Release Date: September 21, 2004
I remember a few years back, living in Seattle and spending quite a bit of time in one of the larger arcade franchises. I went there for the fighting game competition, the food and the fact that I basically played (and ate) for free. I worked just next door in a theatre and spent most of my lunches, breaks and free time before and after work there playing whatever the latest fighting game was. This was a blissful and pure life full of lush serene fighting filled fun… That is until Dance Dance Revolution (The dark ominous and very spooky tone does not translate to text very well… but it is there, trust me) arrived. This abomination of a video game defied everything that video games stood for, it was an atrocity, a game for Hessians and heretics and, and… healthy people. How dare they intrude in my dark quiet room full of pasty skinned geeks and nerds with their mind numbing techno music that sinks its hooks into your brain like a mind sucking leech? It was like they raised a mirror to us that reflected our own inactivity and lack of health by creating this… so called game. A game that makes people clomp around like line dancing bad music zombies! Time and time again I found myself both annoyed and bemused at the sight of a half dozen mindless DDR drones stomping around to the steps of the game EVEN WHEN THEY WERE NOT PLAYING. Now the tables have turned I am playing the game and I get to vocalize all of my opinions on it. It’s just too bad that those opinions have perhaps changed slightly now that I have played the game.
Let me recount for you the process that preceded the playing of the game so you can understand my twisted little mind. I was sitting at work and a small manila package arrived containing what I knew to be the game… the dreaded game that I was going to have to review. This package sat unfettered upon my desk staring at me as if to mock me, it knew I was soon going to have to tear it open and be subjected to its contents, contents I previously damned. Hours passed and it continued to torment me with its unmoving indifference and before long I could no longer resist its inanimate stares. It was time to head home so I quickly rendered the innocent manila envelope to shreds exposing the daunting graphics of the DDR case to plain sight. It rode in the seat next to me on the way home the image of a dancer and those unmistakable trademarked letters daring me, gazing into my soul with their bold indifference. My PS2 awaited my arrival like a faithful friend eager to provide me with hours upon hours of entertainment… little did it know that what it had in store for me was torture (at least as far as my preconceived notions were concerned). I could not delay the inevitable I would not let it win by postponing any longer. The game could not rule my life like that! In this contest of wills I would not loose… right? The disc itself was relatively unimposing I was half expecting it to shoot our hypnotic rays or have razor sharp teeth or something else entirely preposterous. In reality was just like any other disc. I was sorely disappointed to find out that it not only fit in my disc tray but it also did not have any manufacturer defects and in fact appeared to be loading up just fine. I was doomed I had to play, I had to play and I had to actually pay attention to the game. After the standard loading screens, producer, developer so on so forth I arrived at the main menu. It looked harmless enough, the music was standard video game techno and nothing on the menu seemed to scream of brainwashing or zombies coming to line dance in my room. It was time to play the game of my abject hatred.
The first thing I had to do was select the mode, this was easy as my options were only single, versus and double. Not much to think about there. Had to be single mode as I refused to let my friends be around when I played (I have to keep at least some dignity). The next step was to choose which avatar would represent me on screen. How does one choose between an annoying raver guy and girl? Frankly I hated both, thankfully after playing for a bit I not only started to unlock new avatars but also realized that I could choose to have no avatar. Following this option I was presented with what at first appeared to be an extremely daunting number of songs (44 to be exact). The number however quickly dwindled down to about six or seven ones that I could stand (I am very picky when it comes to music and anything that involved rap, sappy love or cheesy pop rock was out). I chose a song from the handful I could tolerate. A techno dance track that sounded slightly more interesting than being kicked in the head repeatedly (Some of the other songs were so bad they drove me to hire a couple of Oompa Loopmas to kick me in the head… it hurt).
Normally this would be right about where I would try to make a smooth transition into talking about the gameplay. With Dance Dance Revolution it is not easy to do that. See in most games you are actively doing something in order to manipulate some variable, to take control over some aspect of “reality” as the game prescribes it. In DDR however you do not, it seems more like the game plays you than you play the game. You are the character and the little arrows flowing up the screen are your commands. They force you to stomp around and turn and jump and act like a fool in general.
Just in case there is someone out there who has never played or seen this game before (is that even possible?) let me explain to you the nature of the beast. Small arrows corresponding to various directions on either a dance pad or controller slide slowly up the screen. Your goal is to step on the corresponding pad or push the corresponding button on your controller at specific times that (in general) line up with the beat in the music. Using a dance pad took a little time to get used to but before long I was stepping along to the music like some kind of professional techno line dancer.
On the easier settings the steps are infrequent and form simple patterns, as you progress to more difficult settings and songs the steps become faster sometimes falling off of beat and often in very complex patterns. There is a range on timing for each of the steps as well spanning from “Boo” which implies you blew it horribly to “Perfect” for when you time it flawlessly. If you do manage to time your steps so you earn perfect or great rankings on multiple steps in a row they will combo, a combo earns you more points and verbal praise relative to the size of the combo (talk about behavior modification through verbal conditioning!). Your score is what dictates your final grading which ranges from E at the bottom (I only managed to get an E once, it’s really hard to be that bad) to AAA which I have yet to achieve personally but is listed in the games documentation so I have faith it is real.
Across the top of the screen is a small bar that measures your ability as a dancer in relation to the song. The better you do the more of the bar will be filled until it reaches 100% and begins to flash multiple neon colors like a Las Vegas rainbow. The opposite is true as well, the bar will deplete a bit with every missed step and if you do bad enough it turns a dark foreboding red color. If you continue to suck it up even when the bard is that dark red color you will fail the song and be ejected back to the main menu, free to start again if you so desire. On faster songs in particular missing a step can not only cause your bar to decrease but can cause you to fall offbeat and loose your place in the barrage of arrows. Making a mistake such as that can very quickly end your turn on the dance pads.
As long as you do not fail the song you complete the song (duh). Completing songs is how you unlock various new aspects of the game. Starting with new songs at around five completions and including new game modes when you get further along. You can unlock quite a bit of extra material in this game, this of course helps for the replay value as it provides you with goals outside of just dancing to dance. In total I believe that there are 18 un-lockable avatars *nine guys and nine girls and roughly 19 un-lockable songs. Once you have completed 40 or so songs you unlock a new game mode called “mission mode” and at 200 unlock “Endless mode”.
In mission mode, your goal is to dance differently than you normally would in the game. Things like only stepping when you need to trigger two arrows at once ignoring all of the individual arrows that pass by and arrows flowing from the top of the screen to the bottom as opposed to bottom to top (man that can be disorienting). I am hardly an advanced or expert player and these got very difficult for me in the later stages. From talking to some of my more advanced friends it seems that this mode can challenge even very skilled players.
For health minded people there is exercise mode. In exercise mode it counts the amount of calories you have used up while playing the game based on your body weight and the speed and frequency of steps. I found this mode to be a novel idea as you can use it to simulate an aerobic workout while playing video games. It’s like… chocolate covered broccoli a freak of nature and science but kind of tasty. It also tracks various aspects of your workout for you from how many calories you’ve burnt off in this session to how many you have burnt this week.
Another mode of particular interest is party mode. Party mode is oriented around playing with your friends and includes a handful of mini-games. The majority of these games are oriented around the EyeToy and involve things like manipulating a ball around a maze in order to smash things, having to virtually clean the screen by moving your hands about in order to see the arrows while you dance and even one where you have to stomp back and forth on the dance pad in order to knock coconuts from a tree while attempting to catch them with your hands (They never explain why you want that many coconuts… guess you just like them). I think these games are a welcome addition and should make for some great drunken shenanigans.
The final mode I am going to go into detail on is the editing mode. This mode will allow you to edit the step placements for the songs this will let you to spend time creating step patterns for the songs to fit with your creative visions (mine generally included fantasies of exporting it to the arcade machines and watching people trip all over as they try and dance my impossible and illogical steps). It is however a fairly complex process and requires a level of dedication that might be hard to muster for the average player.
Other modes include standard arcade mode, challenge mode, nonstop mode and endless mode. These modes do not impact gameplay as much as the others. Arcade mode is the standard mode unmodified in any way. You choose your song; you dance and then pick the next one rinse wash and repeat. Nonstop mode lets you choose your set of songs at the beginning and dance them all in a row without pause. Challenge mode consists of pre-selected sets of songs generally consisting of a theme, things like “Akira premium” composed of songs by Akira. In challenge mode the penalty for failure is steep as just a couple missed steps can end your entire dance set (wish they had that kind of punishment in real dance clubs).
Graphically the game does not offer anything new. The avatars are fairly low on the polygon count and appear somewhat blocky. The character designs are also fairly sub-par and uninteresting. While some of the designs do have a somewhat humorous appearance (the guy who looks as if he is straight from the movie grease for instance) I personally found them more annoying than entertaining. The backgrounds while not particularly bad are also hardly exciting, generally consisting of a repeating pattern of simple animated clips that cycle and to me grow very tedious. The positive side to this is that while you are playing you do not really have time to pay attention to the graphics as you are too focused on being the puppet masters puppet of dancingness.
Things on the audio side are not much different from the graphics. I found the music itself to be trite and boring techno, generally lacking anything original or intriguing. The songs blended together in one big mish mash of sappy lyrics that seemed akin to the poetry of a love sick bohemian with brain damage. To compound the issues on the music/sound front the only sounds outside of the music that stood out was the commentator. Commentators are one of my pet peeves, I hate them with a passion I hate when they say stupid catch phrases and I hate then the praise me and I really, really, really hate it when the berate me for messing up. The commentator in this game is no exception. I could care less if he thinks I am a “smooth fella” in fact I don’t want any guy telling me that game or not.
I should make a couple miscellaneous comments here as there are some things to keep in mind about the game. The game is designed to be used with a floor pad, something you can stomp around on in order to interact with the game in its intended manner. Playing on a controller just does not have the same impact or engrossing level of involvement. Another note is that the exercise mode really only functions if you are using a pad (tapping buttons on a controller burns about as many calories as reading this review has). I should also mention that the sadistic people behind dance dance decided that it was a good idea to allow you to watch yourself on the screen while dancing if you have an EyeToy. Now I personally felt silly enough even when no one was around and I could not see myself but hey if you’re into that sort of thing go for it.
So if I didn’t like the music and didn’t really like the graphics and I always hated the game in the arcades I should most likely say the game sucks right? No actually wrong, in some ways this game understands that the core of a game is not flashy graphics and interactive soundscapes but is in actuality the gameplay. DDR is an extremely involving game, it’s like being mind controlled. You forget where you are and what you are doing and just start stomping along taking orders from a silly machine. I do not think that dance dance will ever be the kind of game that tops my lists. I play games to escape from reality they are my drug of choice and I enjoy doing the impossible in them. In DDR you will never do the impossible or even improbable just what the game tells you to. Don’t get me wrong I had moments where I had a very good time playing the game despite my prejudices. In the battle of man versus game, I think at least this one time the game won.