Encore Extra Stage #10

Welcome to Friday! The last Friday of 2004, as a matter of fact!

Come to think of it, my column will be the last TWO columns you’ll read this year in the Games section. No one else, other than Alex Lucard, managed to write anything in between last Friday and this Friday. Dipping into the champagne a bit early, eh guys?

Seriously, lets get into it for the week. What do I have to close out the year for everyone? Well, we look at the latest DDR game from Japan, and we take a look at what I’ve learned from this past year. Ready for some final 2004 goodness? No? TOO BAD! HERE WE GO ANYWAY!


DDR FESTIVAL

Despite all the negative things I’ve said about the game in columns past, I picked up my own copy of DDR Festival: Dance Dance Revolution recently. Why, you may ask, after I was so busy in displaying all the anti-virtues it may or may not have possessed? Well, I’m a completionist. And as such, I am inclined to buy this particular version of the game to round out my collection. Sure, the game is chocked full of songs I already have spanned across numerous game systems, but there ARE some other songs that I haven’t played yet. And new songs equate to new challenges, and I’m all for them in any form.

Add to the fact that “un deux trois” was included with EyeToy options, and I couldn’t say no. I was a MUST PURCHASE at that point.

What?!? I bought DDR Party Collection solely for “Moonlight Shadow”, AND I didn’t have a JPS2 back then. I’m not THAT hard to please!

No, I’m not obsessed. What makes you think THAT?!?!?

ANYWAY, the game was delivered to me in early-mid December, and I’ve played it a few times over since then. I must honestly say that I have NOT unlocked everything thus far. It is not because of the game’s quality, but because my metal pad I received a year ago decided to crap out on me within the last week. The Down arrow no longer works, and the Right arrow glitches horribly. Plus I’m scared that opening the pad to try and fix it will mess it up even further. So for now, I’m padless, unless I try to use my soft pads on my carpet that won’t cooperate. (Sigh) However, I managed to play enough to come to a decent conclusion about it.

To begin with, this game follows the same new design format as found in the US DDR Extreme. The graphics have been largely changed, the song wheel contains both Nonstop and Challenge modes, Mission Mode has been added, etc. But the interesting thing is that you probably won’t be able to tell one mode from the other, as the in-game text is mostly in Japanese. For the first time since DDR Oha Sta on the PS1, the text is not import friendly. (Unless, of course, you can read Japanese. Then your life becomes MUCH easier.) In some interesting twists, this game has quite a bit LESS to offer than our latest game for some reason. Festival contains 50 missions in Mission Mode, while our game contains double that amount. The Solo and Flat mods have been removed from the “Select Options” screen ENTIRELY. Instead, Flat can be found in the regular Options menu, while Solo only turns up in one of the Challenge Mode courses. This is weird, to say the least, as both options are freely selectable in the American counterpart. And the icing on the cake: the Challenge difficulty is no longer selectable. Granted there’s only one song that uses Challenge steps (Sakura), but you cannot select those steps freely. Instead, those have ALSO been relegated to Challenge Mode, and only in one course to boot. The space below Heavy now houses the song’s Options menu, another change that I had to get used to. I was able to adapt to all the changes made in our Extreme just fine, but the further changes made for this game really make me scratch my head and go “Why?”

The unlocking process has changed as well. New material is unlocked after every four songs are cleared (as opposed to after every five songs played). Costumes for the dancing characters are also unlocked this way, which is another interesting thing. In the US, we got 18 different characters to choose from. In Japan, they got a whopping 8. BUT, each character has three different outfits, so this is supposed to make up for that. I think.

Now we come to songs, which I said MANY times before, is the crux of any and all DDR games. Let me break them down by how they are colored:

Yellow Songs: These are the four new licenses brought into the game. There are no Dancemania tracks to speak of here, as all of them are Japanese native songs, three of which are listed entirely in Japanese text. The four songs in question are “Cutie Honey”, “Diamonds”, “Gakuen Tengoku”, and “Odairu Pompokolin”. While the song “Diamonds” is one I consider to be pretty good, the other three just give me a “blah” feeling. Fans of the Cutie Honey anime will be happy the opening theme is DDR-able, though. And a word of warning: the “Odairu Pompokolin” listed above is NOT the kick-ass Captain Jack version. Instead, it sound like it was put through a blender, and wrapped with a candy-coated J-Pop shell. Definitely not one of my favorites.

Orange Songs: The next seven songs on the list are licenses imported directly from other countries, and outnumber the first category nearly two-to-one. Six of the songs come directly from the US Extreme game, and five of them are ALL OUR KARAOKE REVOLUTION CROSSOVER SONGS! I guess now that Konami has officially remixed them for exclusive use, they have full rights to these remixes and can do whatever the hell they want with them. The other song is “Kids In America”, complete with music video, making it the ONLY license to appear in all three territories (US, Japan, Europe) around the same time frame. I don’t know why this particular song was used, but that’s not my call. The last license comes from Dancing Stage: Fusion, and is my favorite out of the bunch: “Superstar” by Jamelia. There’s nothing bad I can say about this song. But the others are a bit disappointing, at least to us importers.

White Songs: Here begin the Konami originals, and WOW, there’s a lot here that the importers have already seen on the PS2. Then again, the Japanese have not seen the bulk of them. What KCET basically did here was LIFT the code from the past three US PS2 releases and slaps it here with about half of the song list. I can tell this thanks to one single song. The DDR faithful know that the song “Electro Tuned” received a brand new banner and background image when it appeared in the arcade DDR: Extreme. The US DDRMAX used the old banner, but the new banner was also used for the very first DDR Ultramix. So, instead of using the NEW banner they built for it, they instead ripped the graphics from the US DDRMAX. (Sigh)

In any case, are 25 songs here, and I count 21 that are repeats. Most of them have appeared on the US PS2 first, such as “Hysteria” and “.59”. The rest are seemingly random repeats from past JP releases. “5.1.1.” is repeated, and THAT appeared on the LAST JP game. In fact, I count only ONE brand new song in this category at all, and that’s “KI*SE*KI” by BeForU. It’s a good song, yes, but the fact that everything else is old to me is very disappointing. Although the inclusion of “un deux trois” helps quite a bit.

Purple Songs: These are the songs that you unlock during gameplay. I may have said that I haven’t unlocked them all yet, but I have already played all of them. Literally. (Well, except for one.) For you see, ALL these songs came off the first DDR Ultramix, and the subsequent song packs. So, instead of putting more efforts in coming up with new songs for the JP market, KCET goes ahead and rips off a system in another country. Brilliant.

However, all is not lost in this category. As many Ultramix 1 players know, the step charts for the majority of the song pack songs were a bit lacking. Some were good, both most were tedious and pretty random. KCET has taken the liberty of changing most of the steps on Heavy because of this. Now, not ALL of the changes are better. Some changes are even worse. For example, the was really cool section in the song “Analyze” that featured a 16th-note run that had you twisting your body quite a bit to keep your combo going. I really, really, REALLY liked that section. But KCET replaced that section with simple “Up-Down” run, taking the spiciness right out of it. Other changes, like the ones in “Fire Dub” and “Gorgeous 2012” are okay, but really aren’t all that better. I will say, though, that I enjoyed the new steps to “Meaning of Life”, “Mind Parasite”, and “Quickening”.

But the problem remains that I paid $60 for this game, including shipping. And I was essentially buying Ultramix again, with not a whole lot of other new content. I could have saved my $60, took the step charts, and make them as edits in my XBox game instead. Sure it would take a bit of my time, but the investment would have been worth it.

Again, I have not unlocked ALL the new songs, so I don’t have opinions on stuff like “Infinite Prayer” and “Mad Blast”, which is supposed to have new 10-foot steps. But I’m not exactly looking forward to unlocking the stuff I already have on my other game. Outside of the new steps…this is REAL lazy…

Red Songs: Red songs signify the “boss” songs of a DDR game, and Festival is no exception. The game contains three “boss” songs, with the first being “Sakura”. I don’t know why this is considered a boss song in the first place, as it wasn’t a boss song to begin with all the way back in the JP Extreme game. Then again, it does have 10-foot steps, so I guess anything is possible. The second is Maximizer, which is the game’s Extra Stage. (Oh yeah, the game only has one Extra Stage this time around, whereas both America and Europe get two. Go figure.) Finally, the last red song is “Outer Limits”, and is the last of the Ultramix crossovers. In short, all three songs are pretty good. Or they were good, the first time I played them all.

The full song list comes in a grand total of 66 songs. Most of them I’ve already played, and it makes this game look like a horrible wading up of four US titles packaged specifically for the Japanese audience. In the long run, it’s a good move in order to give Japan all the songs they have been missing out on. But if you want to import the thing…um…make this one a LOW priority. There are many other DDR titles out there that are of far better quality than this lumped-together mess.

Before I close though, let me address that some of you will claim that our US titles ALSO fall under the category as “lumped-together messes”, as they take material from a ton of past Japanese games, and then sell them to Americans. Well, that’s true. However, when this is done, it is MUCH LESS NOTICIBLE. To us Americans, when we look at Festival, we tend to think of four main games that the songs came from. When we look at our own titles, the songs therein came from MUCH more than just four games. Our Extreme ALONE has songs taken from the JP 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th mixes, including repeats from our past games and even stuff from the JP Solo Bass mix. They are much better blended, so to speak.

Okay, I’m done. Send any hate mail to the feedback link below.


YEAR END REFLECTIONS

So 2004 is finally coming to a close. I finish a full year of college, and take part in quite a year in video gaming. I’d like to think I learned quite a bit about the industry, and myself in general. Specifically…

–I learned that even back in early January, Electronic Arts was a very disappointing company. The first NFL Street game proved this by offering a list of challenges that could never be fully completed. Thanks loads, EA.

–I learned that tons of unnecessary hype could kill a game in my eyes. I grew to HATE Halo 2 within six months of its release, as all I heard was talk, talk, talk about a game I couldn’t even play. Of course it’s 2004 XBox Game Of The Year, but only because of the unbelievable amount of hype it got.

–I learned that no game can every truly live up to the hype it gets. Believing in the hyped game will always lead to disappointment, whereas waiting to play the actual game is released will give you the true experience. Peter Molyeux reminded all of us this fact not too long ago.

–I learned that video game originality is, thankfully, not dead. Katamari Damacy is like a beacon of hope in this regard, followed closely by Feel The Magic: XY/XX.

–I learned that the unedited Yu-Gi-Oh! anime from Japan is incredible. The American dub is pure crap, but the original story is quite amazing.

–I learned that while Duel Masters is a decent card game, any other incarnation of it, such as video games or anime, can lead to internal seizures and death. Proceed into this “fad” at your own risk.

–I learned that while DDR was not doing so hot in Japan (Festival), it could flourish beautifully in other countries (DS Fusion, Ultramix 2).

–I learned that the Nintendo DS is quite the marvel of a handheld unit, but still needs the games to become truly competitive. Luckily, that will be solved in the coming year.

–I learned that the PSP is incredibly flashy and has a gigantic screen to display impressive visuals. However, the games included will truly tell the story of how this does in the handheld market.

–I learned that the handheld gaming market would officially change forever within the coming months. Instead of simple games with simple, but enjoyable features, we will expect the same material we expect from our gaming consoles. This sucks ass, unless both Nintendo and Sony realize that complex games AREN’T always the answer.

–I learned that pretty much anyone can be transformed into a Pokemon addict. My fiance is thoroughly addicted to the Fire Red version right now.

–I learned that system and company fanboys are incredible idiots. Wait, no, scratch that. I already knew that. I just confirmed it for the umpteenth year in a row.

–I learned that a game doesn’t have to be the BEST in a certain category, possess perfect qualities, or be entirely bug free in order to be enjoyable. Even average games can allow gamers to have hours upon hours of fun.

–I learned that terrible games could still have incredible music, to which I want the soundtracks badly. (FFVIII) I also learned that excellent games could have music that can make me want to tear my own ears off.

–I learned that EA was a heartless, soulless company that will try to conquer the software market by any means necessary. I also learned that the NFL is just as corrupt for trying to help them achieve that goal.

–I learned that I could ignore the peer pressure of Internet reviews, even those of Inside Pulse staff members, and buy/play the games I WANT to play. I don’t have to play the big name titles if I don’t want to, like Halo 2, but I don’t have to feel bad about actually wanting some big name titles either, like GTA: SA.

— I learned that I could truly think for myself without having some person of company force me to think a certain way. I have my own opinions, as do you, and I will stick to my guns until the end of time.

–Finally, I learned that the readers of this site are awesome. (Well, the intelligent ones anyway.) You all deserve a pat on the back for being such a great audience. I’d do it myself, but the fact that I’d have to spend tons of money on plane fare and such kinda kills the drive to do so.


I GOT MAIL?!?!?

Mail still trickles in every now and then in response to what I write. Be it review, column, or Tribunal piece, it will be printed here for everyone to view. Or laugh at. Depends on the type of e-mail, and how intelligent it is.

The first is a late response to my DDR Ultramix 2 review I shamelessly plugged on the DDRFreak website. Take it away, Renaud Lepage:

JUUUUST to add to your review in miscelaneous :

“… and did I mention that this mix, or at least some aspects of it are multilingual? Thanks again to KCEH’s receptiviness, a random guy from DDR Freak, which happens to be a Quebecer (as we know, these dudes are crazy over their french language) managed to obtain at least french in the software. Apparently, they also put German and Spanish, too.”

This fact really wasn’t revealed to me until long after the review was posted on the site. The fact that more than one language was included on this disc is another great addition to an already excellent version of DDR. (No, I won’t stop gushing over it.)

Next up is a response to last week’s column:

im not a big fan of football, or even a moderately big fan of football, but EA still pissed me off with that one. if you ever do start a petition, ill be the first one to sign it. assuming no one else emails you before i do with such a statement. either way, you should definitely stop reading this email and go play prince of persia. in fact im going to stop writing so you dont have an excuse not to.

-The Great Randolfsky

(1) Yep, the EA and NFL deal sucks. It’ll net both parties involved with an incredible amount of money, all while the same game is published year after year with a different roster. What a f*cking waste…

(2) I actually started the game not too long ago. It is quite a good game, if I do say so myself. The puzzles are very inventive and clever, and the gameplay mechanics awesome as well. I certainly made a blunder waiting this long to play it, that’s for sure.

That’s it for the mailbag this week. Next week, I expect quite a few e-mails written drunk after various New Years parties happen.

I also expect to have a decent plug section open next week. As you can see, this week is a little…um…(cough)…well, its the period between Christmas and New Years. You can understand right?


PARTING THOUGHTS

And so, Encore Extra Stage closes out the week, the month of December, and the whole friggin’ YEAR of 2004. Was it a good year for you, gaming-wise?

Who knows what is in store for 2005. I’m sure I don’t. New home consoles? New company scandals? EA taking over 17 more developers? Who the hell knows. I sure don’t.

All I hope for is another great year with dozens of other great games. For ALL the systems. And from the sound if it, it looks like our favorite companies will be delivering them.

Just don’t buy into all the damn hype. Be happy and ecstatic, yes, but not to the point where you promise yourself things that just can’t be delivered.


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete