Review: DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution (PS2)

Game: DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution
System: Playstation 2
Genre: Music/Rhythm
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo (KCET)
Publisher: Konami of America
Release Date: 9/24/03

I remember the first game of Dance Dance Revolution I ever played. Over three years ago, on July 6th, 2000. I was vacationing in Las Vegas, and came across a US machine almost by accident. I had never heard of the game before, yet I was intrigued. A game you played with your feet? Interesting. So, I plunked down a dollar’s worth of tokens, and chose my first song. I actually did pretty well for my first time out, making it to my third song before failing on the cult classic “Butterfly”. I then proceeded to put more money in and get my ass handed to me from a cheesy pop song about hills and samurais, but it didn’t matter. And I didn’t know it then, but that one game would change my life.

Over the next three years, I played DDR whenever I could find it. Arcades, my house, other people’s houses, anime clubs”¦everywhere. I sought out every “mix” I could, both Japanese and American, and practiced, practiced, practiced. Here it is, the present day, and I’ve achieved more in this game than any other. I’m able to at least pass the hardest of songs, while getting extremely high scores in the low-mid range. I got physically fit. My knowledge of the game is practically “Lucardian” in nature. And I found a game that I love. Which makes me more then qualified for this review.

DDR has seen over 50 separate releases for Arcades and home consoles, in Japanese, American, and European markets, with more on the way for all three. On the American side of the coin, the first home release we received was DDR USA (or simply called: Dance Dance Revolution). We got 27 songs in all, including eight licensed tracks from the 1st and 2nd Japanese mixes. Workout and Training modes debuted here as well. It was a good starting point, but US players weren’t all that satisfied.

Konami further tested the waters later in 2001 with the release of DDR: Disney Mix. Based upon the European Dancing Stage: Disney Rave, we got 20 more songs, which mostly consisted of Disney tunes like Small World, and old classics like Mr. Bassman. Also included were several Konami Originals that were later used in future DDR games.

In early 2002, we saw the first true “sequel” to DDR USA, DDR Konamix. As the name implies, the song list included nothing but Konami Original music, however, 52 songs were used, with 45 being new. New features were implemented, such as Solo Mode (using six arrows instead of four), Nonstop Order (creating your own custom Nonstop courses) and Edit Mode (create your own steps). We also received a then-exclusive remix of AM-3P. Definitely an improvement, but only a preview of what was to come”¦

DDRMAX: Dance Dance Revolution, the first PS2 version of DDR in America, was released in the October of last year. The song list increased to an unheard of amount of 71 songs, of which 59 were new. This marked the first time the US received exclusive licensed tracks, including several fan favorites from the Japanese mixes. We also received a few Konami Original tracks before Japan did. Solo Mode and Nonstop Modes were dropped to make room for Extra Stages and “Oni Mode”. Oni Mode was like a mutant version of Nonstop where you had to keep a combo going through a series of songs without messing up. If you messed up four times, it was Game Over. You could even transfer Edit Data for certain songs from Konamix for continued use. This mix was easily named the best out of the US releases thus far.

And now, we come upon the release of DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution. There was a lot of hype surrounding this game, with the inclusion of even more licensed songs and new, additional features. But does this version live up to that hype? Read on to find out!

(NOTE: Please take into account that even though there is a DDRMAX2 in Japan, the games are by no means identical.

GAMEPLAY

When you start the game, first you’ll need to pick your settings. First, the game will ask you your “style” of play. You can choose Single Play (play by yourself), Versus Play (two-player), or Doubles Play (play on two pads). You’ll then need to pick your difficulty. You can choose one of four difficulties (Beginner, Light, Standard, and Heavy), or choose to go into Nonstop Mode (which I’ll get into later). Once you’ve picked your difficulty, you’ll go to the song selection screen. Songs are divided in to five separate colors: Green for new default songs, Blue for old default songs, Yellow for unlocked songs, Purple for Challenge songs, and Red for Extra Stages. You can also change your difficulty by hitting Up or Down twice. Once you’ve picked your song, its time to play!

This game is easy to learn, but extremely hard to perfect. For those who are new to the game, here’s how to play: There are four arrows lined up at the top of the screen: Left, Down, Up, and Right. When your song starts, arrows will start scrolling up from the bottom of the screen. When an arrow overlaps the corresponding arrow at the top, you’ll need to hit the right direction on whatever controller you are using. Depending on the timing of the button press, your step will register as a Perfect (on time), Great (slightly off time), Good (about one half-beat off), Almost (Barely in time), or Boo (missed completely). “Freeze Arrows” also make a return appearance. Freeze arrows are long, green arrows that you’ll have to hold down until they pass. Successfully doing this gives you an “O.K.”, while missing it will give you an “N.G.”

You’ll have a life-bar at the top of the screen. It increases when you get Perfects and Greats, and decreases when you mess up with Almosts and Boos. (It stays neutral if you hit a Good). There is also a score display at the bottom of the screen. Each step will be scored according to the step grading scale.

When you finish a song, you will be ranked for your performance. Rankings take the form of letter grades. An “E” means you failed, while an “A” means you did well. A “AA” means you did a fantastic job, and accumulated very little-to-no Goods and below. And a “AAA” means you’ve done EVERYTHING perfectly. All perfects and OKs. This is VERY hard to obtain.

As said above, there are four initial difficulties to choose from. First there is the Beginner difficulty, which is a new addition to the game. Beginner steps are just that; made for beginners. The first time you play the Beginner difficulty in the game, you’ll get a “How To Play” vignette explaining the bare basics of the game. (You can also watch it after the title screen). The regular backgrounds movies are even replaced with an on-screen dancer that follows the arrows with you, so you have an example to work with. Just to note, only Singles Mode contain Beginners steps. Doubles does not.

The other initial difficulties are Light, Standard, and Heavy, which roughly translates to Easy, Normal, and Hard. The difficulty is even further divided to the individual songs themselves. Every song in a particular difficulty is rated on a scale from 1-10 (displayed in feet). For example, a 1-Footer is incredibly easy, a 5-Footer is midrange, a 9-Footer is extremely hard, and a 10-Footer is nearly impossible. There is even a fifth difficulty being introduced into this game: Challenge. You can’t choose it from the main menu, and only eight songs contain Challenge steps. Seven of these songs ONLY contain Challenge steps, as they are “challenging” remixes of old favorites. Only one song contains a full set, but I’ll let you figure out what it is. (Wink, wink)

Another method of determining difficulty is by reading the “groove radar”. The groove radar measures a song in five different areas: Chaos, Air, Voltage, Stream, and Freeze. Chaos measures the irregularity of the step patterns, Air measures the amount of jumps you make, Steam measures the density of the arrows, Voltage takes into account the maximum density, and Freeze measures the amount of Freezes. It’s a nice addition from the previous Max game, however, I’m not sure if many people read it in addition to the foot ratings.

After picking a song, if you hold down the X or O button, you can choose from a series of options to modify play. These options include speed modifiers, a Boost option, Reverse scroll, and turning the arrows to the left or right. New to the game is the “Dark” modifier, which turns off the guiding arrows at the top of the screen.

Then there is the Nonstop Mode. This mode first appeared in DDR USA and Konamix, however, it’s not the Nonstop Mode you remember. To begin with, Nonstop is replacing Oni Mode in this mix. Well, maybe “replacing” is not the right term. I think of it more as a “merging”. Konami wanted this mix to appeal to a wide audience, both old and new, so they took the best of Nonstop and Oni, and combined them into one mode. Anyway, when you choose Nonstop, you’ll have a list of special courses to play. These courses can contain anywhere from 3-12 songs, and they seem to progress in difficulty as you scroll down. Each course also has two difficulties to select. When you change difficulties, Light songs become Standard songs, and Standard Songs become Heavy. If there are any Challenge songs in a course, they stay Challenge on both difficulties. Each song will score separately, and you’ll receive an overall grade for the course upon completion. Of course, you’ll receive an “E” if you fail. Another added bonus is the fact you can customize your own Nonstops! The can be anywhere from 1-20 songs, and any difficulty you choose!

In any case, in regular game mode, if you get a “AA” grade on your last song in your set on Heavy, you’ll be able to play the Extra Stage. You remember MAX 300, right? Remember how hard that was to pass as an Extra Stage? Well, guess what! You have a HARDER song to contend with now! The song is called “MaxX Unlimited”, it’s slightly faster, AND you’ll have to play it under 1.5 Speed, Reverse Scroll, and Dark modifiers! Plus, you’re life bar doesn’t recover if you miss. Consider yourself lucky if you manage to pass it. And if you actually “AA” THAT, you get to partake in the “One More Extra Stage”! In this game, it’s Kakumei, and worth every bit of time practicing MaxX Unlimited for. You play it under 3.0x Speed, Reverse scroll, and Dark modifiers, and if you get Good or less on ONE step, you automatically fail. So good luck!

If you’re using a regular controller, you definitely won’t get the full enjoyment out of this game. You’ll want to go and purchase a special dance pad controller for the full effect. After all, moving your body to the music is what this game is all about!

MUSIC

Considering what this game is, and how important music is to it, I’d figured I’d talk about it in its own section. And the fact is, the song list is crucial for ANY purchase of a DDR game. Don’t like the songs? Not worth the purchase. So lets get right to it”¦

To start with, there are 69 playable songs in this game. 40 of them are available the moment you turn the game on, and you’ll have to unlock the other 29 individually. The catch is that 21 of these songs are repeats from previous versions of the game. (4 from the original PSX game, 9 from DDR Konamix, and 8 from DDRMAX.) Veteran players might be put off by the sheer amount, however, there are advantages to this situation. For example, 13 out of these 21 repeats have NEVER seen a PS2 interface in America. Plus, they picked plenty of fan favorites, such as Groove, Celebrate Nite, End of the Century, and Afronova. New players to the game will like the variety of choices from the past. Which leaves the eight repeats from MAX1. These are here mostly to support the transfer of edits between MAX2 and MAX1. (The Konamix repeats can also transfer edits.)

In any case, repeats or not, the song list is very diverse and caters to many different musical genres. R&B, Rock, Rap, Trance, Techno, Soul, Disco, Latin Beat, and more are represented among the multitude of songs. I guarantee there will be something for everyone here.

In a surprising move, Konami has literally bent over backwards to supply us with 20+ licensed tracks! This is more than DDR USA and MAX1 combined! 11 of these came from previous DDR mixes, including cult classics such as So Deep and Drifting Away. Captain Jack appears TWICE, and even Ghosts makes an appearance, marking the first time since the Japanese 6th Mix that the song appeared on a song list. Some of these have been predicted to NEVER appear on an American game, so these songs are incredible additions to the game.

The other 8-10 licensed songs included are American exclusives. And again, Konami listened to the fans and included some AMAZING tracks. DJ Sammy’s Heaven made the cut, as well as Ian Van Dahl’s Will I?. Other notables include Crystal Method’s Busy Child, and Jocelyn Enriquez’s A Little Bit of Ecstasy (which has some NASTY tempo changes, I might add). These are songs new people will recognize, so these songs also serve the purpose of grabbing more people into the revolution.

The new Konami Originals also fail to disappoint. Songs such as D2R and Destiny will get your toes tapping fast. Be For U also returns to this mix with Breakdown and a remix of Dive, supplying a decent amount of J-Rock. Other fan favorites include Tsugaru, Radical Faith, and even a few tracks from the Japanese DDR Extreme.

In a first for the game, several of the licensed songs include their music videos! Yes, songs like Take Me Away (Into the Night) and Days Go By contain bits and pieces of their videos instead of some generic background movies! While they may prove a little distracting to the average player, they are a nice addition, and add a bit more to the fun factor.

The only problem I know some people are having is that the exclusive songs included are not very challenging when played in the higher difficulties. There are no exclusives found above a 7-Foot rating. However, a song doesn’t have to be challenging to be FUN. After playing the exclusives on Heavy, I had FUN while playing them. Plus, it’s nice for KCET to take a step back and think of the beginning players. I’ve noticed on the Japanese mixes that many of the new songs contained incredibly hard or complicated step patterns that I just couldn’t enjoy on a regular basis. I’d take a bunch of fun, non-hard steps over an impossible set of step patterns any day. Other veterans might not feel the same way, however. Still, the songs that were brought over from Japan contain an incredible array of difficult choices. Songs like So Deep and rain of sorrow have the step patterns these veterans come to expect. And now, they can play them on one convenient home mix!

GRAPHICS

DDR has never really been known for its graphics. They’re not bad, oh no, far from it! It’s the fact that people will tune out the graphics while playing to focus on the arrows, thus providing less of a distraction. However, if these people take the time out to look at this version’s visuals, they are the most polished out of the entire bunch.

The menu interface hasn’t changed all that much from the previous game, except for the drastically different color scheme. The main colors used here are red and black, instead of the lighter blue/yellow scheme from MAX1. To be honest, I never liked this combination very much. What once was a bright and cheery interface now looks very dark and depressing. It kind of reduces the overall feeling of the game, but not by too much.

The interface is largely based on the interface MAX2 JP uses, however, it has been upgraded slightly to include elements from the Japanese DDR Extreme. This can be seen in the difficulty selection screen, which is taken directly from the Extreme interface and recolored. This is a nice touch overall.

During the actual songs, the background videos have been polished considerably. You’ll recognize several videos from the previous game, but they are much clearer now than they were before. And there are a slew of new videos for you to gaze at as well. The new music videos look VERY nice on this mix, but seem to have slightly less resolution to them. They still look great for a first-time effort.

SOUND

Outside of the actual songs you play in the game, the sounds are pretty standard. The announcer from the previous game returns, however, he doesn’t have a whole lot to say that is new. Sure, you’ll pull out some new clips here and there, but his speech remains mostly unchanged. Music in the various menus have been improved upon, however, and sound incredible. And while not playable, there are remixes of Midnite Blaze and Kind Lady that HAVE to be heard.

FUN FACTOR

Outside of the main game and Nonstop Mode, there are plenty of other options to explore. The Workout Mode returns in it’s fourth official incarnation, and its actually been improved upon! Now, along with the usual workout options, you can now choose a new one called “Program”. You’ll be taken to a special Nonstop-like setting where you can play several long courses designed specifically for exercising! These courses are 12 songs long, and are designed for low, mid, and high impact workouts. Plus, they start off with easy songs, head into harder ones, and end with an easy song as your “cool down song”. You can also create your own custom workout courses as well. Plus, if you have workout data from MAX1, the data will instantly transfer to your MAX2 save!

Also returning is the Lesson Mode, which is your basic game tutorial. However, I just don’t see why this specific mode has made a return appearance. We have mini-tutorials in the in-game demos, we have a Beginners difficulty, we have tutorials there, AND on-screen dancers that help you. Lesson Mode seems to be a bit of overkill in this case. However, this is probably the old, grizzled veteran in me talking. New players will probably embrace the thing before they even start the game mode. There’s even an exclusive song in there that isn’t playable outside of Lesson Mode.

Edit Mode also makes a return appearance. Don’t like the steps to a certain song? Well, now you can make your own! Edits are saved to a separate edit library, which can hold 30 edits per page. Edits can also be transferred between this game and Konamix/MAX1, assuming that the song the edit is for is in both games.

Also returning is the Information Page. Every time you unlock something, or accomplish something worth noting, the Information page will be updated with new”¦information about unlocks and what not. You can also find information for every song in the game after you play them for the first time.

Speaking of unlocks, they system has been made MUCH easier to understand. There is now a screen that shows you how many songs you need to play to unlock an item. Every song attempted (it doesn’t have to be cleared) will net you one point. Collect a certain amount of points

Remember the dancing characters from mixes past? Well, they’re back! They need to be unlocked, but when they are, a new menu will appear in the Options screen. Here, you can turn the characters on an off, pick which characters you want to see dancing, and even add more than one character! (You can have up to three dancing at the same time. There are 30 characters to pick from, including such classics as Rage, Johnny and Emi, and some new ones to the US, including Babylon, Spike, and even Naoki and U1 themselves! Plus, all characters have been cleaned-up and cell shaded. They’ve never looked better. And for the record, they’ll appear only when there isn’t a music video playing.

Finally, if you unlock every item, you’ll be treated to the U.S.’s first version of Endless Mode. In Endless Mode, you play song after song until you either fail or pass out. Luckily, you can customize how you want to play by adding modifiers, choosing your difficulty, and even omitting songs you don’t want to play. The goal is getting as high a combo as you can possibly get, so good luck there!

As a final note, this is the first version of DDR since the original PSX game to be bundled with an official dance pad. These bundles are only $20 more than just buying the game, but trust me when I say they are worth it. Well, at least if you don’t have a fancier pad already. Anyway, these new pads have a special backing that allows them to stick to the floor and not slide around as much as before. You can even fold them up and not cross the wires! Just make sure you flatten it out as much as you can before using them.

Ratings
Gameplay: 9.0
Music: 9.0
Graphics: 8.0
Sound: 8.0
Fun Factor: 8.5