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Dance Dance Revolution

Year released: 2001
Company: Konami
Genre: Exercise

You've heard me speak volumes of this game in the last few months, largely charting my own progress with the game. Dance Dance Revolution, a cult hit in the arcades, was released time and time again in Japan, but it took 3 years for the game to finally hit stateside1. Speaking simply of the game concept, Dance Dance Revolution ranks among the most innovative, addictive, and enjoyable video games of all time. The Playstation interpretation of the game does an admirable job of bringing the game home, although some things are understandably lost in the translation.

If you've never played DDR before, here's a quick description. While a song is playing, a series of arrows scroll up the screen in time with the music. When they reach a line of permanent arrows at the top of the screen, you have to step on the appropriate arrow. Miss too many steps at a stretch, and you fail the song. Each step is graded as Perfect, Great, Good, Almost, or a Miss, affecting your energy meter accordingly, and songs are ranked for difficulty from 1 to 9 feet.

There's a peculiar thing about this game as far as the graphics are concerned. As you play the song, the screen is clogged with information. The arrows, the score, the dance meter, your last step's judgement, your combo, the difficulty level, and a computer generated dancer moving against an animated background. What's so peculiar about it? Well, if you're looking at anything other than the arrows and maybe your dance meter, chances are you're going to fail the song. Everything else is really there for the audience. For that reason, I'm hesitant to give a perfect 6 in this category, since the visuals are bu and large unnecessary. They do add motion and vibrance to the screen, though, and for that reason I'm more than willing to give a 5.

The crux of the game lies in the music. DDR has 27 songs in its repertoire, all of which are playable at any time. I'm not a fan of techno (or any offshoot thereof), but they manage to have some nice variety in the songs, including many of the series' best-known titles. As you play, an announcer sprinkles in comments on your performance, ranging from "I can't believe it! How 'bout it!" when you're doing well, to "Oh, no! You're dangerous!" when you're about to fail a song. He can get a little annoying at times (especially since there's no "off" setting), but he does get in a funny word in every now and then.

Unfortunately, the one thing the game is unable to truly translate for the home version is the play control. Obviously, it's very difficult to mimic the metal-grid, pressure-sensitive pads of the arcade. You can buy a soft pad for home use, but they tend to slip all over the place (unless you modify it) and wear out relatively quickly. There are pads out there that better mimic the arcade, but are costly.2 And while you can use the controller to play the game (although you'd best use the buttons lest you miss every single Left-Right and Down-Up jump), you'd better not let any other player know you're doing it.

One of the reasons that DDR is so addictive is because its learning curve is among the most fluid in any video game. Many people (myself included) start out stumbling their way through 1-foot songs, and slowly improve to the exalted 9-foot level. Along the way, players learn to recognize patterns, position their body to accomodate certain steps, and build up their stamina to get through the faster songs. The home version goes one step further: it includes a lesson mode for those completely new to the game, and a training mode to practice any song by slowing it down and cutting it up to a few measures at a time. If you put forth the effort, there's no reason why you couldn't do quite well in this game.

And the great thing is, the more you play this game, the more you'll want to play it. It's one of the most enthralling games I've ever taken part in. Instead of a game you can't put down, like Tetris, you have a game you can't give up. Nothing beats the feeling you get when you pass your first cata (slang for a 9-footer), and making your way to that mark exposes you to some great songs. The Playstation game suffers a bit from the lack of variety in the songs - if you play four songs a game like I do, you've exhausted the playlist in seven games - but if you're too far away from an arcade, this version will do just fine.

I've been singing the praises of Dance Dance Revolution for quite some time now, and with two DDR games out for the Playstation, there's no reason why you shouldn't join in. It doesn't have quite the luster of the arcade games, but it comes darn close.

1. At least, legally; I've seen DDR machines in arcades for a few years now, but they were all Japanese imports, which technically are illegally brought to the states. Like they care, though.

2. There are pads out there that are almost exactly like the ones in the arcade. They cost $150, though. As much as I love DDR, I'm not going to spend that kind of money on it at home.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 14
Plot: Exempt
Aesthetic Score: 16
Overall Score: 83%