Growing up in the ’80s, it was damn near impossible to escape exposure to breakdancing – especially if you happened to have a fondness for old-school hip hop. Watching people execute crazy headstands, spin around on their backs and undulate like writhing snakes with insane precision was always awe inspiring. If you’ve ever fantasized about what it’s like being a breaker but never quite had the physical skill to pull it off, B-Boy on the PSP offers a chance to live vicariously through button mashing.
Judging from the sterile functionality of the Lab – the sparsely outfitted loft that serves as your in-game crash pad, dance studio and home base – the basic essentials required for life as a B-boy or B-girl are meager at best. It’s all about skill and reputation; you’ll have plenty of time to build both as you work you way up the ranks of the B-boy elite. In the Lab, you can check out and hand-pick your moves, practice on the dance floor and change your wardrobe and appearance. Most importantly, a small laptop resting on a makeshift table made of plywood and sawhorses lets you enter competitions and set up matches against competing breakers. Once you accept a challenge, it’s on to the streets for the real action.
B-Boy‘s breakdancing throwdowns happen in all manner of urban environments. Surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers, the breakers take turns churning out their best moves in an attempt to upstage one another. In each face off, players have 45 seconds to fire off trick combos to earn medals in different categories including foundation, flow, creativity, rhythm and blow-up moves. Outshining your opponent and stealing their badges with flashy moves will net you the win. Basic matches are short and sweet – they take about as long to load as they do to play.
Rhythm is integral to dance, so it makes sense B-Boy contains minor rhythmic button-tapping elements, but it’s not a rhythm game in the traditional sense. Executing moves feels a lot more akin to playing Tony Hawk than PaRappa the Rapper. Tapping each of the four PSP face buttons triggers a base move (toprock, freeze, power and footwork) that serves as a foundation on which to build a bevy of different tricks. From there, you can add other moves and chain them together into combos. The rhythm component comes in almost as an afterthought; you can tap out the beat with the shoulder buttons to increase your score, and continue holding a particular move by following a series of small blocks that travel around a halo surrounding your character. It’s an awkward combination that works once you finally get the hang of it.
Even with a series of video tutorials, B-Boy has a hefty learning curve. The unintuitive menu system forces you to dig deeply to locate help and extra videos to further explain the game. Initially, gameplay feels unnecessarily complicated, and frantically hammering out button combos with limited success will be the norm until you get up to speed. However, busting out expert moves further along in the game is extremely satisfying. You’ll start with only a handful of tricks, but there are tons of new moves to unlock and upgrade as you beat opponents and build your reputation.
Real-life breakdancing is intrinsically fun to witness, and B-Boy‘s realism accurately portrays the art form’s dynamic energy and poetic movement. Thanks to extensive motion-capturing of tricks pulled off by some of the best B-boys in the scene, the animations are tight and believable. A solid range of infectious hip hop and funk tracks, from the likes of Cypress Hill, the Black Eyed Peas and the Alkaholiks, among many more, further enhance the vibe.
Slick music and awesome dance moves don’t entirely make up for the game’s weaker aspects, however. Most areas of B-Boy are riddled with chugging load times that wear away at one’s patience. Even switching between menus has an irritating lag. This nuisance increases exponentially when it comes to actually waiting for matches to initiate. The matches themselves are often so brief that it’s hard to justify the wait – individual battles typically clock in at a little under two minutes, tops, with half of that time spent waiting for your opponent to finish up. Also, even with slightly different challenge and tournament matches, the core elements of battle are mostly the same throughout, and the gameplay starts to get repetitious over time. Without tons of moves and audio tracks to unlock, it would be hard to muster the incentive to delve deeper into the game.
B-Boy captures the essence of breakdancing culture with style and flair. At the same time, it explores welcome new turf in the rhyme game genre. The game is not without its issues, yet it manages to float by on personality and some interesting gameplay ideas. It’s enough to pique the interest of players looking for something a bit different, and the authentic presentation is potent enough to satisfy long-time hip hop fans.
Bottom Line: B-Boy is a cool title hampered by a few technical and design problems. Still, it’s hard to resist throwing down some funky tricks.
Recommendation: Try it. B-Boy is a commendable and authentic handheld breakdancing experience.
Nathan Meunier is a robot made of meat. He’s also a freelance writer with an unhealthy videogame obsession.