Year released: 2003
I began to embark on the endless journey that is Dance Dance Revolution over a year and a half ago, and my enthusiasm for the game has not waned. If anything, it's gotten stronger; although I don't get to employ the same 4-games-a-day regimen I had going when I had a machine to play on at CSUN, I've made several excursions to other arcades in Southern California, not to mention a handful of tournaments (where I usually place somewhere in the 20s). The home versions have been doing their darnedest to keep up, although this latest installment is two versions behind the latest arcade mix, DDR Extreme.
Nonetheless, it's still a DDR game, and that means it follows the same mold as the other two home games before it: an off-beat (excuse the pun) game that's extremely addictive once you get the hang of it, a songlist that's decent but could use improvement, an interface that's satisfactory despite sacrificing the perks of an arcade machine, and overall a great addition to one's collection.
If you don't already know what you're getting into when you pop this game into your system, then you live a very sheltered life. Nonetheless, here's the gist: your job is to activate arrows set in the four cardinal directions as they scroll up the screen to a permanent set of arrows on the top. The more accurate to the beat you are, the better, but miss too many steps and you fail the song. Added into the fray are long Freeze arrows, where the button/pad must be held down as long as the trail indicates. Each song has three different step patterns of increasing complexity, and you can also create your own step files if you so choose.
The big difference between DDRMAX and the two PS1 releases is, obviously, the capability for full-motion video as backgrounds while the song plays. They've scuttled the dancing models, but in exchange you have some awesome video clips as backdrops to the arrows. The layout is much less cluttered than the earlier games too, with the play and information areas clearly separated. The announcer is different from the earlier games, and he's a lot less dorky and stiff. It's always worth a chuckle when you're about to fail a song and the announcer screams "NOOOOOOoooooOOooooOOoooOoo!!!"
Meanwhile, you've got a maximum of 71 possible songs to play through - more than any previous game. But while there's an awful lot of quantity, the quality is a little iffy. While there are some fantastic selections on the roster (Synchronized Love, Kind Lady, Healing Vision Angelic Mix, Spin the Disc as a late unlock), anything by Slake or DJ Nagureo ranges from the forgettable to the completely dreadful. And there are some notable absences as well - I was expecting So Deep, one of the signature songs in the arcade, to be on the list, and I would've loved to see Witch Doctor on there as well.
The interface is somewhat similar to the older versions of the game, with a wheel-like method of selecting songs, only using the titles instead of a CD carousel. There's the standard foot rating of 1 (incredibly easy) to 10 (torturous), as well as a "Groove Radar" that attempts to quantify its level of step density, irregularity, jumps and whatnot. It's a good thing they have the feet in there - the radar tends to be somewhat unreliable and not the best way to pick songs. Like all the other versions, this game can be played with a home pad, but the pads that are out there (and don't cost a fortune) tend not to be useful for advanced players as they slip around the floor too much.
If the first DDR game was made as an introduction to the series, and Konamix was geared more to the veterans, DDRMAX strikes a good compromise. Needless to say, when you start out with 37 songs (and several that unlock fairly quickly), you won't have any trouble finding a few songs that are around your skill level. But once you show some real prowess at the game, it starts to throw some extra challenges at you. If you beat your last song cleanly enough, you'll be invited to play the game's only 10-foot song. Beat that one with a high grade, and you'll get still another song where even one false step automatically fails you. Clear either one of them and they become available for normal play. There's also a handful of Oni courses, which consist of several (up to 22!) songs played back to back, and few mistakes allowed along the way.
Needless to say, I have a lot of fun with this game whenever I play it. (Or at least I did until my PS2 decided it didn't want to work any more.) There are so many songs on this version that I have several favorites. The steps on some of the original songs aren't quite as inspired as the songs found on the arcade, but that's the beauty of having such a wide variety of songs to pick from - even with a few clunkers, you still have plenty of quality songs to play. The edit mode is fun to tinker around with, although it takes a while to come up with good original steps sometimes.
Dance Dance Revolution remains one of my favorite video games. With DDRMAX, the series has made some great strides in the home version department.
|Design and Control: ||4/5
|Total Score: 89%|