Release Date: September 25, 2007
I could be hanged for this in some countries, but it's the job of journalists to report the truth, so: Dance Dance Revolution is getting a bit long in the tooth, isn't it? Well, maybe not, but even the most ardent fans must admit that the growth of the series has been nothing short of incredible. Since the first arcade release in Japan in the year 1998, there have been over 50 releases on pretty much every console and arcade machine under the sun. A lot of these have had only minor differences between released versions — or even none at all, in case of a port being released over two systems — while others were just cut-down versions of the arcade iterations. It's a series with a stupendous following, and the releases show it.
(Admittedly, this is nowhere near the sheer idiocy of the Street Fighter releases. With Street Fighter 4 now announced, we're up to around 90 releases, although many are dreadful ports to ill-equipped systems. A Commodore 64 version of Street Fighter 2, anyone?)
Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA 2 is the latest North America release in a series that really hopes you don't know how many games there have been. Given that you're reading this, you have an Internet connection and have thus probably heard of the series, but on the off chance that you've spent a considerable amount of time under a rock, I'll recap. Dance Dance Revolution is a series built on the premise of play with a dance mat: Arrows fly up the screen, and when they reach the top, you stand on the appropriate directional panel. Simple enough. It's possible to play on a joypad, but let's face it — that's missing the point, just a little.
SuperNOVA 2 doesn't really do anything new, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Too many series have been ruined by attempts to take the basic, workable concept too far, or twisting it in strange ways, while this iteration sticks to its roots. Arrows move, and you stand on pads, the same as ever. No, the real thrill of the game isn't in what new things it does, but in the new songs and tracklists.
There, at least, we find something worth talking about. In total, there are around 70 songs in the game, and as usual, they're a mix of insane J-Pop, techno and Western music. Somewhat disappointingly, almost every song unlocked at the beginning of the game is Western, and there are some, uh, "interesting" choices in there. Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake, anyone? Upsettingly, many of these are in their original unmixed versions, and the rhythm really doesn't make them particularly suited to a Dance Dance Revolution game. With that said, there are also a few genuinely inspired tracks present. Fatboy Slim's "Rockafella Skank" is good fun, and I'm pretty sure it's illegal to dislike a game which has A-Ha's "Take on Me" in the soundtrack.
To unlock the Japanese songs for which DDR has gained a reputation, you play the game. Really, it's that simple. What you play determines the speed and specifics of your unlocks — the new Hyper Master game mode is by far the fastest way of unlocking things, and is also the mode with the most unlocks. Hyper Master is new to SuperNOVA 2 and is basically a mission mode. You begin with one tier unlocked, which has five challenges and a "boss" song. Some challenges might be simple, like scoring a C or above on a particular song, while others may require you to have 90% remaining energy upon finishing or a combo of at least 100. As the player progresses, Hyper Master gets more difficult, and it does so rapidly. While the first few tiers feature songs on Beginner and Basic difficulty, it's not long before the difficulty rises and it becomes a genuine challenge to get through. Experienced DDR players need not worry, though; the boss song is all that's needed to unlock the next tier of songs. If you don't enjoy the easy stuff and want to plow ahead, just head straight for the boss songs. Either way, playing puts more things in the game's shop, and playing also gets you points to spend in the shop.
The difficulty of the later stages can be a sticking point, but the game wisely addresses this with support modules, which are available in Hyper Master mode and can make the game either easier or harder. Stuck on a song that requires a certain amount of energy remaining at the end of the song? Equip a module that lessens the energy lost for each missed step. Is there a mission where a huge combo is required? Then use a module that changes your "Good" steps into "Great," keeping your combo alive longer. Masochistic? Try a module that forces you to play with one of DDR's sadistic difficulty enhancers, like Dark, Reverse or Sudden. Using helpful ones slows the speed of your unlocks, but there are additional modules that are useful in a more passive manner, like one that shows your rating all through the level. That one's not going to help you finish a level, but it can be nice to see if you still have an "A" rating after a particularly bad section.
Other than Hyper Master, you've got the expected modes: the basic Arcade replica, Versus mode, Endless mode, Edit mode (letting you create your own steps for songs), the usual Doubles options, an atrocious EyeToy gimmick and, most interestingly, Workout mode has been carried over. In a nutshell, Workout counts the calories you're burning up as you play. If you want to lose a certain amount, then you can set the game to that, and it'll keep throwing songs at you (randomly or in a playlist of your choosing). You can even input your weight, and it'll adjust things slightly. It's not a game seller by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a nice touch, and it's pleasing to see it brought back from the original game.
Finally, we come to the peripheral. The dance mat packaged with the game, should you go the route of buying both game and mat at once, is perfectly serviceable. It needs a little weighing down, as it's light enough that rapid stepping will move it somewhat, but you don't need to worry about it slipping out from under you. It's fairly responsive, but it's not really the best way to play; those serious about their Dance Dance Revolution will probably want to invest in a superior mat at some point in the future. Until you reach the stage where the mat is really hindering your ability to play tougher songs, though, there's nothing wrong with it.
Bluntly, you should already know if you're going to like SuperNOVA 2. If you're an established fan of the series and want more, then yes, there are new songs, and yes, some of the later ones are obscenely difficult, to the point of being among the hardest that I've ever seen. If you've never played a Dance Dance Revolution game before, then there are certainly worse places to start, but checking it out at your local arcade might be a cheaper (albeit more humiliating) way to see if you enjoy it before plunking down the money. There's nothing particularly wrong with it — no gigantic loading times, no huge bugs — but there's nothing overly special or new about it, either. SuperNOVA 2 is a solid entry into the series, and despite a few questionable choices amongst the licensed tracks, it's perfectly enjoyable. Still … if this is the best response that Dance Dance Revolution can hope for, is it time for the series to evolve a bit?