Pump It Up: Exceed
Developer: Andamiro U.S.A. Corp.
Release Date: August 29, 2005
Konami created the rhythm game genre with their Bemani series of arcade games, with Dance Dance Revolution emerging as by far the most popular franchise in the series. Once DDR saturated the market, imitators started showing up. Many were awful, but Pump It Up rose above the rest to build an admiring fanbase of its own. What made Pump it Up feel very different from DDR in gameplay is the placement of the buttons that you step on while playing. DDR uses four buttons, pointing up, down, left, and right; Pump uses five buttons, place at the center and each of the four diagonals. This results in Pump it Up becoming a more active, physically demanding game than DDR. The distance between the buttons is greater, and the steps demand more physical exertion. The home version of Pump it Up: Exceed does justice to the arcade version of the game, and also succeeds at being a fun rhythm game. Unfortunately, there's some interface issues that keep it from being one of the greatest rhythm games you can pick up for your PS2 or XBox.
Pump it Up's basic gameplay is simple: pick a song, and then try to touch the button that corresponds to the icons scrolling up the screen when the time is right. If you can do it, then you'll succeed at dancing with the music. If you fail, then your game might end, and you'll probably make yourself look like you're having some sort of seizure. At the end of your song you get points and a score that reflects how well you performed.
The different game modes offer different variants on this basic game. Arcade Mode lets you play through a series of three songs, and a fourth song as a bonus if you complete all three. As you play you have an energy meter, which is depleting my mistakes and increased when you get steps correct in sequence. You lose when your energy meter is fully depleted.
Home Mode lets you select songs freely. You have no energy meter and cannot fail the song, but will be graded based on your performance. If you could have passed the song in Arcade Mode, you get an A. You get other letter grades, down to F, indicating just how far short of passing your performance fell.
Sudden Death is a mode for perfectionist players. Pick a song, and then play it without any energy meter. The second you make a wrong step, the song instantly ends. It's a testament to the quality of the dance pad included with the game that this mode is playable at all in a home version. The pad is much larger and heavier than DDR pads, with a textured bottom to help prevent it from slipping.
One of the curious elements of Pump It Up: Exceed is that you have to play the game in all of its modes to unlock all of the game's songs in all of the game's modes. There's no way to predict what you have to do in order to unlock particular songs, either. Sometimes you beat something in Arcade to unlock it in Home, sometimes you play something in Home, to unlock it in Arcade, and the Sudden Death unlocks feel wholly arbitrary. Song selection is the selling point of a game like this, so making you jump through invisible, incomprehensible hoops to get to the game's fun point is just irritating. Had a better unlock system or some sort of comprehensive unlock system been implemented, it would've made playing the game a lot more enjoyable a lot more quickly.
Once you have everything unlocked, Pump it Up: Exceed offers an excellent selection of songs, split into three categories. Banya is a category devoted to the works of a particular electronica artist, resulting in synthetic tunes that range from mere dance pop to rap and heavy synth guitar metal. KPOP presents a selection of Korean pop music, ranging from sappy boy band tunes to heavier rock music. Finally, there's an American pop selection featuring tracks like a hard remix of Elvis' A Little Less Conversation and selections from Crystal Method. Unless you have some sort of seething hatred of pop music, it'll be easy to find something you like that's fun to dance to with Pump it Up's selection.
While you dance, each song is accompanied by a background video. The videos are wildly inventive and so interesting that there's an option to watch the videos by themselves in the main menu. You'll probably use this option frequently. Some videos are live action, are CG, some watch like high-quality Flash animations, but they're all surreal and eye-catching. In normal game play they add to the difficulty level by trying to distract your eyes as you play. Sometimes they tell a storyline, but in others they're just collections of random images. Some personal favorites include: Name of the Game (a man in a large fiberglass nose-helmet breakdances), Rapper's Delight (a chase through a dozen different genres of animation), and Solitary (an anime-style samurai duel). Unfortunately, getting all the videos involves hopping through even more arcane unlock requirements. Simply beating the songs is, for some reason, insufficient.
Still, fans of rhythm games will find dozens of hours of gameplay in Pump it Up: Exceed. The arcane unlock requirements will put off people who aren't already sold on the idea of playing dance games, and may even frustrate less die-hard fans. Still, if this sounds like your kind of game, it's worth the money. Just don't bother if you already know it's not.