Before starting this review let me point one thing out: Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix requires a very special accessory to be actually playable. Nowhere in the game’s instructions is this accessory mentioned but if you want to actually have fun playing this game then this accessory is an absolute must. Sure, you may be able to ‘get by’ without it and sure, you might even get all the way to the end but take my word, without a very special accessory, avoid this game at all costs. What is this accessory that apparently can make the difference between an enjoyable evening and a total waste of time? A little sister.
Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix (ooh double alliteration, very nice) for the WiiWare service is a dancing game in the same vein as the Just Dance games, but unlike those titles whose soundtracks center specifically on dance and club music, Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove features creepy and monster themed jingles. Now, before we really get into what makes this game what it is can I just ask a very simple, yet seemingly important question? Why is this game being released in the spring time, you know, when things are alive and vibrant? This would have been a perfect Halloween release for the WiiWare service yet here it is, oddly out of place in the middle of spring.
If you ever played one of the many, many... many dancing games on the Wii you will immediately know what to do as soon as you pick up the Wii Remote. Just follow the on-screen instructions and perform the action. Simple. Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix, however, takes this to a whole new level of simplicity. I’m sure you have all heard of unresponsive Wii motion controls in games, but have you ever heard of getting a perfect score in a dancing game simply by having the Wii Remote sit beside you and move with your movements. Now, I can forgive Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove for this since - and I want to be clear about this - it is a game for kids, young kids, so forcing the player to make complicated gestures just wouldn’t work, but this is a level of simplicity that borders on the ridiculous.
The graphics in Monster Mix are a mix between bad and acceptable. The game just doesn’t offer any variety. Same characters, same models, only one background for each of the tracks. What it does have going for it is a cute art style, very similar to the Ruby Gloom TV show. The main character, Gabrielle, has a lot of personality (even if all she wants to do is dance) and is surprisingly expressive in a constantly sad yet cheerful sort of way.
Now with every dance game the most important aspect is the track selection and, to put this nicely, the song selection in Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix is absolutely atrocious. The songs either all sound alike (generic Halloween music) or are thinly hidden public domain songs (I noticed Natsume) and simply aren’t fun to play. However, keeping the game's target audience (young kids) in mind, I don’t think they will find much issue with the song selection seeing as how they do fit in well with the game’s aesthetic.
Now for a game like this I would rarely review the actual story elements. It’s a downloadable dancing game, there can’t be that much narrative, right? But for Gabrielle I’ll make an exception. The game follows Gabrielle, the only human who can visit Monsterville and her monster friends. Now on this particular trip something is amiss, it appears that all of Vlad the vampire's (the good, cape wearing, non-twinkling kind) zombie servants have run away scared, apparently terrified of a creature called ‘dark devil’ and the only way to bring them back is by dancing. In fact that’s how all of Gabrielle's problems are solved; by dancing the night away. This manner of storytelling is great for children since it’s simple enough for them to understand and yet offers some twists along the way, but like I said earlier, make sure you have your little sister handy or else you’re in for a very long night.
Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix features ten songs to play through, most of which will last between two and three minutes for a game that will last roughly (does quick head math) 20-30 minutes. There are some extras to lengthen the experience though. In each song you can ‘rescue’ up to three zombies as well as collect two accessories to customize your Gabrielle avatar. This is easier said than done because, when trying to get all the unlockables the game demands perfection. Only get 99.9%? Too bad, no shirt for you. The game also features a multi-player mode for up to four people, which could make it a fun party game to bust out at a kid’s birthday... unless they have, you know, something better to play, like pin the tail on the donkey.
I’m going to say something that may seem a bit odd. Despite all my complaints about Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove: Monster Mix, it has earned a soft spot in my jaded gamer heart. Sure, it’s short and not too pretty, but it has something that’s pretty hard to come by in games - charm. So I want to end this review on a positive note. This is not a game for the hardcore gamer or even the casual gamer. This is a kid’s game and they will have a good time playing it. But even kids deserve good games and this one falls just short of that. That being said I do have hope for this series (number two is coming to the 3DS) because Natsume has something special here; they just need to tighten a few loose ends to really make this one shine. That, or send me a little sister.