a review of The Dazzles
a videogame developed by nintendo spd group no.1
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo DS
text by Hamish Todd
There was a little discussion in the comments thread of the Canabalt review. Some people disliked its inclusion in the ABDNM because it was small, essentially a WarioWare entry. Now, we wouldn’t want you to think we were giving The Dazzles (a microgame in the Nintendo-DS-warioware-spiritual-sequeliser Rhythm Heaven, the iceberg whose tip is in question here) four stars out of spite for this. It presents a full package: crunchy and clever gameplay, beautiful yet clean audio and visual assets, and interesting thematic presentation. We will admit, though, to be writing all of this down, for the most part, out of spite.
Why not love a tiny game? Rhythm Heaven is not a fucking “collection” of “minigames”, not a jumble in a literary magazine: it’s an Album of games. Modern game designers are gloriously adopting this as a model because they’re so idealistic (they have a lot of ideas) that if they were constrained to releasing one game for every thirtieth of their lifetimes, the density of the creativity in said games might just cause you to burst into flames. The best “setpieces” (we dislike this word, but we’ll get rid of those inverted commas one day) can change the game they’re in almost completely. So cut the crap; if you want to have a timed platforming segment where you run out of a volcano, or an onion-stomping dance, or a type of enemy that rotates coldly around the player but stops just before they trying to shoot them — bung it in there. The “writers” can explain it, if they want to.
Everday Shooter (****) is an album that celebrates the beauty of eight way shooting. Even if you don’t like it, you can feel the love in that game.
We recently heard the first ever segment on Radio 4 (Britain’s best radio station for most kinds of discourse) about video games. It was ten minutes long, and had some people in it wondering aloud whether high-level Guitar Hero play is going to replace actual live music. It contained one slightly clever guy (he said something about Bioshock), and three other very not clever people who nonetheless probably had multiple PhDs.
Our point is, well, music and games, man. We don’t have time to talk about them. We barely have time to invent an analogy for them. They’re like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, dude, they’re like cheese and crackers, they’re like the owl and the pussycat. Any two things in the universe that relate to one another in a unique way could pretty much be used as an analogy for them. And within that analogy, Rhythm Heaven would a pretty damn important thing! It’d be the lightsabers, it’d be the wine, it’d be the Piggy-Wig.
Perhaps all you need to know about Rhythm Paradise is that when we let it be played by people who were concert-standard musicians in real life, they were crushingly good at it (this does not happen with Guitar Hero. Also one of them had never played a videogame before in her life). The Dazzles is one song in its album of rhythm-based games, all made by the Warioware team freed from the limitations of a nintendo franchise. Each game tests your rhythm in a fascinatingly different way, with whimsical music, characters, and situations.
You also have control over a different part of what you see each time. We like to think this was because the developers didn’t know which would be most fun, and so just tried everything. The Dazzles frames the player’s input in the best way of all, the best that it has ever been in any game. In it, you control a dancer – one dancer among six. They must dance in time with the other five. Bring the stylus down on the screen to crouch, hold, and flick to spring up into a pose when the rhythm is right (crucial: you don’t have to keep the stylus still when it is down. And yes, this is the entire extent of your interaction). When you tap, you might just lean into the screen. When you flick, you might just throw yourself back and point your stylus at the sky, just like the girl you’re controlling. In her presentation lies the genius: she is looking straight out of the screen, at us. She doesn’t see what is happening around her; doesn’t see the visual hints for the music, or the (take a deep breath) visual feedback on your performance. We’re just going to talk about that, the visual feedback on your performance.
Getting something wrong makes you want to die. In the instant, you’ll look a tad stupid — the interruption of the musical flow will be hammered home with a slapstick and ego-shrivelling “boing” sound. But it’s those glares from the other dancers that haunt our nightmares. We’re not kidding when we say that seeing them, we know what it must feel like to be a teenage girl who’s just been informed by her elitist clique that her Colours Don’t Match or some shit.
The avatar stares gormlessly at you, unaware of all this. Looking back into her eyes, some game designers would say that she should share your emotion, that there’s no need to add insult to injury, that the player will only end up hating her. We do hate her — but we also unconditionally love her, and want to help her, because she just looks so happy to be there, and she keeps smiling at us. Sometimes, in games, when you get something wrong, you blame the designer, or the AI programmers, or the avatar. Here it’s you, you, you. It’s all your fault, and you’re letting her, and the team, down.
She has a special responsibility. Unlike many rhythm games, getting something right can distinguish you, as opposed to blending you Orwellianly in to the music. Sparks and stars fly from your finger if you get it exactly right — you can dazzle, and you’re the only one that can. We think the developers were worried about sending the wrong message (finally!) with rhythm games that present being the same as everyone else as a good thing. Positive feedback was probably also necessary to stop playtesters from self-harming whenever they saw the “you’re doing really badly” animation (where the dancers clutch their bellies as if you just punched them. It makes us feel about a thousand times worse than when we “die” in any game you’d care to name).
The Dazzles sends a violently perfect message with bitchiness of its punishments. A little more description may be required here: you are auditioning to be in a TV show, which is power fantasy for preteen girls. But you experience this fantasy by doing precisely what you are told and never complaining. The goal is to flick on a beat at the same time as the girl next to you. Conventional rhythm game logic (as dictated by vacuous video game reviewers) would put your partner’s flick at the center of the rhythm window; get in a tenth of a second more or less, and you’ll be alright. The geniuses who designed this game disagree, so you will fail if you dare come in any amount before your partner. It contributes to the message: show-business is hard, dear, and we’re not interested in your input.
Hey, look at the message that games as a whole send! We’re looking at the fucking anime generation here. A generation raised on rat intestines of stories with nothing but deus ex machinas ever. How wonderful that we have video games! What tearfully beautiful beings we are that we demand challenge as soon as we receive novelty! How intelligent and admirable the next generation of humans will be, who are presented with entertainment that sometimes feels bad, but you can make it feel better because you are a human being and you can do anything if you use your fucking head.
There are adverts that feature Beyonce playing this game. How covertly awesome is that? Thousands are going to experience all this, without knowing it, and they’ll be better human beings because of it. This is great; girly girls will play girly games, and this is exactly the game that they should play, that they will play (it is actionbutton.net‘s girliest game ever made). We wondered: aren’t “target audiences” a constraint? We want expressive, fun games, here (those two adjectives are actually the same thing). Won’t all the focus-testing and flowery colour palettes get in the way? Well, it’s a four star game, no doubt about that. We can hardly talk about making it better. Part of what makes it perfect is how it’s going to affect people’s lives, we suppose. Think of it this way: The Dazzles is directed at casual-gaming preteen girls in the same way that Starship Troopers is directed at shithead preteen boys.
Fact: no matter how shit you are, your girl makes the team and the team takes responsibility if you fail. Yet, remember: the stated premise is that you are auditioning.
Maybe they were worried telling the player they didn’t make the team would upset them?
Perhaps the team just like you; they’re not really as bitchy as they behave in the game?
Perhaps you already made the team no matter how bad your rhythm, based on your looks.
In Rhythm Paradise, the game will randomly (rarely) give you a package of three opportunities to Go For A Perfect on one of its games. We found The Dazzles one of the hardest to do this for. We once did perfectly during a practise session; when the game wasn’t choosing to recognize it (this is not unfair). We then flopped three opportunities on the last move. This was just before we finally got it; at a point when we were screwing up our eyes when we saw the glares, and hamming on the screen until it gave us another try. Here is what went through our head when we finally got our perfect:
Hey, the girl next to us is ginger, like us. How statistically bold. Hmm, maybe ours is the ginger row. Gingers really do appeal to people, like Pepper Ann. There’s an instant feeling of freakishness, which sympathy follows. Pepper Ann was actually a good show. Why are there two gingers, if they want to make us feel like a loner? Fuck, we’re winning!
Writing this review, we have come to the end of the story that The Dazzles tells. “The Dazzles” is a kid’s TV show, containing the six dancers; this minigame is that show’s theme tune. In the show, the dancers all have different personalities. It’s in their hair: there’s the innocent blonde, the mousey nerd, the pinned-up bossy one, the mature brunette, and the ginger. You’re the ginger. There’s another ginger next to you – she’s the one who gives you the meanest look, and the most frequently. This is because you’re going to replace her.
Trivia: we saw Starship Troopers when we were shithead preteen boys. We thought it was frikkin sweet.