Thursday, 25 June 2009

5 Street: Ultimate Campness in 3 Easy Steps

Hey there! Do you want to be considered an awkward social oddity in both real life and on the Internet? Do you want to watch and learn physically impossible dance moves that will get you odd looks from the public? Do you want to want to listen to terrible pop songs - and love every second of it?

Then you should play Elite Beat Agents. But if that sounds like too much effort for you, then you can play the Dancing MMO 5 Street!

5 Street is... an experience, and you too can achieve the sheer pinnacles of flamboyant dress and bad dancing that only an imported Korean game can provide!

Step One: Take an existing idea, and bring it Online.
A whole bunch of modern-day Massively Multiplayer Online games are doing this as of late. Initially MMOs were the sole territory of RPGs (Who hasn't heard of World of Warcraft?), but since that market's getting saturated; there are a whole bunch of other game genres left untapped. 5 Street's main 'gimmick' is to be an MMO about dancing. Y'know, like the movies High School Musical and Step Up. But films are non-interactive, which isn't prime videogame material; so an actual game has to be cribbed from also.

The obvious choice here are rhythm and music games. That genre is pretty synonymous with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series now (unfortunately), but stealing ideas from those two would be a bit too obvious; as would be taking cues from Dance Dance Revolution. So they copied the system from a dancing game called Bust a Groove, an old PlayStation 1 number with a small fanbase... and gameplay that had very little to do with rhythm at all. Unlike the aforementioned games, Bust a Groove requires no rhythm feeling or musical sense at all - just good reactions and the ability to tell left from right. What better system could be aimed at non-gamer preteens?

Everybody do the Seizure! It's all the rage...

Step 2: Camp it Up to the Max
We're dealing with an audience the developers assume have the attention span of a flea on a sugar rush, and are naturally drawn to anything brightly coloured, amazingly pretty, and can be dressed in whatever they can get their hands on. Oh yes, and they must be girls. Because everyone knows girls will accept any and every game you give them as long as it has the Cute factor in unhealthy levels. In real life, this is how kitch fashion shops start up. In videogames, this is how you make a game bewilderingly silly in design.

Even from the initial loading screen (and what a loading screen it is), you are thrown head-first into a subculture of fashion that the average guy - sexuality notwithstanding, before stereotypes start flying around - would have never come across before; or would start running from very quickly in the other direction if they had. Everything stays relatively 'normal' if a female character is chosen, but... interesting things start happening if you play as a guy.

Although a lot of the functions in the game are gender specific (a lot of graphical changes, along with 'Lovers' dance mode being reserved for male/female couples only), the majority of the dance moves in the game are gender specific, leading to dance routines that are either hillarious or horrifying, depending on your sense of humour.

"If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friiiiiends~"

This extends to the clothing avalable in the game too. I have to credit the designers here - they went to some lengths to ensure you can create a vaguely cool-looking outfit, with new clothes appearing very regularly (you have to pay real money to wear 90% of them, though). But for every sharp suit or edgy dj getup, there's a leather vest and vinyl hotpants combo to offend the eyes.

"I must admit the clothes in this are styli- OH MY GOD WHAT"

The music you dance to is quite literally under the influence of public opinion. In what's probably the most blatant disregard of copyright laws in a videogame ever; players can submit their favourite songs to the powers that be, and sooner or later they show up ingame; including swear-heavy gangsta rap and lite-metal. Before you know it you're gyrating to tunes from Lady Gaga to Sum 41 to Easy E (the latter surprised me), with a smattering of Korean Pop left over from before the localisation. The genres are varied just enough to have you find a song or 3 that you honestly enjoy, even as a guilty pleasure.

Step 3: Actually... enjoy yourself?
Despite all of this - despite the camp clothing, the stolen gameplay, and the arguably (if you're unlucky or hate Top 40 tunes) terrible music; 5 Street is inexplicably fun. Even though the dancing system has nothing to do with rhythm whatsoever, it can get genuinely challenging as you start performing better. The stunting system is extremely satisfying, as you pull of headspins, backflips, and the Worm in rapid sucession as cheering sound effects go off, sparkles go EVERYWHERE, and your score skyrockets.


The items you can buy for free are limited, but some look so good you're tempted to splash some loose change - before you realise you're broke. Some of the graphics look a little cheap, and there's next to no area for you to explore (it's not really that kind of MMO), it's well built, and some of the areas are honestly pretty.

As with nearly all free-to-play MMOs there's not enough addictive content to last you more than a week without paying some cash, and if any of your manly-man friends catch wind of you playing this, you'll be resigned to a life of mockery; but it's a silly, cheap way to waste an extended weekend.

Oh, and as a side note, despite the child-friendly arrangement of it all, if you decide to get a 'Lover' in-game, you may marry and then have sex with the significant other. In glorious, poorly modeled 3D. I've not seen it first hand (I'm a clean little games reviewer), but when I saw the item shop stocked condoms, the camp playing experience suddenly became a hell of a lot more awkward...