Release Date: October 21, 2008
It's kind of difficult to believe that the DanceDanceRevolution series is 10 years old. Released to Japanese arcades in 1998, the DDR series has been credited as one of the earliest rhythm games that gained worldwide success. The PlayStation release, originally available only for Japanese systems, was such a heavily imported title that when the American release finally hit, it too became a bona fide hit, showing people that a game with a peripheral can be successful in the game market.
Since then, DDR has spread to as many platforms as possible from the PlayStation family to the Xbox family to the Nintendo home consoles. Even the PC saw a few versions of the official game before the knockoffs took over. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of a series that some schools recommend for their PE classes, Konami has released DanceDanceRevolution Universe 3 for the Xbox 360. With the first two titles getting a lukewarm reception at best, will the third time be the series' charm on Microsoft's white box?
In case you have never seen or played any game from the DDR series before, the gameplay methods inspired just about every other rhythm game currently on the market, especially the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. On the top of your screen, you have an energy meter and a line displaying four arrows (up, down, left, right). On the bottom of the screen come arrows pointing in the four aforementioned directions. As the arrows scroll toward the top of the screen, your job is to hit the arrow right when it reaches the designated area by stepping on the direction marked on the dance pad. You score more points depending on how close you are to stepping on the arrow just when it perfectly overlaps the given area. You gain more energy as you become successful and lose energy any time you miss. The game ends once you lose all of your energy before the song ends. Again, they're simple gameplay mechanics that prove increasingly difficult depending on the speed of the song and which of the five difficulty levels is chosen.
There are several modes in the game that all play on the basic dancing principle. Game Mode is the standard DDR that we all know and love from the arcades, this time with up to four players joining in on the fun. Unlike the previous Xbox 360 installments, DDR Universe 3 follows the same procedures as the arcade versions. The game is split up into three rounds, where you pick a song from 60 tracks (half of which are locked when you first boot up the game) to which you'd like to dance and choose from five difficulty levels. Beating the three selected songs lets you win the game, while failing at any one of them gives you a game over screen. Beating the game or losing will not bring you back to the title screen; you'll just go back to the set list with no real penalties or rewards.
The big difference is that you now have the chance to unlock songs without stepping foot in Quest Mode. Throughout the Game Mode, the game will randomly give you a bonus round with only one song. The requirements for beating the song can range from playing it without getting below a "Great" rating to playing it at a very accelerated speed, but once the song is beaten, you unlock it for play on any mode and difficulty level. The move is brilliant, as it finally allows players who never partake in Quest Mode the opportunity to dance to more songs without relying on downloadable songs for new content.
Quest Mode in DDR Universe 3 is different from the previous two games, and the change is more than welcome. After creating your male or female character, you enter Dance City, where the big dancing championships are occurring. As a newcomer, you have to dance your way through Street challenges, where you earn money for following different rule requirements for each song. The money can then be used to either buy more outfits for your player or go to clubs and buy your way through dance battles, where you beat the best dancer to unlock songs. Beating those takes you to Executive clubs and finally Dance Tower, where you try to become the ultimate dance champion. Quest Mode succeeds because the experience is more focused this time around. The idea of spending money just to travel from area to area is gone, and even though it's replaced with the idea of spending money to buy into challenges, it no longer feels like the game is siphoning money from you for no reason.
DDR Universe 3 is also kinder to casual players by letting you play on just about any difficulty level without feeling that only experts can play. Gone are the CPU player advantages just from having a song in its collection, which drains your energy levels just because you happen to dance to that song. The variable difficulty levels alone make this much better than the previous titles. However, the mode is also plagued with some of the worst dialogue. DDR players are accustomed to hearing the announcer spit out nonsensical phrases, but when your guide tries to be hip by repeatedly telling you that you'll soon be using the money you earn as tissues or that you should just bounce because you're failing a challenge over and over again, it becomes lame.
Party Mode contains plenty of different rule sets for the standard game, ranging from fun to maddening. Attack Mode is much like a standard versus game, but with the addition of power-ups that either help you or hinder others. Bomb Mode asks you to play something akin to hot potato, where you must perform a five-step combo before time runs out in order to pass the bomb along to another player. Sync Mode is where a group of people must get a "Great" rating or better on each step, or everyone will fail. Relay Mode has each player taking on a different set of steps in a song, while Speed Mode is a race to see who can finish a song first. Score Battle is like versus mode but based solely on the number of points at the end of the song, while Point Battle is where one person has to stay alive in a song longer than the other.
Finally, there are the Triple and Quad modes, where one player ends up playing a song using three or four dance mats. Aside from the difficulty in getting more than two dance mats together, these two modes also have the option of using the same dance mat for the third and fourth panels, which rips away the challenge of having those extra arrows in the first place. Unless you have multiple dance mats lying around, Party Mode might not get touched at all, since the basic versus mode is already embedded in Game Mode and the extra sets of rules don't seem to make the game any better.
Edit Mode gives you the ability to take any song and change the step patterns and video clips playing behind it. This mode has been a mainstay for quite some time, and it's popular among DDR console fans. Unfortunately, you can't exchange edited patterns among people via Xbox Live, limiting the appeal to those people who play it on your console.
Training Mode is where you can practice dancing to songs without a penalty. Workout Mode is exactly like Game Mode, and the only notable exception is that you have a calorie counter that keeps track of how many calories you're burning as you're going through each song and hitting the steps correctly. No one can say whether it's accurate, but it is pretty handy if you wanted to get a fair idea of how much exercise you're doing by playing this game.
A new mode touted here is DJ Mode, where you get to remix any of the unlocked songs on the disc. Curiously, you can't use the dance pad to do the mixing, something that is barely mentioned in the instruction booklet. Once you finally switch away from the dance pad to the regular controller, you'll notice that DJ mode really isn't all that it's cracked up to be. While you can pick a few songs in this mode, all you'll really be doing is scratching over the songs or laying sound effects over them. There's no other way to manipulate the tunes, whether it's through repeating selected sections or playing them backward or anything of the sort. As a result, this is a mode that sounds good on paper but is poorly executed.
Like the previous titles, DDR Universe 3 features online play via Xbox Live. You can have a Player or Ranked match with up to four people on any of the unlocked songs or downloadable songs, as long as your opponents also have them. You have leaderboards like so many other games, but as of this writing, online play cannot be reviewed for this title because there isn't an online game to be found. During the whole review process, no one was hosting an online Player or Ranked match, and any time I tried to host a match, no one would show up. While the online play could very well be strong, no one is playing it online, so this feature will probably never be used.
If you choose to buy the game as a complete set, you'll also receive the Konami-produced dance pad. Unlike other music-based games, the instrument of choice hasn't changed at all. The pad is still made of a combination of rubber and plastic that grips well to hardwood floors but slips around on carpet. There's a jack for wired headsets, though the headset extension cable doesn't come packed with the bundle this time around. More importantly, the sensors for each button work properly as long as you completely flatten out the dance pad. An older dance pad that was used several times for this review worked out fine, while the unit that came with this review experienced issues at first when buttons would get pressed even if the foot wasn't anywhere near the button in question.
The graphics in DDR Universe 3 aren't exactly a showcase for the graphical abilities of the Xbox 360 system, but they do the job well enough. The character models in the dance sequences are done fairly well, looking much better than the models used in the previous games. There isn't too much variety to them, however, and while you can customize your character in Quest Mode, the range of outfits you can buy are anywhere from boring to outrageous, with nothing in between. A good chunk of the songs have their own music videos, though few of them are shot in HD, meaning that you'll often see black vertical bars on the sides of each video. Songs without their own music videos will have generic video clips running in the background. Unlike the previous titles, the clips won't prove too distracting, though there are still a few that are so bright that the on-screen arrows will be lost for just a brief moment.
When talking about sound in this game, the only thing that matters is the song list, which is fortunately one of the better ones in recent memory. There are more songs that fall under the danceable category, though there are a few tunes that make you question who thought it would be a good idea to dance to them. More of the songs are recognizable by the general public, which is a great thing if you wanted to get more people interested in the game. This is one of the few DDR titles that doesn't rely on songs previously released on older games in order to bring people back into the experience. Unfortunately, while the announcer has changed, the written lines (and their delivery) are still pretty cheesy. Sometimes there will be something genuinely funny, such as the announcer asking, "Can I has training?" but for the most part, lines like, "Give it up for Player One," delivered in an almost robotic tone are more groan-inducing than anything else.
Overall, DanceDanceRevolution Universe 3 is the DDR that Xbox 360 players have been waiting for. The music selection feels fresh again, and the number of good modes outweighs the bad. The single-player experience is now more manageable and less confusing than previous titles, and the overall gaming formula really hasn't been tinkered with too much. The only concern players should have is whether or not the DDR formula is relevant anymore. If you feel like dancing and have skipped over the previous two installments, this is a pretty good starting point, despite some of its flaws. If you made the investment in the previous titles, this is a good buy since it is the best of the three, although you should only expect a newer song list and better single-player experience out of the deal.
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