Release Date: September 27, 2005
Buy 'DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION EXTREME 2': PlayStation 2
Before we even get started here, know this: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 will not convert anti-dancepad gamers, as the same core gameplay mechanics are carried over from previous iterations. This is certainly one of those franchises that you either "get" or don't "get." The latest entry now has decent head-to-head online play, a good mix of beat-heavy songs and that same DDR gameplay that will make you either sweat with joy or utter, "Not so much."
So you've never heard of DDR? Weird. Based on an arcade rig, this is a rhythm game that uses a floorpad as an input device. The concept is simple: Step on the up, down, left or right arrows on the pad in time with the music as designated on-screen. At the top of the screen, there are four outlines of arrows, one for each direction. Solid arrows scroll from the bottom of the screen, and when the solid arrows line up with their respective outlines, you step in that direction.
While the concept is simple, things can get real complicated as you push the difficulty level higher. There are five different levels of difficulty: beginner, light, standard, heavy and challenge. The game continuously rates you on every step, depending on how closely you're sticking with the beat. A meter at the top of the screen indicates how well you're performing. If that meter hits zero, it's game over. You also receive a final grade at the end of your performance.
When playing songs in the easier modes, steps are more spread out, and they land on beats that should be obvious to anyone with a hint of rhythm. On higher difficulty settings, you'll be treated to quicker steps, more syncopated rhythms, multi-direction steps that require you to step on two arrows at once, and more awkward stepping sequences. If you've ever seen a really good DDR player go ape-crazy on an arcade rig, you might be a bit intimidated. However, since virtually every song can have its difficulty adjusted individually, you can create a learning curve that suits you best. The real fun in DDR lies in the higher difficulty songs that have you steppin' and sweatin' like Patrick Swayze.
EyeToy compatibility has carried over from the previous edition, so you don't have to look like the Lord of the Dance with your arms at your sides when you dance. With the EyeToy hooked up, hand actions are determined similarly to the step actions. Hand icons scroll upwards, and when they reach the stationary icons displayed at the top left and right sides of the screen, you "hit" the stationary icons. If you have a difficult time rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, this mode is not recommended for you.
The soundtrack is made up of a really fun mix of dance-oriented tunes. Some of the popular songs are actually covers, such as "Genie in a Bottle" and "Oops! I Did it Again," each of which aren't sung by their popstar counterparts. Other songs include Fatboy Slim's "Wonderful Night," a version of Beyonce's "Crazy In Love," "Pump Up the Volume," "Play That Funky Music," a remix of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," Chemical Brothers' "Block Rockin' Beats," "I Will Survive," and other more obscure releases.
For the most part, modes stay true to what we've seen in past editions. The Dance Master mode gives you a series of challenges that you have to meet before moving onto the next song or group of songs. For example, each step you take may have to be rated "good" or higher in order to advance. Seasoned dance vets will find that this mode is very slowed-paced at the beginning, because the songs are relatively simple when starting off. However, Dance Master mode is a great way for newbies to gradually learn the mechanics of the game while earning items and points that can be spent in the shop. The difficulty does get harder as you progress.
The Free Play mode is the standard DDR mode that lets you choose from any of the songs that you've unlocked, and this is also the only mode in which you can use the EyeToy features. Trying to beat your own or a friend's score can be incredibly addictive.
Workout mode returns as well, and keeps track of the calories you burn while you dance. The advanced mode has you dance a "course," which is a series of songs that play back-to-back. While playing the course, you only get one dance meter, which kind of makes it a dancing survival mode. You can crank up the difficulty even more and allow yourself only four missteps during a course. This mode has an addictive quality that's rooted in the "I know I can get it if I just play one more time" mentality.
A couple of other modes that can help DDR beginners and vets are the lesson and training modes. Lesson mode teaches beginners how to handle more complicated footwork, and training mode lets you take a particular song and break it down so you can digest it more easily before trying it in one of the main modes or multiplayer play. There is even an edit mode where you can write up your own dance steps to any given song.
You can also spend points that you earn during the game in a shop. Here, you can buy items such as songs and new color schemes for on-screen dancers. One thing that's a bit strange is how a new song may cost a few thousand points, but a new color scheme can cost 100,000 points. It just seems excessive, and quite a big gap for something as superficial as a different color for your avatar.
Multiplayer can be played either offline with two pads or, for the first time on the PS2, online. Offline multiplayer is just more fun and intense with someone there right beside you. However, online play is a nice alternative to buying two dancepads (even though off-brand dancepads can be had for only $20), and it works pretty well. Your performances can also be ranked and rated against other online players.
Graphically, this is pretty standard DDR stuff. You won't see any jaw-dropping shading or bump-mapping effects. Mainly, your eyes will be fixed on the scrolling arrow icons, not the pretty colors or music videos going on in the background. Sound-wise, DDR vets will notice a lot of the same voiceovers, which are getting really stale. It'd be nice to have a different voice next time around, just for the sake of freshness. The music is the centerpiece of DDR, and Konami did a good job with the selection, which is made up of appropriate songs that are generally heavy on rhythm.
DDR Extreme 2 is a decent upgrade of a series that has a fairly loyal fanbase. It sticks to its roots with tenacity, which is just fine for those who are already fans. Even though there is an established fanbase for the franchise, people who have never tried any previous DDR games shouldn't be intimidated, and give the series a shot. With online play, a generous song roster and plenty of options for beginners, DDR Extreme 2 is a great choice for gamers who love rhythm games, but have yet to take them to the floor. The only thing is, pretty much every previous DDR is a great choice for anyone who hasn't broken into the series yet. In light of that, this latest iteration is mainly recommended for hardcore DDR fans who want online PS2 play (Xbox already had online play in 2003's DDR Ultramix) and a new song roster. The gameplay is still addictive and fun, but more notable additions need to be made to keep the series fresh.