Britney Spears asked for two body modifications on her hotly anticipated videogame, Britney's Dance Beat (THQ, PlayStation 2, $29.99): slimmer hips and more-level-set eyes. What's notable isn't that the pop princess wanted those changes in particular (though that too is telling), but that she was able to request them at all.
The first rock-star-themed videogame, Journey Escape, released in 1982 for the Atari 2600, featured a photo cutout of Steve Perry's face pasted onto a teensy pixelated body. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, released eight years later for the Sega Genesis, got the costume right (a white suit and hat), but MJ's visage was barely visible -- even when he flung his hat like a weapon to ward off black-suited kidnappers. And while David Bowie's mug looked realistic enough in 1999's cerebral PC adventure Omikron: The Nomad Soul, he was shrouded in a holographic hairdo that seemed conceived by a computer-illiterate Picasso. So Dance Beat is unprecedented in that it includes a near-perfect copy of the star's bod for you to play with.
Dance Beat's Simon Says-style gameplay is considerably less original. Britney is holding tryouts for a backup dancer, and you compete for the spot through 10 rounds of increasingly complicated routines. You follow along using controller buttons or by moving your feet around on a Beat Pad (sold separately) that lies on the floor. Either way, you could just as easily be playing the trendsetting PlayStation games Dance Dance Revolution or Bust a Groove. The difference is that Spears makes a cameo thrust in each round of Dance Beat and her music videos are playing on the back wall of every level.
But not even a soundtrack full of hits is all that wow-worthy. Bowie contributed hours of original, unreleased music to Omikron. And even Spice World, a dismal PlayStation game starring the Spice Girls, allowed players to remix the group's music. Indeed, Dance Beat has only five songs in total for its 10 levels; the first round of routines plays only half of each, while the second round uses full-length versions. As if we really need to hear ''...Baby One More Time'' two more times.
There is one unique feature on Dance Beat, but it's not part of the game. The disc includes a concert video that was shot using a 360-degree camera. With the PS2 game controller, you can pan around the stage, zoom in and follow Britney as she bounces, or spin and marvel at the thrashing stadiumful of 15-year-olds. Every concert video ought to be filmed using this technology -- it's like having the best seats in the house without having to go hoarse screaming for an encore.
Maybe what Dance Beat lacks the most is that whiff of python-clad scandal that makes Spears so captivating to the postpubescent set. Still, the game is just cheesy enough to make you stop, look, and bust out dancing.