EA attempts to turn a music game into a non-game with disastrous results.
Imagine, if you will, playing Dance Dance Revolution without the scrolling arrow prompts. Instead of earning points for hitting the correct arrow as it reaches the top of the screen, you are scored on how well you hit any arrow to the beat of the current song. You receive fewer points per step if you keep hitting the same arrow over and over again, however. There is also a button you can press if you want to follow arrow patterns for more points, but it is optional.
That's pretty much how Boogie works. The main game involves flicking the Wii remote in one of four directions, completely in freestyle. You'll score points if the flick is done in concert with the beat of the selected song, but a lack of Wii remote motion variety will earn you fewer points. Doing well will fill up a dance meter, and when it's filled up enough you can hold down the B Trigger on the Wii remote to pull off a special dance move. Directional prompts will appear when this happens, but it's the only time during a performance when you'll need to follow directions. Attaching an optional nunchuk will let you strike a pose with the unit's motion sensor or “sing" a portion of the song by pressing the Z Button when prompted.
If you have a decent amount of gaming experience or a fair sense of rhythm, it will only take you a few moments to realize that the “flick to the beat" setup is completely pointless. The goal of any given song is to score enough points to earn a medal, but once you realize that you can do high-scoring special moves almost constantly once your meter is filled, that's all you need to do to get an easy gold medal on the hardest difficulty. (There really aren't different difficulties in Boogie; the game merely raises the score needed for medals when you raise the level.) All you need to do to achieve these scores is waggle the Wii remote around over and over and over again. And because there are only a few different patterns to pull off the special moves, it gets old and stale very, very quickly.
This may sound like no different from pressing a button on beat as with other music games. The critical difference is that with other music games, hitting a button makes music. If you don't do anything, you don't get music. The appeal of the genre is that people can pretend to be music experts without any prior experience. Dance Dance Revolution is an exception, however: Instead of making music by stepping on the arrow pads, the player participates by physically mimicking dancing moves. Even if DDR didn't have the scrolling arrows, at least people would be moving around and doing something that is music-related. DDR also has a wide variety of memorable patterns associated with specific songs. In Boogie, the simple wrist-flicking motion has no real connection to the music, which takes all the enjoyment out of the game. You're not making the music, and you're not actually dancing. Therefore, you're not really doing anything.
That is not to say that Boogie is completely devoid of fun, however. From the start, Electronic Arts designed this game for the casual, “Blue Ocean" gamer. I let some of my more casual-gamer friends give Boogie a whirl, and for the hour or so that we played it as a group, we all had fun. Everyone exaggerated the movements, dancing along with the game and having a good time with the song selection. However, toward the end of our play session, everyone was a lot less enthusiastic about playing it. It seemed as if once they actually sat down to play Boogie as a regular game, they realized that the game is repetitive, boring, and easy to win once you know what you're doing.
That's the flaw of Boogie's main game. It makes an assumption that you have no idea what you're doing. Although EA is playing the percentages with this one, knowing that a lot of people don't really know how to play games, the game is so easy and simple that it won't take long for someone with little experience to master the game. Even casual gamers will therefore lose interest in Boogie more quickly than most other music games because of its simplicity and lack of challenge. Guitar Hero has universal appeal, yet it's far more complicated, and challenging, than Boogie. If EA really wanted this game to appeal to everyone, it should have included other modes of play that upped the challenge for players looking to graduate from the (very shallow) wading pool.
EA did include a karaoke mode in Boogie in an attempt to address this issue, but it's a confusing, broken mess. A lot of it has to do with the song selection, which is pulling double duty as music you both dance to and sing to. As a result, there are a lot of songs that have considerable dead space in the vocals. The game represents several bars of silence in its scrolling note chart as a large, single chunk, creating confusion regarding pacing as the timing bar moves across the chart at wildly different speeds. The game also only displays one measure at a time during the singing parts, making it hard to flow from one set of words to the next unless you know the song by heart. The included microphone does a fairly good job of picking up the tone of your voice, but only if there isn't any interfering background noise. That is, unless you're playing by yourself, the voice recognition is going to suck. (If you're playing the game by yourself, the game is going to suck anyway.)
So then, karaoke mode is a total bust, casual gamer or not. Besides that and the caveman-can-do-it main dancing game, the only other major mode is the music video creator. After completing a dance, you'll have the option to make a movie using a variety of camera angles and predefined visual effects. While it is a simple editor, it's robust enough to make some very creative movies in step with your dancing performance.
However, it can and will take a lot of work to make a very good, well-thought out video (at least 10 or 15 minutes). Since it requires you to play a boring game to get the most out of it, there's little reason to continue using it after the first few tries.
Because Boogie is anchored on such a boring gameplay mechanic, the rest of the game's features are rendered moot. There are seven characters to choose from, each customizable with different clothing, hairstyles, and more. The appearance of a character and the different move sets they bring to the dance floor do nothing to hide the monotonous gameplay. The story mode is a cheap excuse to give the characters talking bits around pre-determined dancing and karaoke challenges. You can unlock character outfits, new songs and other goodies in the store using tokens earned through medals and other means; again, since most people will easily earn gold medals, there's really no drive to unlock anything.
There's one thing that, above everything else, really drags Boogie down. If it's really and truly targeted toward the “Blue Ocean" crowd—if it's really a game that non-gamers would want to play—why, why, why in the world is the retail price of the game $60? A price that big is a turn off to just about all Wii owners, let alone the crowd that EA is interested in. The “free" microphone doesn't justify the extra $10 over a regular-priced title. Then again, a lot of people are continuing to buy the $80 Guitar Hero II bundle—probably a lot of the same people whom EA wants to reel in with Boogie—because they see a music game that has great appeal. That would indicate that a more complex controller scheme isn't the issue for a most people, but rather, people want exciting gameplay experiences. They'll put in the effort to learn something new in order to get them.
Boogie should be a lesson learned for EA's Casual Entertainment division. Simplifying the controls of a game for new players is a good idea, but the gameplay shouldn't be simplified with them. The concept works great for time-killing web-based flash games or cell phone games, but packaging it as a premium-priced Wii game was a colossal error in judgment. Boogie is something you could pay $60 for and play once or twice with friends or family, but what's the point when you could just turn on some music and have a good time dancing and singing along in your own way, for free?