Two years ago at E3, I was rather taken by my time with a demo of a game called Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove. A cutesy take on the Elite Beat Agents style of rhythm game, I thought it was just adorable, and looked forward to its release.
Fast forward to the following year's E3, where during my Natsume booth tour, I got my hands on Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove 3D. That's right, the delay in releasing the game was due to Natsume opting to port it over to the new Nintendo 3DS. But the real question is how does it fare? Well, make the jump and read my full review to see if you should groove with Gabrielle!
The plot of Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove 3D is simple. Little Gabrielle has sneezed because of her cat, losing her soul in the process. What can I say? It was a heck of a sneeze. If you thought that was a silly start to the plot, the rest gets even weirder. Gabrielle finds herself in a spectral world where she must dance alongside various monsters in order to earn screams that will allow her to return to her body. Heck, her mother is getting very worried about her daughter not waking up!
Yes, it makes no sense. But oh my God, the character designs are beyond adorable. And even though they're monsters, it's fine for kids, because the vampire drinks tomato juice, and the werewolf is a vegetarian!
Gameplay boils down to tapping, sliding and swiping the stylus as indicated by icons on the 3D top screen. Instead of being forced to tap in a specific spot, there is some leeway so that you can focus on the 3D visuals. You never really have to look at the touch screen during a dance segment. As long as you tap at the right moment, you'll score, regardless of where on the screen you're tapping. And sliding is just as forgiving, allowing you quite a bit of leeway in moving while watching the 3D icon move with you. And if it sounds easy, well... it kind of is. In fact, even moderately skilled gamers shouldn't have any trouble with any of the difficulty levels.
Story Mode takes you through all the songs on Normal, and afterwards, you can try Dance Challenge mode to play them all on Hard and Impossible. The thing is, Normal is pretty easy, and Hard is also pretty easy. Impossible only really gets challenging towards the end. The actual movements get a little tricky on the harder difficulties, but the game is so forgiving, it's easy to get A's on all the songs even when you biff quite a few moves. You can try to go back and get better scores, but it's not hard to score A's on most of the songs on your first try.
There are also mini-games sprinkled throughout the Story Mode, and you can also go back and replay those to your heart's content from the main menu, trying to get better scores. They're cute, but not that compelling.
I completed Story Mode in just 2 1/2 hours, but had only collected 48 out of 117 items. That's when I went back to play the songs on the other difficulty levels, which netted me some extra outfits and accessories. See, there's a whole dress-up component to the game, where you can mix and match until you get the Gabrielle you really want, but it's just aesthetic. However, there is also a fashion show mini-game that you can enter from time to time, and that's when it's important to pick just the right look to get the best score. (But it's a little confusing. I totally thought my outfit was classy, but apparently the judges didn't!)
There's also a Dance Theater mode where you can watch Gabrielle and her pals boogie without all those pesky icons and gameplay getting in the way. You can actually see the moves. It's kind of useless, but still, those character designs are awful cute...
Collecting stuff is a major part of the game, and as I said, completing the Story Mode barely got me half of the items. The problem is that some of them just come up randomly. Like the badges you get out of the vending machine. It's frustrating. Dance Challenge gets you pages of a picture book, and then there's the tarot cards that you get whenever you get a reading from the witch. Cute, but one at a time is tedious. Also, they're not as useful as the clothing and accessories, so there's less desire to collect them all.
Obviously, the graphics are adorable. And the 3D is fine (the only really cool effects are when bats fly at the screen during a dance). The problem with Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove 3D is with the sound. Specifically the music. Instead of licensing actual popular songs, the game contains original music with the occasional dance remix of a familiar classical piece. It's not that the music is bad, but it's difficult to get into the rhythm when you don't know the song. You know what I mean?
Still, Gabrielle's Ghostly Groove 3D gets by on pure charm, and if you're a really big rhythm game fan who wouldn't be put off by cute monsters dancing with a little goth girl, then you might enjoy this as much as I did. Especially with Halloween coming up. Everyone else, you might want to wait until it goes down in price a bit. There's not that much gameplay and what there is isn't particularly challenging (it is aimed at kids, after all!). So you might feel a little let down. But if you're like me, you'll think that Frankie with the birds nesting on his flat head are just too adorable for words and will enjoy it no matter what people say!