I was a pretty big fan of the original Electronic Super Joy. I said things like “amazing” and “like Super Meat Boy” and “game” when discussing it. It combined a brutal difficulty with an amazing level design and outstanding soundtrack in one excellent platforming experience that I simply could not recommend to enough people. When I found out the game was getting a mini-sequel with Groove City, I jumped up and down and called all my friends, who subsequently changed their numbers because some people don’t like receiving phone calls at 3 in the morning. I was excited is what I’m trying to say. So I got on my best grooving pants (I have several), sat down for some excellent platforming — and got up like forty minutes later, slightly confused. I wouldn’t say that Groove City is bad, but it clearly falls short of the lofty expectations set by its predecessor and it feels like cheating to even call it a mini-sequel.
Groove City plays very similarly to Electronic Super Joy, insomuch that it is a platformer that is actively trying to murder you every time you take step. Checkpoints are frequent and the challenge is intense, a combination that ensures difficulty without ever becoming frustrating. The controls are simple and the game doesn’t really deviate much from what the original gave you. You jump, avoid missiles, can stick to certain surfaces, bounce off certain objects, and that is about it. However, simplicity does not necessarily equate with dullness, and the original was a master at combining relatively few tricks into a deviously difficult platforming package. The only new trick I really noticed was an emphasis on the quick jump. Jumping right before you hit the ground will bounce you back up quickly, an important trick for avoiding some obstacles. Unfortunately the game removes as much as it adds, as the stomp action (one of my personal favorites as you could integrate the stomp beat into the music for maximum electronic super joy) has been cut out for the sake of…well, I’m not sure really. Still those who played the original will feel right at home in Groove City, and those that haven’t should just go purchase the original as it is the vastly superior game with three times the content for less than double the price.
The primary problem is that none of these levels are as good as anything that was featured in Electronic Super Joy. It feels like a collection of rejected levels from the first game that all got crammed together in a consolation package for people that weren’t fun enough to play the first game. It isn’t as if the levels are absolutely terrible, and occasionally you get glimpses of some of the stuff that made the original stand out. A train level at the end of the game is well designed and basically demands perfection, and there are a lot of interesting little bits along the way. However, overall this is nowhere near as tight of a package as the original game and it lacks that organic progression and clever level design that permeated every last bit of the first one. Things are, surprisingly, too easy at times and unless you go out of your way to increase the challenge you are going to breeze through the game if you are at all experienced with old school platforming. You can collect black stars which increase points but also release missiles at you, and if you go out of your way to avoid these your first time through a lot of the levels are quite simple. I’d say only about four or five of the levels provided any real challenge and even those weren’t that hard.
Even the final boss fight is a disappointment. The previous game was overflowing with clever level designs and a handful of really well orchestrated boss encounters, but there is really nothing here that stands out. Everything here just feels like standard, boilerplate kind of levels and it lacks the creativity of its predecessor. I went into the final encounter expecting something epic and satisfying, and after dodging a handful of projectiles for maybe forty seconds it just ends. Roll credits. Scratch head. Was that really it? I had to go back and play a little of Electronic Super Joy to make sure I wasn’t building up how good it was, but even if I just compare the first fifteen levels in that one to this one Electronic Super Joy is a vastly superior experience.
Groove City is still that highly stylized, simplistic platformer that I fell in love with in Electronic Super Joy. This just feels like a scaled down version, and not just in terms of the amount of content. The levels are fine, but not great, the design is adequate, but not immaculate, and the humor is irreverent, but not longer hysterical . The original Electronic Super Joy had this excellent growth and progression and cleverness that was brimming beneath the entire game, and Groove City feels more like an actual growth. A weird protrusion sticking out, containing some of the characteristics of what it is globbed on to, but some weird deformities as well and you’ll probably want to get that checked out by a doctor just in case. Groove City is far from awful, but it is disappointing and your time (and money) would be better spent just playing through the original again.