Release Date: September 25, 2007
Although preceded by several games in Konami's Bemani lineup, Dance Dance Revolution, which came out in 1998, wore the crown as the most successful game in the entire rhythm game genre — until the release of Guitar Hero two years ago, anyway. Thoroughly surpassed even in the very specific dance sub-genre by independent developer RoXoR's In The Groove, which represented the first serious innovations in about three years, Konami's response was to sue the In The Groove brand out of existence, swallow some of its lesser elements, throw in some new, albeit poor, ideas, and remove many of the good ideas that already existed. The end result is Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party for the Wii, possibly the worst release in the series since Disney Mix.
If you've never played Dance Dance Revolution (or the similar, Korean-developed Pump It Up or the aforementioned In The Groove), the basic mechanics are kind of similar to those of Guitar Hero. Arrows scroll toward a line at the top of the screen, matched to four giant arrows on the controller pad on which you're standing — or you can just be lazy and use the face buttons on your controller, but where's the fun in that? Just step on the matching arrow on the controller pad when the moving arrow lines up with the top line, and you score a point. Repeat anywhere from 50 to 500 times in a minute and a half, and you have one stage of the game.
The range of arrows also represents the first — and primary — source of difficulty variation in the series. Rare is the person who cannot, after four or five tries, start to enjoy the game's lower difficulty levels easily. Rarer still is someone who can pass the "boss" songs that make up the top tier of each version on the highest difficulty levels. Rhythm games in general, and Bemani games in particular, have acquired a certain mystique for being one of the most hardcore-oriented genres out there until relatively recently, and a video of The Legend of Max or any of the top-tier songs on In The Groove will quickly demonstrate why this is.
So why is it that, after the success of the unabashedly hardcore-oriented In The Groove series, Konami decided to turn around and make the least hardcore-friendly Bemani game they have released since the turn of the millennium? With Hottest Party, every single element that made the game fun and enjoyable for top-tier players has been removed and been replaced with gimmicky Wiimote moves.
Gone are any forms of modifiers to change how the arrows move or behave. Gone are the classic songs from older releases that traditionally came back with every release; the situation is made worse because this is precisely the release that could have best used the import of older songs. Gone is the downloadable content that gave extra staying power to the Dance Dance Revolution Ultimix and DDR Universe sub-series.
Here to stay is the weakest, least challenging unlock scheme ever stuffed into the series; in Hottest Party's Groove Circuit mode, any objective can be completed on beginner mode. Here to stay are mines from In The Groove, stompers and hand markers (more on these in a second). Here to stay are annoyingly poor remixes and "world versions" of some of the fans' less favorite songs, and a song list of "dance" song remixes that would have been perfectly danceable without any remixes ("Disco Inferno?!").
Given the red-hot marketability of the Wii, Konami decided to see how they could stuff the Wiimote and Nunchuk into the game by adding in hand markers and hand missiles. Hand markers are essentially the same as the directional arrows, except you hit them by moving the Wiimote or Nunchuk. Hand missiles only show up in battle mode and are basically the same as hand markers; hitting one sends it curving around in a really strange and hard-to-read fashion to the other player's side of the screen.
These both sound easy enough, but oddly, Konami chose to base the timing of the hand markers and missiles on when your motion starts. This is extremely unintuitive compared to every rhythm game ever released (in particular, Samba De Amigo, which seems to be the direct inspiration), and there are many real-world dance forms, where the timing of the end of the motion is what matters. Imagine if you were judged in Rock Band based on when you raised your drumsticks into the air, and you start to get the idea of how strange this is.
As if these were not enough, the graphical and sound components have taken a significant hit from previous versions. The latter has been weakened by an announcer who is somehow even more patronizing than ever before. Every time he speaks, you'll hear him through your Wiimote's speaker, which has a tinny sound and worsens the problem. Hitting mines and missing prompts cause distracting sound effects, which punishes the player even more, and once again, you'll hear it in stereo from your Wiimote.
The graphics could easily have matched those of the PlayStation 2 DDR Supernova or Dance Dance Revolution Universe. Instead, the video clips and variety that made previous DDR stage backgrounds interesting have been replaced by eight scary-looking characters (none of whom resemble the vivacious cast of dancers that has been around since the original DDR) dancing on a stage that shows minimal animation and variety. The end result goes from occasionally distractingly good to flat-out distractingly bad.
Ultimately, Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party for the Wii has ended up erasing about four years of progress within the genre. The improvements have been replaced with unnecessary and annoying gimmicks galore, which only make it look that much worse when compared to the latest rhythm offerings, Guitar Hero III and Rock Band. I would go as far as to say that Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, with its utter abomination of a cover of "Only a Lad," has a better soundtrack, more enjoyable gameplay and is a better value than this iteration of the rhythm genre's longtime flagship series. Avoid this, and look at the PlayStation 2's DDR Supernova (not PS3 compatible!), Xbox 360's DDR Universe or hell, the GameCube's DDR Mario Mix, which was at least entertaining.
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