Missing the beat.
Dance Dance Revolution is one of those franchises that, on the outside, I would rather forget, but on the inside, I secretly wish to play for nostalgia. Every time I pass by a DDR machine – one that's miraculously still around – I remember being in awe of the people who can pass "Max 300" and being inspired enough to sweat out a week just to pass "Max 300" with a ‘C’. (Yes!) But that phase has long been out of my system and I’ve been hooked on the revolutionary, more engrossing Dance Central.
[image1]In fact, perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of Dance Dance Revolution is the timing of its release. Dance Central shows that players don’t need to do step-aerobics by stepping on directional arrows on a pad just to “dance”. I mean, ever try doing DDR steps at the dance club? Of course… I never… I’ll let you picture that for yourself.
Dance Dance Revolution tries to keep up with modern times by introducing Playstation Move controls that have players move their arms, in addition to their feet. The motion system detects four diagonals, each representing the corners of the screen; when a diagonal arrow passes at the top of the screen, all it takes is a swipe with the Move controller in the appropriate corner. If you have two controllers, this allows for plenty of improvisation: the arm circle, the two-controller shuffle, the windmill, and the “throw the controller across the screen”. Hey, anything it takes.
The trouble, though, is that the step chart splits the arrows for hands and those for feet far too much, adding to the feeling that the Move controls are tacked on. The game almost never pairs your hands with your feet at the same time, which misses an opportunity in the possible difficulty and intricacy of the steps. Worse, none of the Move steps are used in any other modes apart from the appropriately named "Move & Step".
[image2]Unlike the PS2 versions of Dance Dance Revolution, this version also does not unlock additional songs just by playing through free play mode; instead, players are forced to go through Club mode. By getting through playlists of various lengths, players earn dance skill points that at certain thresholds unlock songs. By mixing up the playlist with certain “tricks”, like double speed and difficulty settings that change on the fly, it hopes to keep the pace engaging. But veterans will be annoyed that the difficulty starts on beginner and that it takes getting through ten songs just to unlock one new track, and worse, the playlist is comprised of the mostly ho-hum default song list.
It’s understandable that DDR wants to be more approachable to an American audience by including “According to You” by Orianthi, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum, and other pop songs that no one should be dancing to, outside of a contemporary dance class by Stacey Tookey. No, DDR is about obnoxious J-pop and techno that have no business being on any dance floor… but are awesome because of it. (The annoying commentator… not so much.) The current song list just makes you long for the days of “Boom Boom Dollar”, “Butterfly”, “Paranoia”… even “Tsugaru”, "Sakura", and “Holic”. And the few songs in this game that might remind you of those good ol’ days are buried deep in the unlockables list, after you've danced more than 100 songs.
[image3]The only other substantial feature in this version is the octo-challenge where you must use all eight arrows around the center of pad. (Outside of the bundled dance pad, there are only a handful of other dance pads that register all eight arrows.) The eight-arrow idea isn’t a completely a new one, but the old problem remains the same: How do you display eight arrows on the screen without having way too much going on? Here, the two diagonal arrows on the left overlap with the track for the left arrows – the same for the right-hand side – but this just makes the dancing way too confusing. Yes, it’s a challenge, but it’s more of a reading challenge than a dancing one.
Dance Dance Revolution for PS3 has been seemingly blind-sided by Dance Central, but even as a game in its venerated franchise, it doesn’t live up to its own innovations. This doesn’t mean that it won’t provide you with a workout or that stepping on a pad isn’t as fun as it has been for more than a decade. But the PS2 versions have a much better song list with a more user-friendly unlockable system. If Konami really wants to get back into the rhythm game groove, they should try their hand at "Dance Dance Central".