Release Date: January 8, 2008
Today's youth will recognize "DDR" as only one thing: the Dance Dance Revolution sensation. Basically, it entails hopping around on a control pad the size of a throw rug, trying, more less in time with pop music, to step on the correct squares emblazoned with directional arrows as on-screen arrow symbols cross a "hot spot" bar. Although DDR can claim pride of origin, it's still readily compared to a sort of Guitar Hero for those who enjoy, and can physically withstand, an hour of nonstop half-court basketball.
It's also insane fun for toddlers (they won't really get it, but will get a lot out of it) through preteen or early teen children, and their parents. Fair warning, though: The actual enjoyment most parents will get out of DDR, especially this Disney Channel flavor, is watching their kids bop and slam each other around the controller mat, scoring surprisingly well at a game that often seems like pandemonium incarnate. If you were born in the 1960s, DDR looks a lot like a complicated, contemporary version of the family fun/party sensation Twister, but they actually have little in common, especially not the languid pace of the latter, near-antique rec-room game. Extended DDR sessions, beyond requiring a sense of rhythm and an ability to give yourself over to on-screen symbols scrolled to the beat of a familiar tune, beg a certain athleticism not at all unlike the aforementioned frenetic pace of street-court, pickup basketball games. You know, the basketball games that occasionally kill perfectly healthy 40-year-olds with undiagnosed, stable cardiac arrhythmia, while gossips will later whisper "Drugs!" behind the backs of grieving relatives.
That's the caution flag here: Beyond the brink of middle age, DDR is a game most of us will watch and be amazed by, over avidly play it. Something like Wii Fit is a far better choice if we insist on tying older adult aerobic exercise to a video game console — not something I'm willing to say is such a great idea, anyway. And this is coming from a cycling, walking father of three (two of them still quite young and damn quick), a guy who still sprints upstairs in the house taking two steps at a time. In order to keep up with any version of DDR, you have to be suited to the particular kind of physical activity and care enough about winning the game, or at least performing well. Most older adults just won't fit the bill. I certainly don't. Fifteen off-and-on minutes of DDR wears me down: I sort of become one with the dance pad, as I flop out on the floor and the kids boogie on my head.
But with that caveat staked in the heart of DDR: Disney Channel Edition, the game otherwise comes highly recommended for its intended age group — both as entertainment and couch-potato repellant. (Frankly, DDR remains highly recommended for high school and even college-age youth, though certainly those sets will prefer a less Disney-esque version of the popular game series.) Indeed, with new copies packed with the dance pad going for around 40 dollars, DDR: Disney Channel is almost surely a better choice than Wii Fit, at twice the price, if you can find it and the Nintendo Wii console you'll need to use it.
DDR: Disney Channel is outstanding aerobic exercise for children without known heart conditions, and it meets this standard simply by encouraging the activity, with no pretense to monitoring your child's fitness, let alone making a judgment about it. Trust me, if you weren't a teen girl and don't have any issues, you don't want a nuance of the venerable yet imperfect Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation directing a sincere-looking video game avatar to tell a beautiful, absolutely height/weight proportionate young woman she might be a bit overweight. You can be the voice of reason, you can call in your pediatrician to back you up, but it's still not going to help once that game console has let those vaguely enumerated cats out of the bag, and an eating disorder is far, far more dangerous than a few pounds of extra weight. Fat kids, well fat kids know they're fat, and they don't so much need to be told; they probably hear it enough at school and can do without daily reminders at home. For that reason, DDR: Disney Channel, besides being a fun game many children will enjoy, is a better fitness tool than lately popular games designed as pseudo-fitness tools because DDR encourages athleticism while confining its goals merely, and appropriately, to the context of the game itself.
I haven't hung much on this "Disney Channel" branding of a DDR game because, in large part, DDR is DDR is DDR. On PlayStation 2, the audio, the music and sound effects, are quite acceptable, and the graphics and presentation are for the most part lackluster, which, in a DDR game, they can easily get away with being. To analogize with a classic title from another game genre, there have been several quite gorgeous renditions of Tetris, but the aesthetics of various versions of the game have had nothing to do with the longevity of Tetris' popularity.
DDR: Disney Channel Edition includes content — backdrops, static graphics, characters and music — from Disney Channel favorites, both animated and live action, including, among others, "Cheetah Girls," "Kim Possible," "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana." If you haven't heard of any of these, save perhaps the last one due to an overblown seatbelt incident, some sensationalist Vanity Fair photo pages and the inherent ability of the Internet to cause anyone, even closely guarded junior celebrities, to do things "in public" they should have best kept private, not to worry: Your kids will almost surely be familiar with the material. It's all content, in typical Disney form, perfectly suitable for even the youngest children, to a fairly extreme standard of parental censorship. Real-world scandals and petty misbehaviors sometimes invade Disney brands by association, but the company's media content for children is fastidiously screened against anything even approaching objectionable.
As mentioned, behind the new suit of Disney clothes, the game itself remains just a version of DDR suitable to the previous generation — in this PS2 version, by far the most popular unit in most households — of games consoles. DDR: Disney Channel Edition is also specifically designed to be approached and played by dance gamers of all skill levels, from those who've never seen a DDR game before to others who will have for years claimed it as their favorite game. On this point, the game is a clear winner, as by appropriately setting the difficulty level, the title will neither bore nor frustrate players across a wide range of ability. The best deal on DDR: Disney Channel Edition is certainly the boxed set including the dance pad: It's a high-quality, durable pad. The pad is easily, safely folded for storage, best for use on smooth, hard floors, like tile or wood, but with an all-purpose gripping surface on its reverse face, playable on almost any sort of home flooring.
Much by good luck over parental prowess, our children, ages about 30 months to barely 14, given a choice, rain or shine, they'd rather gambol about outside under the microwaves and excessive UV irradiation. But when socked in by days of rain or Arctic temperatures blown down by a bone-chilling wind, DDR: Disney Channel Edition is an excellent, enjoyable break from the more sedentary entertainments of early sundowns and cabin-fever seasons of the year. Unfortunately, it's the rare adult who will possess the constitution and fleetness of foot to stand in for more than a few perhaps enjoyable but confused, confounding minutes; for most of us, DDR, especially in a Disney TV-branded version, will not rise in our esteem much above spectator sport.