When EyeToy debuted at E3 2003, people were excited. Sony's USB camera allowed gamers to put their image into the game and interact directly with the virtual environment without using a controller. EyeToy was praised both as a technological innovation and as a means of bringing casual and non-traditional gamers into the fold – bridging gaps between old and the young, male and female, casual and hardcore.
The first software for the camera, the disc of mini-games called EyeToy:Play, was just as much about showing off EyeToy's capabilities as it was providing meaningful gameplay experiences. Many of the reviews for the package talked as much about the camera itself as the applications – the games were on the shallow side, they said, but the device certainly had a lot of potential.
That potential continues to be explored in EyeToy: Groove, a stand-alone rhythm/action similar to the Play mini-game Beat Freak. In solo mode, the player stands in the centre of the screen surrounded by six "activators" arranged in a circle. "Dance icons" appear and gravitate outward towards the activators. The idea is to touch the corresponding activator at the same time that the icon reaches it – to the beat, of course.
There's also a stronger type of icon that will blast straight through the activator unless "contained" for several seconds by wiggling the fingers, as well as shooting-star icons that travel in arcs through several activators at a time.
Groove awards points in an odd way. Score is based not only on how accurately the activators are hit, but also how active the player is overall. In other words, standing there jabbing rigidly at the activators will guarantee a C or D score, regardless of accuracy. It's also possible for a less-accurate person to still get points based on enthusiasm alone.
I'm not convinced that this method of forcing people to groove is a particularly fair or effective one. In Dance Dance Revolution, for example, the main goal is to step on the correct arrows, and any "groove" created, as in movement of the rest of the body, arms and so forth, is a natural and musical extension of the footwork. With Groove, priorities have been reversed, and it seems artificial.
Muscle fatigue is also problem in Groove. While it's to be expected to an extent in any physical game, so much of the fatigue in Groove is a result of an overly-convoluted menu system combined with the fact that to select a menu options involves holding out the arm and wiggling the fingers for several seconds.
Consider for example how many steps it takes to go through a single song in Solo mode: First it's "choose," then select a song using left and right arrows, then select a difficulty level, then "choose" the selection, then "play" the song. After two minutes of arm-waving through the song itself, the exit procedure is to select "ok," then input a name for the scoreboard (this step cannot be skipped until at least one letter is entered), then "end" to leave the scoreboard, then "continue," then "yes" or "no" in response to a prompt to save the game. That's ten steps (assuming the game was not saved, which takes even longer). Ridiculous.
There are three multiplayer modes, one of which is merely two people trading off screen-time to see who can get the higher score. The two modes with both people on-screen together are some of the most useless multiplayer applications I have ever seen. In Team Sync, two players are meant to stand together in the centre, one in front of the other, and cooperate to hit all the icons while hopefully not elbowing the activators too early, or for that matter each other.
Then there's Battle Groove, where one player is designated as the color blue and the other red. When the song plays, twice the number of icons appear in either blue or red, and players are supposed to only hit the icons that match their color. Unfortunately in practice it's impossible not to hit the opponent's icons as well.
More than half a year has passed since EyeToy first hit store shelves. Continuing to wax poetic on the gimmicky-coolness of the camera itself would be unfair to people who might buy Groove on the strength of potential alone. Yes, the EyeToy has potential. Groove is an example that the potential has yet to be realized.