Dancing. Was there ever an invention more diabolically evil to the average male geek? Chicks dance, sure, but what’s a brother to do? Get too crazy in the middle of the dance floor and youí¢â‚¬â„¢re a clown. Nod your head at the edges of the dance floor and youí¢â‚¬â„¢re invisible. And finding the somewhere in between is the diabolical part. Ever see that guy whose body caní¢â‚¬â„¢t decide whether heí¢â‚¬â„¢s dancing or nodding? If not, you were probably him.
Dance video games, on the other hand, are the dancing maní¢â‚¬â„¢s revenge of the nerds. Find a bowling alley or arcade with an oversized dance machine, and youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll find yourself some of the worldí¢â‚¬â„¢s undiscovered, high-steppiní¢â‚¬â„¢ talent. Dance Dance Revolution was indeed a revolution, introducing the geeky alternative to dancing. But change is always in the air, and it comes with a similarly silly name: Pump It Up: Exceed.
According to the box, Pump It Up: Exceed requires you to dance, í¢â‚¬Å“just like in a real club!í¢â‚¬? Do not be fooled. Unless this club is full of over-caffeinated nerds and the floor is covered with evil ants, you will never perform a Pump It Up move in a real club. Instead, Pump It Up requires you to dance in a very similar manner to DDR, but with a few twists.
The biggest addition is right there in the center of the pad. In addition to four directional arrows, Pump It Up uses a ‘center’ button. It doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t sound like much, but one button adds a great deal of complexity. Pump It Upí¢â‚¬â„¢s dance pad is spread out and much of the choreography has the dancer move from one part of the pad to the other. Shades of Twister are sometimes apparent. You can dance yourself into a corner, turning your hips when you should have leapt. Using the correct foot is as important as being in time.
The rising cursors are still the indicators of what button to push when, but again there is a little tweak to the DDR formula. Instead of using up, left, down, and right arrows, Pump It Up gets diagonal by pointing its pads towards the four corners of the mat. This helps everything, from facing the monitor to visualizing the mat in the cursor placement. If this sounds extreme – visualizing the mat – then you havení¢â‚¬â„¢t seen the Jedi-like footspeed of the dance game addicts.
Just like a Thai restaurantí¢â‚¬â„¢s í¢â‚¬Å“levels of hotness,í¢â‚¬? the difficulty in Pump It Up scales exponentially. While level one and two are passable for the novice, levels three through five push the intermediate player. Doní¢â‚¬â„¢t even ask about levels five through thirty. The extreme difficulty will challenge veterans, world-champions, and the occasional four-legged man-beast, but normal people will wish for a few more training-wheel tracks, especially when trying to turn friends on to the game.
The two-player mode is decent, although it requires two Pump It Up-only dance pads (because of the middle-button, you cannot use your old DDR dance pad with Pump It Up). Many of the tracks have co-operative choreography, so one dancer can take a lick and then give up the mat to the other. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s tricky, but I imagine that the designers had some interesting tag-team possibilities in mind. Kriss Kross will make you 78-button combo, yo!
Of course, none of this new gameplay would mean squat without a decent soundtrack. And decent marketing. Strangely enough, Pump It Up unites the two in a kind of multicultural stew. See, Pump It Up is a Korean game that is marketed to Korea, the U.S., Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and China. While there is a whole bevy of Korean hip-hop tracks and techno remixes of pop and classical tunes, there are representative songs from each of the other countries. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s quite the melting pot. See ma, Ií¢â‚¬â„¢m not only learning to dance, but Ií¢â‚¬â„¢m learning to say í¢â‚¬Å“shake that thangí¢â‚¬? in Portuguese!
Most of the songs are passably good, although it’s a bit heavy on the classical techno remixes. The videos are of similarly mixed quality. Ranging from cute anime to nearly pornographic anime, and from live-action videos to nonsense montages, the videos are good fodder for quick-witted observers. Still, you woní¢â‚¬â„¢t be watching these while trying to press buttons with your feet.
The one glaring flaw in the whole package is the menu presentation. Choosing between songs forces you to get off the pad and gingerly dip toe to hit the right button. Plus, the song menu is not ordered by difficulty or speed or any other logic. Instead, you will find yourself having to navigate between the song selection and the difficulty selection screens quite a bit before you get the right kind of tune.
Neither version has much of an online element. Xbox users can download new songs, while PS2 users can, with the aid of a PC and the Internet, post their scores on the Pump It Up site. I did this, just for kicks, and discovered an unpleasant secret. People who play Pump It Up are known, even to themselves, as í¢â‚¬Å“Pumpers.í¢â‚¬? Why choose between the Jets and the Sharks when you can be a Pumper?
But despite the disturbing moniker and somewhat unintuitive front-end, the booty of this beast is a dancing joy. Clearly a step up and to the right from DDR, Pump It Up has effectively issued a challenge. It has thrown down, one might say, and DDR will have to introduce a new revolution to keep from being proverbially served.