(Editor’s Note: This article contains lots of YouTube links, but due to the constraints and limitations of WordPress, they can’t be imbedded with separate players. I had no idea that twenty thumbnails could crash the internet in its entirety. Maybe the next evolution of the internet can handle this level of data intensity. In other news, be sure to try Squarespace for all your web hosting needs!!)
Retro game fanatics like myself have been enjoying the current resurgence of recently re-released selections of classic games newly available for modern consoles. There’s re-issues (Mega Man Collections 1-426), compilations (Sega Genesis Classics), online-only game bundles (The Disney Afternoon), and timeless classics (Goat Simulator). Word on the street is that the newest prototype Playstation 5 will be 100% backwards compatible with all of the Playstation media formats, all the way back to those dusty, purple-backed original Playstation discs! I cannot even begin to fathom the possibility of finally having a single dedicated console sitting on my entertainment center that can play everything from Bubsy 3D all the way to the newest incarnation of Far Cry 12. This will finally vindicate me for hording and protecting so many giant Tupperware containers full of games to the death over last twenty five years.
I always loved the Playstation, and it was a love that bloomed from all the seeds sown from the music-based rhythm games that were born on the system. The first example of this type of game was a little gem of a game known as PaRappa the Rapper. Parappa was definitely a surreal and freaky game that combined floppy and unsettling 2-D characters rapping nothing but pure madness inside a 3-D world. The storyline was an instant classic, revolving around a rapping dog who wanted to hook up with a flower, but just really ended up needing access to a toilet. You either loved the shit out of these types of games or you didn’t “get it”, and then went right back to playing Syphon Filter. Some folks just could never fully buy into the evergreen mantra of “kick, punch it’s all in the mind!”. But the joke’s on them: You gotta believe!
As a touring and recording musician by trade, I already loved these types of games especially for the musical aspect. I was always blown away with how this genre integrated my two truest loves, music and video games seamlessly into one coherent, if not borderline psychedelic experience. These games were also generally ignored and mostly hated by “normal” gamers and the public, which never bothered me anyways, since I’ve always preferred to be on the outside looking in at all the cool people.
Eventually, someone decided to take some of the ideas from Parappa and create a dance-off type of “fighting game” instead of a game focused on a dog singing about getting his driver’s license. From these humble beginnings, the Bust A Groove series was born. The developer, 989 Studios, worked in tandem with a major Japanese label, Avex Trax to write an entire album’s worth of original songs specifically for the game. Some of the weirder tunes needed some localization for North America, and they used some stateside in-house studio singers to re-dub some of the lyrics in English, to mixed results.
The Bust A Groove series has a high nostalgic value for me, as we played this game nonstop between practices, writing sessions, recording sessions, and gigs. Any small amount of down time was automatically considered Bust A Groove time with the guys my band and the random friends that had passed out on our couches. All of these songs (and even the shitty ones) are capable of transporting me back to the early 2000’s when all we cared about was earning beer money and getting rigorously and repeatedly checked for STI’s.
The Bust A Groove series is a fun entry into the rhythm game genre, and you don’t even need a closet full of cheap plastic guitar controllers to play it! Even though this game is full of completely original tracks, all songs are not created equal. Here is the definitive list of all the songs from both Bust A Groove and Bust A Groove 2, ranked in descending order from “dumpster fire” to “timeless classic”.
24. “I luv hamburgers”, Hamm (Bust A Groove 1)
While the music sampling and general arrangement of this song isn’t too terrible, and the 90’s West Coast droopy whistle thing is actually makes this tune a toe-tapper, literally every other component of this song is awful. The sound of fat squishing every time this dead-eyed Muppet makes from the slightest movement is absolutely disgusting. The song is sung by a studio vocalist doing a monotone impression of a drunken Biz Markie doing his laziest Fat Albert impression. He manages to ramble out some of the dumbest lyrics ever written and then puts them directly on life support. Sure, Hamm raps about hamburgers and sesame seed buns with some base level of coherence, but when he finally gets to the chorus is when these lyrics reach an entirely new level of poetic quality…
Chorus: “A verry verry verry verrry verrry verrry good. Verry verry verry verrry verrry verrry good. Verry verry verry verrry verrry verrry good. Verry verry verry verrry verrry verrry good” (The squishing sound you are currently hearing are all of the panties around you getting soaked).
This kind of trash isn’t even really music at this point, it’s just a stupid scratch track filler that mistakenly made it into the final cut. A robot that has never analyzed a song before could write a better and more passionate chorus than this trash. Playing this as a later level song (at a higher difficulty) meant that the stakes were higher: If you happened to fail, you had to hear this fucking song again.
23. – 19. All That Instrumental Wannabe House Music Crap
Sorry instrumental lovers, but none of these tracks do it for me. I’m convinced that pretty much all of these tunes are nothing more than padding to raise the song count for the addition of the secret characters in the sequel. These tracks are the songs featuring the characters Bi-O, Robo-Z Gold, Capoeira, Gas-O and of course that fucking panda bear song. Seriously, the panda bear song will give you nightmares from both the terrible sounds and all those disturbing mindfuck visuals (hint: watch that video, kids!). This panda level is a secret reward if you earn Fever Time ratings through all 12 levels of the game. Pulling off this difficult feat just earns you the opportunity to dance off against a furry naked panda man, with his soulless dead eyes and his bare panda ass. I’m pretty sure this creepy fucking guy and his song is the reasons that pandas refuse to fuck in captivity, it is out of shame.
There is also an ending instrumental ska song at the end of Bust A Groove 2 which sounds like bargain-bin Reel Big Fish, but it’s far and away better than any of these songs.
18. “The Heat Is On”, Heat (Bust A Groove 2)
No, this isn’t the Glenn Frey song that always gets played on a continuous loop by local news stations whenever the cops are going to ramp up all the DUI checkpoints during the holidays, it’s actually much, much worse. This is a strange fusion of some weird jazz piano with plenty of rapping. The highlight of the song comes when a demonic version of Kenny G jumps in and throws down a bitchin’ 16th note recorder solo over the bridge.
Heat’s theme song is not the worst thing that has ever been made, but it’s certainly not going to be winning any Grammy awards anytime soon, either.
17. “I Know”, Pinky (Bust A Groove 1)
This song features an energetic studio vocalist, and is actually a funky little jam with the occasional rapping interlude peppered in spots. Normally, a song that has all these elements checked off is usually right inside my wheelhouse, but an entire song about tarot cards sung by a stripper with mittens for hands still ends up being surprisingly forgettable to me. The main reason that I knock this song so far down the list is because of that late bass slap that comes riiiiight before the 4th beat that ruins your groove, your parent’s love for you, and your current combo level. Watching Pinky dance is like watching a blowup doll become sentient and start twerking like Carrot Top on meth.
16. “Transform”, Kelly (Bust A Groove 1)
Here’s yet another victim of crappy localization and translation. Nobody in the history of ever has ever thought that it was a great idea to make a song all about somebody dressing up like a baby and sexing up the dance floor. It’s a slow and plodding song that is full of creepy sexual innuendo, which also ends really abruptly. Everything about this level will get you some seriously fucked up looks from your kids if they happen to walk into the living room while you are in the middle of playing this.
While I’ve never considered getting into full latex baby suits, this song clearly does nothing to sell me on them. I am NOT Kelly N.
15. “Power”, Strike (Bust A Groove 1)
I’ve never been a huge Strike fan, mostly because this character reminds of me a lot of J.R. before he traded his long hair for some magic beans that were supposedly going to pay off his bills for him. Every game needs a thuggish bad-ass anti-hero type of character, and it just so happens to be this guy….and his suspenders. Every part of his design, from his energy drink fetish to his wrap -round sunglasses make him easily the most face-punchable player in Bust A Groove. Yes, Strike looks is an incredible douche, and unfortunately, his song isn’t any better.
The main music track sounds like it was sampled from a broken wheel on a carnival ride that just keeps repeating and it is accented with ear-gouging vocals. The main verse vocals aren’t too terrible, but once the constipated Fred Durst rapper guy jumps in and starts shitting all over the place, this level becomes borderline unplayable. And his stage is really beautiful too, it’s just a giant chain link cage. He’s just so fuckin’ hardcore, bro!
14. “2 Bad”, Heat (Bust A Groove 1)
Gross. This song is just…gross. It’s basically just a drum beat with some Gregorian screaming samples which are interrupted by one verse of rapping which lets you know that Heat is a true bad ass, even though he just looks like a royalty-free Elvis wearing a beanie. It’s an instantly forgettable song, played loudly inside a tiny burning octagon. If replaced the lyrics of “if you know I’m in my own zone” with “you know you’re in the Bone Zone”, this would possibly have a higher ranking on this list, even though I’m still sure it would still probably suck.
Heat was supposed to be the tent-pole Bust A Groove character, but he ends up being the lamest of all of them.
13. “Here Comes Trouble”, Strike (Bust A Groove 2)
Holy fucking shit. If you clicked the video link above, you are probably laughing just as hard as I am right now. This blurry-ass ultra lo-fi Web 1.0 video is the end result of what happens when your 11 year old drinks all the vanilla extract in the house, finds your leather coat and decides to string his worst Vines together in time to an old video game song. It’s really that bad.
The actual game level itself is decently fun (as far as it can be with Strike as the centerpiece), as you are dancing outside of a bank vault in an attempt to open up the lock and get to get the riches inside. I wish the blurry dude up there could have utilized some sort of backdrop that clapped back to the original version, but I’m pretty sure he probably ate all the construction paper and Elmer’s glue they had in the house.
12. “Let The Music Take Control”, Hiro (Bust A Groove 2)
You know what kind of music is underrepresented in the current trends? Disco, motherfucker. Yeah, this song has a heavy disco groove that feels extremely dated, even by late 90’s standards. This is the theme song for the game’s narcissist, Hiro, who just sings about how great he is, despite having the sex appeal of a partially cooked lungfish that has John Travolta’s chest hair taped onto him.
While the verses of the song are stupid, backed by music that is totally forgettable, the choruses are actually decent, as far as a 90’s disco revival track can be, I suppose. Some nights Hiro dresses up like player two, a sailor from the 70’s and goes dancing at that other bar across the street. Fever Time skills are more appreciated over there, anyways.
11. “Hello!” Kitty-N (Bust A Groove 2)
Out of all the songs that had issues with localization and rewrites, this song drew the worst straw of the bunch. Even back in the day, we questioned almost of the lyrical choices in this song. “Date with my dolly”??? “Lipstick and me and I’ll be alright, baby”?? Every perplexing line of this song feels forced and fake, and not much of anything they threw together makes even the slightest amount of sense. My only guess is that the Avex Trax team was on a tight deadline, yet still had easy access to some really awesome drugs back in those days.
The backing music isn’t anything close the worst, and actually feels kind of like a cheesy theme song from a t.v. show made during the Aaron Spelling years. I don’t know if they ever held a dance competition between two idiots in catsuits on an episode of The Love Boat, but maybe they should have.
10. “Shorty and the E-Z Mouse”, Shorty (Bust A Groove 1)
This song is an innocuous little jam that feels a little sparse, but it is elevated with some pretty decent vocals. Most of the song feels light and silly, and Shorty likes to bounce around her candy-filled level with her pet rat hidden in her suspenders. There’s never been a truer love than the love shared between a preteen girl and hantavirus carrier. She’s also wearing gigantic clothing, and kids, I promise you, that this was never a fashion trend back in our days.
While the song is focused around this little kid trying to break away from her parents to eventually grow up, as a drunken twentysomething with no responsibilities, I always thought this song was incredibly stupid. The song’s theme is that no matter what, you can’t stop the march of time and parents have to let go sooner or later of their children was an idea that never mattered to me. Now that I have an entire basketball team’s worth of little girls who are all in the midst of growing up, I now can absolutely understand the sad underlying sentiment of this tune. Not everyone can claim that they get a strong feeling and understanding of mortality from a competitive dancing game from the 90’s that exclusively featured catsuits and women in rubber onesies, but hey, you do you.
9. “The Natural Playboy”, Hiro (Bust A Groove 1)
Here’s another wonderfully disco themed dance song, but a this tune is slightly more coherent than Hiro’s other song. Don’t be fooled, it’s still all about him, but this time around it’s only about 50% less dickish. His dance moves seem to appear a little more fluid and realistic in the first game as well.
For only being a two and a half minutes long, having a massive instrumental interlude in the middle that drags on for 90 seconds was a poor choice, but by that point, Hiro probably had already run out of nice things to say about himself.
8. “Capoeira”, Capoeira (Bust A Groove 1)
This is one of the stranger songs (that statement alone is already quite a flex in itself) from either edition of the Bust A Groove games. This song is kind of a strange calypso mix of slowed down hip hop, complete with old school group vocals, horns, and steel drums. It can feel a little over the top at times, and some of the vocals don’t have a lot of variation, but that horn section break in the middle is definitely a highlight.
This level also features the coolest character(s), the double aliens who dance in perfect unison with themselves. Capoeira also has the hardest input sequences out of any character in the game, so completing the game as them in hard mode is a decent challenge if you are looking for something new to try.
7. “Happy Heart in the Sunshine”, Shorty (Bust A Groove 2)
(Normally, I like to include the gameplay videos, but everyone that uploaded a version of this song was seriously fucked up.)
Here’s a happy little super manufactured pop jam that features Shorty, her rat, and her opponent bouncing around on a raft as it travels through the “It’s A Small World” ride. This is a much more light-hearted song in comparison to the other Shorty tune, and it fits well within the colorful setting. It feels sounds like a song that a young Alanis Morrisette would have written in her You Can’t Do That On Televison days, long before she would go to all those movie theaters with devious intentions.
It’s happy, simple and mellow. Its a nice little island of warm smiles sitting inside an ocean of crazy. Still have absolutely no idea what the fuck she is saying in the chorus. Please let us know in the comment section.
6. “Moon Light Party” Kelly, (Bust A Groove 2)
Since her days of misunderstood infantilism, Kelly has decided to leave her rubber sex suit and exploding baby bottle at home, and instead patrol the streets…now as a sexy cop! This song is a massive improvement over her first one, and this song actually has a serious groove to it.
The Kelly level is also pretty awesome as well, and the dancing competition takes place in the middle of a darkened city street. Kelly is supposed to be directing traffic, but she’s too focused on her weird brand of dancing to care about the lines of taxi cabs that are exploding rhythmically behind her. If you play well, enough, a chalk outline (of a formerly murdered person) will suddenly appear and start happily dancing next to you.
It’s too bad there was never a Bust A Groove 3, I heard from a reliable source that Kelly’s next dancing partner was going to be the silly ghost of John Wayne Gacy.
5. “Flyin’ To Your Soul”, Robo-Z (Bust A Groove 1)
Before you directly scroll down to the comments, getting your vitrol/poop mixture ready to be flung, I already know that I lumped all of the instrumental crap up at the very top of this list and filed it under the “garbage” tab. Yes, this song is indeed instrumental, but it does everything completely right, in a Darude’s Sandstorm kinda way. After playing through every level of the first game, this song actually feels like everything a final boss song should be. The first eleven tunes were almost entirely nothing but goofy songs, but this final song is fast paced, frantic and focused. This is the one battle that actually feels like it has some weight behind it.
And it does it ever, since Robo-Z is the size of a building and you are just a tiny person on the rooftop, challenging them to cut a rug while he crushes everyone inside the Burger King to death with his foot from doing his own fucked-up version of the Macarena.
4. “Dreams of Sky, Sea, and Rainbows”, Frida (Bust A Groove 1)
Frida’s song is a song that is all about the joy of the rainbows and the sea. At least that’s what I’m led to believe, since I don’t speak or understand Japanese. This beast of a track retains almost all of the Japanese vocals (which are beautiful), but still utilizes a backup rapper jumping in as a part of a prechorus, which really ends up propelling this song to the next level.
The design of Frida and her level are fun and breezy, and as she dances, a hurricane comes along the horizon and fucks up her little sea shanty. She’s homeless now, but there are always going to be casualties and natural disasters in the cutthroat world of fight-dancing.
3. “Magic Tower”, Comet (Bust A Groove 2)
This song is basically the 90’s distilled into a pure, wonderful, two and a half minutes of joy. The song sounds a lot like a Disney Channel version of the band Garbage. Comet is a hard-working waitress who can really throw down some moves while skating around, waiting on cars on her rollerblades.
Her weird restaurant comes to life as the level progresses, and once you start doing well, seafood and sushi start blasting at you and will begin to dance alongside you. All this funny stuff happening on the screen is nothing more than a mere distraction to keep you from paying attention to the lyrics and learning all about Comet’s fucking dark sex kinks…
The chorus includes “Take me to my magic hour, in my land of blue and red. All sweet lovin’ in my power, you’re a prisoner of my bed”. Now, I’m not trying to tell anybody what to do, but trust me, you will definitely want to give this girl a fake number in the morning.
If you live.
2. “Bust A Groove”, Kitty-N (Bust A Groove 1)
The title, well, pretty much sums up everything that is great about this game in an attractive two minute package. Overdriven bass, thumping electronica and the pulse-pounding choruses make this one of the best tracks that the Bust A Groove series has to offer, and it is the flagship somg of the first game. The lyrics are somewhat goofy, but they are sung so passionately that they could be using them as advertisements for My Pillow and I wouldn’t give a shit.
Kitty-N is an awesome dancer and character, dancing violently inside her high-rise dance studio downtown. This is one level that you will intentionally fail a few times just so you can get another chance to hear this song again.
1.”Got To Be Happy”, Tsutomu (Bust A Groove 2)
Well, we finally made it. If you got this far, I tip my hat to you as this list ended up being far more massive than it probably should be. So, what makes Tsutomu’s level the best of the best? It’s a winning combination of an incredible song paired with an unforgettable setting.
“Got To Be Happy” has a pumping, living, breathing bass line that drives the entire song, and carries everything else on its back. The vocals have a Pointer Sisters kind of feel to them, which end up sounding pretty great. The level design is perfectly on point too, with the the dreamy, hazy feel of the song getting accented by the floating platform of clouds that takes you to the top of an ancient tower. It’s really great, and just like the Kitty-N song above, this is the title card song for Bust A Groove 2.
The only thing that sucks about any of this is…Tsutomu himself, who is nothing more than an obnoxious Pinocchio ripoff. He’s lame as balls, and his dance moves are worse than anything you’d see during ladies night at your nearest retirement home. Fuck Tsutomu right in his chirpy, condescending wooden butthole.
I hope you enjoyed this little read. While the physical copies of this game have become harder (and more expensive) to find, the chance to play them on a modern console with modern internet capabilities like streaming and video capture could possibly lead to an entirely new generation getting hooked on these great songs and innovative gameplay.
Or, they will just think we were seriously fucked up twenty years ago.