GTA: West Side Story

04 October 2010

At some point in the pub after Playful, I got rambling about dance, and choreography – I forget why – and I blurted out the phrase “GTA West Side Story“. And when you name the game, you have to explain it.

This is a belated explanation.

I’m a sucker for good choreography. I’ve never really got on with musical theatre, or films of musicals, but god, good choreography is just fabulous. And in this age of fragmented, hyperlinked video, I can point you at some. I found this a few months back and was blown away:

This is the Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather. I’m not even a big fan of tap, but blimey, they can dance; there’s a lightness of touch and a terrifying strength all at once. I also love how it exhibits one of the great elements of choreography: it’s not always about people performing identical actions, but rather, sympathetic ones; their feet are locked in step with one another, but their bodies act sympathetically.

And then there’s the big finish, which is just showing off.

Anyhow: West Side Story is a funny one. Although I don’t care much for the main love story in it, it’s just great musically.

A lot of people have a problem with the dancing. It’s understandable: these guys are meant to be street-gang members, and yet they break into dance a lot. I can only explain this by with the golden rule, it seems, of musical theatre: you just have to get over that. That’s how people move in this musical (just as they express their innermost thoughts by singing them). Once you’ve got over that – just look at this:

As a piece of choreography – movements set to music – isn’t that marvellous? The basketball sequence!

And I keep thinking about this, not because I’m a good dancer, or because I like the act of dancing, but because: wouldn’t it be marvellous if, when you were walking around, everyone else knew the dance too – could snap in time with the music in your head?

And that’s where a game about choreography – and gangs – comes in. GTA: West Side Story.

In a nutshell: you recruit a gang by getting them to join your chorus, which tags along with you, and acts as strength-of-numbers when it comes to rumbles, not to mention looking awesome. It’s a bit like the way in Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2‘s Pacifism mode you end up with a massive chain of diamonds following you:


except the diamonds are thugs, and they’re not out to kill you; they’re out to dance with you, to back you up.


So you pile through the city, with your own private gang, lockstepped, scissor-kicking as they turn corners.

Of course, not everyone can be in your chorus – in every movie musical, there’s always background talent that isn’t part of the chorus: and so part of the skill of the game is only “chaining” other gang members, who can definitely be part of the chorus – ie, they know the music, they know the words. Try to chain with a “civilian” and you’ll lose some of your posse. How do you identify a potential recruit? He’s the one doing something in time with the soundtrack – playing basketball, snapping his fingers, combing his hair. (Other civilians do these things too – but out of time).

And then there need to be rumbles: fighting as rhythm-action, dance-offs between rival gangs. Somewhere between Streets of Rage


and Space Channel 5.


It’s the video to Bad made game.

But, like all the best music games, it’s best when it’s not about competetive or combative elements; when you’re just about making pretty patterns, catchy, finger-snapping rhythms, and strolling around the turf you own.

Whilst dancing.