Dance Dance Revolution: for a long time, it was something that was just out of reach for the casual North American gamer. Though the series took the Japan by storm, for some unknown reason Konami decided to not release it outside of Asia. While you could find the odd machine in larger arcades, gamers wanting to play it at home were forced to import the multitude of Japanese Dance Dance Revolution titles, as well as the expensive controller. However, Konami finally decided to reverse its stance on the game, and slowly filtered Dance Dance Revolution into the retail market. The result was well worth the wait.
For the uninitiated, Dance Dance Revolution (or DDR, as it has come to be known), consists of simple but incredibly addicting gameplay: music plays, and arrows scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top. When they reach the correct point (indicated by a row of ghosted arrows), the player presses the corresponding arrow in the controller; a well-timed press will increase the dance gauge at the top, while an ill-timed one decreases it. However, as many may have guessed by its name, the preferred way to play is not with your hands, but with your feet. The Dance Dance Revolution controller is not a traditional handheld pad, but is instead a mat, similar to the old Nintendo Power Pad. On said mat are the four arrows, along with the necessary X, O, Start, and Select buttons, and instead of using your hands to play, you press the arrows with your feet. This obviously turns what would have been a rather dull game into a very unique gaming experience. Though the controller is not bundled with all copies of the game, it is a virtual pre-requisite for playing it, and those who do put down the extra money for it won't be disappointed.
Being a music game, DDR shines in the area. Using tracks licensed from the Japanese Dancemania series, as well as a good number of Konami originals, the music selection ends up being varied enough that practically everyone will be able to find song styles that they like. While most songs tend to be in either the dance/pop or techno genres, Konami has added enough songs with a bit of rock or hip-hop in them that the entire mix of songs balances out nicely. The sheer quality is also a plus; while many music games suffer from the dreaded "bad music" syndrome, DDR doesn't have one dud song in it.
Graphically, the game works extremely well. Using a combination of a polygonal dancer and series of flashing still images, the game creates an upbeat, festive picture to go along with the sounds. Slower, easier songs tend to have images that match, scrolling along the screen at a normal pace. Likewise, harder and faster songs work the same way; watching the background to the 180 BPM song Paranoia will practically cause epileptic seizures if you're not careful. The flurry of images on such songs also helps increase the difficulty, as the backgrounds are just distracting enough to create that little bit of tension that just plain works.
Konami has also seen fit to enclude a variety of play options to help spice up the game. While all the songs have a basic set of dance steps, two additional difficulty options (and thus, two additional sets of steps) are avialable, along with the play mode Double, which uses not one, but two pads for a total of eight arrows. Including the three difficulty modes in Double, this makes for a full six different sets of steps, which, multiplied by the songs available, puts the total sets of steps well into the hundreds. Not to be content with that, options are included to shift the steps 90 degrees to either the right or left, mirror the steps, or randomize them. Finally, the steps can be set to Hidden, which causes them to disappear from the screen halfway up. With the multitude of options, it is quite easy to never play the same version of a song twice, if you so desire.
A feature that has not ever been featured in any of the Japanese releases, but is very welcome here, is the tutorial that Konami has included. The tutorial starts with things such as single, spaced out steps, works its way through sixteenth-note steps (the fastest in the game), and on to a little freestyling, or how to make your dance routine just plain look cool. While the initial lessons are extremely basic, gamers who are already familiar with the game will even find that there are things to learn from the latter lessons.
The only real downside to this release of Dance Dance Revolution is its age. While the game will be new to many of the North American gamers that play it, DDR veterans will recognise that the majority of the songs are culled from the Japanese 2nd and 3rd releases, known as Mixes. They will also know that the latest release is 6th Mix, making the songs on the North American version upwards of three years old. Though this does nothing to lessen the quality of the game, it can be disappointing for vets who were expecting more exclusives to the release. Luckily, though, the early releases were not recycled entirely; the different options and modes, such as Diet Mode (which measure the calories that you burn while you play) are taken from later releases, and do help round out the entire package nicely.
Though the wait was a long one, Konami seems to have finally realized that DDR need not be a Japanese novelty, but one that North American gamers can enjoy as well. And once you do begin playing DDR, it is very obvious what all the fuss is about. Though everyone tends to flounder about at first, once your feet begin actually listening to your brain, players tend to get rather hooked. Though the experience isn't one that can be easily defined, Dance Dance Revolution has the tendency to hook not only hardcore gamers, but also their siblings, roommates, parents, significant others, and mailmen. It tends to begin with a simple question, and before long, that person is joining in the fun as well. It is an addiction that has already consumed most of Japan, and one that undoubtedly will soon overtake Western minds as well.