Oh baby baby, how was I supposed to know…
It has been proven by science, science conducted by myself, that human beings develop a taste for music between the ages of eleven and fourteen. The fascinating thing about this phenomenon is that this newly acquired taste is usually incredibly questionable. Let’s look at Subject #0001, some kid named Jurge Cruz-Alvarez, who is definitely not me or my only test subject. At the age of eleven his favorite bands were Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Panic at the Disco. Him and his friends were enamored with those bands’ in your face attitude and youthful spirit. They were their voice, their idols.
These carefully marketed musical acts are just a few in a collection of many that have left their mark on pop-culture, and yeah, I’ll fess up, I’m Jurge Cruz-Alvarez, I was the kid with the Black Parade shirt (I’m sorry). Many kids were, and if it wasn’t My Chemical Romance, then maybe it was Blink-182, or hell, maybe it was One Direction. Regardless, as long as there are young impressionable kids, there will be some musical act who will grab their attention and help shape their formative years. However, when one strolls down the dimly lit halls of artists who have influenced countless kids, you will soon find the statue of a young woman, a glistening gold statue; but there’s something off about it, because this statue is wearing blue pleather jeans, and over that pleather, is a bright pink pair of panties. That statue is of the one and only Britney Spears.
In the early 2000s, just a few years before my musical awakening, you would be hard pressed to find any other musical act as big as Britney Spears. She was a young girl with a lot on her mind and heart, and gosh darn it, she was going to sing about it to the tune of a catchy pop beat. Her influence would eventually penetrate beyond music, as she would go on to appear in multiple feature films, cartoons, comics, and eventually, her own video game. Hey, if Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, and the Spice Girls got their own video game, then why shouldn’t Britney? I myself don’t have a lot of experience with Britney’s music. I knew who she was, but I would probably confuse a Britney hit for a Christina Aguilera joint. Also, before you get ahead of yourself, no, we are not talking about the mobile game, Britney’s American Dream developed by Glu. No, I’m talking about a real video game. I’m talking about 2002’s Britney’s Dance Beat for the PlayStation 2, developed by Metro Graphics and published by THQ.
Like Britney Spears, rhythm games were becoming a big deal in the early 2000s, thanks to the massive success of Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution. While at first it might seem cynical to make a game cashing in on the fame of a hot pop star, it did make a lot of sense to make a rhythm game that could entice western audiences. But Britney’s Dance Beat isn’t all fun and games. No, like the music industry, Britney’s Dance Beat demands that you crush others’ hopes and dreams in order for you to reach the top of the ladder.
The game allows you to embody six young kids filled with enthusiasm and passion for dance. They have spent countless hours honing their skills for this moment, to be the one to share a stage with Britney Spears as one of her backup dancers; but, as 2002 computer generated Britney Spears lets you know, there can be only one.
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These six dancers must now compete against each other in one on one dance-offs, in duels of style and passion, to find who is truly worthy of backing up Britney Spears. Once upon a time these six men and women might have been brothers and sisters in arms, but now they are the only obstacles on their path to glory. I decided to align myself with Enrique, as his enthusiasm displayed on the character select screen moved me.
Our first battle begins: our opponent is a blonde haired kid by the name of Dan, the stage is an aquarium (?), and the soundtrack is the song that started it all, the big bang, “…Baby One More Time.” The game does little to instruct me on how to actually play it, but hey, a game can’t give you rhythm, it has to be embedded within you.
Like many rhythm games, Britney’s Dance Beat uses dance notes delivered through a wheel-like hud on the bottom corner of your screen. In that wheel are small slots where various face and directional buttons can appear. The wheel also has a dial that moves clockwise, when the dial aligns with one of the notes is when you need to hit the displayed command. The more notes you hit and combo, the higher your score gets. Whoever executes the song best, wins. It works well, but what really stands out here is what it does with combos. You see it turns out that each of these early 2000s looking kids have a hidden ability. Whenever you nail a string of ten notes in succession, your character’s ability activates and it messes with your opponent’s note wheel. This could involve moving their note order in real time, switching the type of note mere seconds before the dial highlights it, or adding directional buttons that must be played in tangent with the face buttons. So what could have been a poor DDR clone mapped to a controller actually turned out to be a mixture of Hatsune Miku and Super Puzzle Fighter. And it kind of rules?
It didn’t take me long to get used to it, for Enrique and I to become one with the rhythm. His pops, locks, and grinds attacked with the force of a shotgun blast. My string of combos had our opponent drowning. With every perfect move we make, Britney whispers sweet words of encouragement and like some sort of magical being, she suddenly appears in the center of the aquarium (still not sure??) to temporarily double the value of each note. My head begins to bob and sway. My foot taps to the rhythm. My eyes are focused. My face grins and
MY LONELINESS, IS KILLING ME, AND I, I MUST CONFESS, I STILL BELIEVE, STILL BELIEVE. WHEN I’M NOT WITH YOU I LOSE MY MIND. GIVE ME A SIGN! HIT ME BABY ONE MORE TIME!
This game rules. Britney Spears rules. I am reborn.
How could this game be this competent? Why have I not discovered Britney Spear’s siren song sooner? Unfortunately, we can realistically only find the answer to one of these questions. Turns out that the game’s developer, Metro Graphics, worked on the Bust-A-Groove franchise. This is a series that I have very little personal experience with, but after doing the research, the similarities are striking. Regardless, going off from that first encounter, Britney’s Dance Beat is way better than one would ever think it would be, albeit a bit easy. While I enjoyed absolutely crushing whatever his name, I was looking forward to a challenge.
The next four battles didn’t offer the difficulty spike I was hoping for, but the music still moved Enrique and me. Upon finishing the fifth dance off, I was taken aback to find out that our next battle would be scored to “…Baby One More Time” again. I assumed that the game would scroll on over to another screen with more songs, but no, this rhythm game only has five full Britney Spears songs. As a born again Britney fan, I can tell you that Ms. Spears had three full albums at the point in which this game was produced. Yet we only have “…Baby One More Time”, “Oops!… I Did It Again”, “Stronger”, “I’m a Slave 4 U”, and “Overprotected.” Pray tell, video game, where is “(You Drive Me) Crazy?” Where the hell is the timeless classic, “E-mail my Heart?!” For the remaining encounters, Enrique and I slumped through the same songs and dance numbers, except with the difficulty dramatically skyrocketed and the length of the encounter doubled. We crushed more ambitions and made young men and women question their life’s work, but this time, we took no pleasure in it.
Soon after defeating the last wannabe, we found ourselves at the conclusion of our journey, all in less than an hour. One last dance, against our senpai. We dance off to “…Baby One More Time” for the third time, and as repetitive as it was, it didn’t make the moment any less magical. We made it. We were finally going to be someone.
When the dance ends, the screen cuts to a message from Britney,
Th… that’s it? We changed as people to get here, Britney. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Oh gosh, what did we do to those kids?! Everything looks so small from this ivory tower. Is this who I am? Is this who Enrique is? Britney Spears, you are a cruel temptress, and now, I truly am a slave for you.
Britney’s Dance Beat has so much potential to hang with the best of japanese developed rhythm games. Britney’s music is like the concentrated, crystallized essence of what pop music stands for and having it soundtrack a rhythm game with mechanics this sound, only to have it suffer from a lack of content or progression is a damn shame. It’s worth noting that doing well in the campaign unlocks some behind the scenes footage, as well as some 360 degree video footage from some of her live performances that is honestly pretty impressive by 2002 standards. That’s all well and good, but even if you were into that stuff, it is all locked behind you doing well at the same five songs. It’s just not worth it.
So I think it’s time for our community and the internet at large to put their power towards a goal worthy of our time and energy. I say it’s time for Britney’s Dance Beat 2. I’m talking about “Gimme More.” I’m talking about getting down to “Toxic.” “Toxic”, freaking “Toxic”, Internet! I want to dance not inside of some abandoned aquarium, but on the surface of Mars. I want to be inside a Britney music video, to be there, and be hit with the realization that, “Ooops!… I really did do it again, huh?”
Please, bring back Britney’s Dance Beat.