Review: Dance Dance Revolution: Ultramix (XB)

Game: Dance Dance Revolution: Ultramix
System: Microsoft X-Box
Genre: Rhythm-Based Music Game
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment of Hawaii (KCEH)
Publisher: Konami of America (KOA)
Released: 11/18/03 (w/pad), 12/10/03 (game only)

Those who know me know of my undying passion for Dance Dance Revolution. Out of all the games I play, it’s the only series I’ll keep playing after the replay value for all my other titles have gone. I must have invested thousands of hours on it in the arcades and the Playstation/PS2 mixes.

So when I heard that this wonderful, wonderful game was heading to the X-Box, I was a bit skeptical. Would it retain the same gameplay that has entertained me for over three years? Would its new features that were promised deliver? After months of speculation, previews, and an interview with the project leader himself, some of my fears were extinguished. But now the game is out, are they entirely gone? Read on, and find out!

(NOTE: There is no story in this game, so the “Story” category has been replaced with “Music”)

MUSIC

The heart of any music game is, of course, the music, and DDR is no exception. Included on the disc are a total of 51 tracks. 42 are available from the start, while 9 need to be unlocked. The variety here is staggering, combining the likes of J-Pop, Rock, Trance, Rap, R&B, Latin Flavor, Soul, Disco, and even music based off of other Konami games! Four of these tracks are licensed (and exclusive to the game), containing the works of Ian Van Dahl, Paul Okenfold, MASAI, and Who Da Funk. The rest are Konami Originals (or KOs).

When comparing the KOs here to the Playstation mixes, it’s very surprising to see how unique it is. Half of them are ones we’ve seen before, while the other half are ones that have never been seen in the U.S. before. Songs that Japanese fans have been BEGGING for, such as Sexy Planet, Candy (Heart, and Can’t Stop Fallin’ In Love -Speed Mix- have made it on here. There are also 11 exclusive tracks to be found.

When I first saw the songlist, the first words out of my mouth were, and I quote, “Remix City!” For a series’ first outing on a new system, there are lots of remixes of songs without including the original tracks. We’ll see Drop the Bomb -SySF-Mix and Look to the Sky -True Color Mix-, but not their predecessors. I’m not saying that this is a BAD thing per se, but it is rather interesting to see so many remixes on the first game of the X-Box series.

I will hand it to KCEH for their choices in exclusive material. Some tracks are transplants from other Bemani games, while others are completely new material. I find myself playing these exclusives more than I do my other favorite songs here. For example, Ballad 4 U is the slowest song here, but will remind you of stepping to a waltz of some kind. And I haven’t seen ANY step patterns that seem to be waltzes as of yet. Plus, there are some wicked remixes of Absolute, Insertion, and Sana Morette Ne Ente that have never been in Bemani before that MUST be played.

The only gripe I can see some people having is that the song list is a bit short when compared to the latest PS2 versions. To counter that argument, I offer these points: (1) This is the first X-Box DDR game. It’s pretty much being used to test the waters for any (if at all) future X-Box releases, as well as serving as a good game in its own right. (2) You can always download more songs off of X-Box Live.

Huh? Did I say X-Box Live? Yes, this thing has Live support! One of the features is that for only five dollars a pop, you can buy brand new song packs and download them to your hard drive! At the time of this writing, only one is available, but supposedly new ones will be released once a month. So if you’re not a fan of the current song list, you always have the opportunity to get more!

Music: 10/10

GRAPHICS

It’s very obvious that this game is nowhere NEAR a port of any of the Playstation mixes. The interface has been built nearly from scratch and looks very unique from other DDR games, yet retaining the same feel at the same time.

For one, the menu screens are very bright and colorful, drawing you into the game immediately. There are also simple animations running in the background, which adds a nice touch to the interface. Another interesting thing is that the color code for difficulties is now yellow/blue/green instead of the traditional yellow/red/green from the PS mixes.

One of the highly touted features of this game was the return of the dancing characters. It was a very hyped up feature for a while, but in the end, all we got were two characters. TWO. After we were promised (and shown) a lot more. Even DDRMAX2, which had dancing characters had as a hidden option, had 15 times this amount. The slight disappointment aside, the two characters included are VERY well rendered and detailed. They look more realistic and less animeish from the other versions of the game. They also contain unique dance movements that we’ve never seen before. However, these animations do get pretty old and quick. Luckily, there is the option to turn them off.

Speaking of graphics options, there’s a large amount of them you can customize. You can turn dancers on or off, leave the background movies running or not, and even change the way the arrows look. A first in any American DDR title. In fact, the only other title to boast such a feature (if I’m not mistaken) was Dancing Stage: Dreams Come True. I even recognize one of the arrow patterns from there.

Every so often, however, the game will skip slightly. Originally, I thought it was online lag, but the fact that it was happening offline changed that theory pretty quickly. Apparently this is due to the step vibrations as you play on a pad, as the game is constantly loading data. Something like this REALLY should have been addressed early on.

Overall, these are pretty nice graphics for a DDR title. Maybe not as good as other X-Box games, but do you REALLY look at the graphics as you dance?

Graphics: 7/10

SOUND

Here’s another area of the game that’s received some X-Box only adjustments. And some pretty good ones at that. For starters, the game fully supports Dolby Digital sound. You’ll need to access it from the internal menu, but it’s worth it if you got it.

Also, the sound effects have been completely redone for this version. They’re more “low key” than what you find in MAX2. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll see what I mean when you play it.

Also, there are new announcers! A guy and a gal, to be exact. Both announce at the same time, and both spew a plethora of funny and goofy comments as you cut the proverbial rug. And you know what? God bless Konami for making these announcers as weird as the Japanese announcers. It makes me feel right at home when I hear them.

Like the graphics, the sounds have a large level of customization as well. You can turn either announcer off, or both if you’re sick of them all together. Assuming you keep them ALL, however, you can adjust what the sound like by adding effects like reverb and wave. This, combined with the graphic options, gives you COMPLETE control of the game’s ambience.

Sound: 9/10

CONTROL

As with previous DDR titles, the game is incredibly easy to get into and play. There are four arrows at the top of the screen (up, down, left, and right), and other arrows scroll from the bottom to the top. When the arrows match the ones at the top, you press the corresponding direction on the controller (or dance pad if you have one). Lather, rinse, repeat.

Like with every other DDR title on the market, you’re going to need the dance pad for the full experience. Luckily, there are bundles out there with official Konami pads. And for this game, I’m going to fully recommend you shell out the extra twenty bucks. It seems that the dance pad is WAY more responsive than the clunky X-Box controller. Seriously. I experimented with BOTH, and I get better scores on the soft pad than I do the controller.

Control: 8/10

REPLAYABILITY

You will lose your soul to this game if you’re not careful. More so than the PS2 games, actually. The multitude of modes is only the tip of the iceberg.

To start with, the regular Game Mode works a bit differently than what we DDR freaks are used to. There are no song sets to speak of here. You choose your style and difficulty, and play as many songs as you want. Something interesting is that when you back out of the song selection menu, you go back to the style and difficulty menus immediately. This makes it easy to switch from Singles to Doubles play at the drop of a hat.

Workout Mode and Edit Mode are also included, as they are staples of the game. Workout lets you keep track of the calories you burn, and Edit allows you to create your own step patterns to songs. These are where the similarities to previous U.S. releases end. Now, it gets interesting.

New to the U.S. is Challenge Mode, a set of 30 special tasks to complete. These range from full-comboing certain songs, to passing songs while purposely missing certain arrows, or even passing parts of songs under various modifiers. I guarantee that this mode will give even the most hardened DDR player a run for their money, considering that they’ll have to learn to badly all over again.

Also included is a brand new Battle Mode, completely unique to this game. Battles can support up to 4 players, as well as computer players if you need help filling the screen up. There are two types of battles to take part in: Score and Point Battles. Score battles can support four players at once, and have everyone trying to get the highest score possible. Point battles are different, as they only contain one-on-one match-ups. Each player starts with 16 points, and are judged for each step made. If one player does worse on a step than the other, they lose a point. The one with the most points at the end wins. These battles are VERY addictive, but you’ll usually take part in these babies online.

Yes, for the first time EVER, DDR has online play. And THIS is where you’ll lose your soul if you’re not careful. There really is no feeling like playing against people in four-player matches across America. It’s a different gaming experience every time!

Not only can you play online, but you can also take part in special Online Rankings. The game tallies the amount of victories you’ve obtained from Score and Point Battles online, and ranks you accordingly. (Yours truly managed to get in the Top 10 before having to stop for finals and Winter Break. Go me!) There are also rankings for the best scores in Singles and Doubles play, split up per difficulty. (I’m currently tied for best score in Single Light, and I’ll stay there unless Konami releases a song pack with Max. (Period) on it. Which they won’t, of course.)

The only downside I see is that after each game, you get kicked back out into the lobby and have to find a new game. But it’s not that bad, considering each game only holds one song, and it gives you more opportunities to play against other people.

This probably has the most replay value out of ANY Live title I played. It even surprised ME, and I play the game constantly ANYWAY!

Replay Value: 9/10

BALANCE

This game obviously has something for everyone. In Game Mode, the songs have three difficulty levels (Light/Standard/Heavy), and are measured in feet from 1-10. Between 51 songs, there’s a decent balance between the easy and hard songs. Although I saw that there is a higher percentage in the 8-10 range here than in MAX2. And it has fewer songs!

The Challenge Mode is also pretty balanced. There are five categories, with six missions each. You start out with some incredibly easy missions, but as you get new categories, the missions skyrocket in difficulty. And when I have trouble with them, you KNOW they made them hard as hell!

Balance: 8/10

ORIGINALITY

Lets face it. This is a DDR game. Originality usually is not the game’s strong suit. For over FIVE YEARS now, the same basic game formula has been used, with only minor changes being implemented every now and then. Heck, the last major game improvement came in the form of freeze arrows in DDRMAX!

Luckily, this version is home to many unique features that make it deserving of a decent originality score. The unique interface, the new Battle Modes, the Challenge Mode, the online play and rankings, the X-Box exclusive songs…there’s a lot here we haven’t seen in the U.S. before.

Originality: 7/10

ADDICTIVENESS

As I said before, the online play is HIGHLY addictive. The way it’s set up, you’ll be playing against hundreds of players on a daily basis if you’re lucky. You’ll encounter good players, bad players, controller-using players…all different kinds. Even people who hate the game with a VENGENCE are playing it, claiming they still hate it, yet like the experience. It’s that addictive.

Besides that, the game’s pretty addictive offline. You’ll constantly be playing to get higher scores and improve your Perfect Attack. Just like each other DDR title out there.

Addictiveness: 10/10

APPEAL FACTOR

Here’s where the game may fall short with the masses. DDR is a niche title that appeals to mainly to dancing game players and other music game lovers. Plus, not all of them own an X-Box. And to top it all off, the game has seen NO advertising outside of Konami’s website, the X-Box Live site, and DDR Freak.

Then again, there are plenty of players signed on to X-Box Live right now, so maybe the game doesn’t NEED advertising to get the word out? Who knows?

Appeal Factor: 6/10

MISCELLANEOUS

Now bear with me as I enter “severe nitpicky mode” about the game.

While I really like the game and all the new features, KCEH messed up on translating some things from the PS mixes to the X-Box. Steps to Candy (Heart) are missing, and in its place are steps from Candy (Star). They fit okay, but I expected the original step pattern. Several other step patterns are missing things, like missing arrows in Kind Lady and no freezes in Look To The Sky (True Color Mix). The difficulties to Drop The Bomb (SySF Mix) are mislabeled. And I’m sure there are one or two more things that I’m forgetting at the moment. While these things don’t destroy my enjoyment of the game, they are kind of annoying to deal with.

There’s also the slight issue of how the pad doesn’t hold up very well when playing the Heavy difficulty. It’s durable, but will definitely slide around plenty when picking hard songs such as Tsugaru and Sweet Sweet (Heart) Magic. Other than these issues, there’s not much I can find problems with.

Miscellaneous: 7/10

THE SCORES

Music: 10/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 9/10
Control: 8/10
Replay Value: 9/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 10/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

TOTAL: 83/100 (8.3)
REVIEW’S TILT: 8.5 (GREAT)