most difficult stage in the game due to its insane tempo and its complex melody. The hardest thing about Pander’s stage is how distracting everything is, from the music to the stage, and Pander himself. I had nightmares of this boss, specifically from his attack where many hands appear at once followed by a close-up of his face. Bust A Groove 2 is not a horror game, but this would be the “horror section” if anything. The player can inevitably unlock Pander and he has a very interesting dance style rooted in Butoh, or Japanese theater. 

Following the release of Bust A Groove 2, this would be the last game in the series to be released in the West, with Bust A Groove 2 not even seeing a Europe release. The final game in the series would release on November 2000, titled Dance Summit 2001, which would mark a huge diversion from the classic Bust A Move gameplay. While Metro Corporation still exists as a developer, it wouldn’t be the final rhythm-fighting game that would release in the States. A spiritual successor of Bust A Groove would exist yet tied to the name of a certain pop star who was all the buzz during this time.

Pander: The stuff of nightmares.

While I won’t spoil the big surprise just yet, Bust A Groove 2 remains fondly remembered by those who played it back in the day up until now. On the surface, it’s a rhythm game with catchy tunes, eccentric characters, and a colorful cartoonish flavor. However, dive a bit deeper and it becomes one of the most competitive games available at the time to the point where it might as well be a fighting game. Assuming Enix still has the license, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Square Enix to maybe remaster the games or revisit them, although I can imagine the Avex Trax license would be expensive these days.

How can I end this retrospection and review hybrid without mentioning the original singer to Heat's stage, Aaron G. In 2018, he released a re-imagining of Heat's theme song from Bust A Groove 2 and while it may be more mellow than its original version, it was still cool to see an artist tied with the game releasing content. Check it out below if it's your first time hearing.

The Heat Is On 2018 - Aaron G.

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