Pump It Up: Exceed (PS2)


Pump It Up: Exceed
System: PS2
Genre: Dance/Rhythm
Developer: Andamiro
Publisher: Mastiff
Release Date: 9/15/05

Funny story. Last week, UPS knocked on my door, presenting me with a large package. I had no idea what it was, and when I brought it inside my home, I found that it was from Mastiff games, who wanted me to review their newest dance game, Pump It Up/ Now I’m not a dance gamer. Long time readers know I specialize in 2D fighters, 2D shooters, and RPG’s. I’m a Gradius V/Metal Slug 3/Digital Devil Saga/SNK Vs Capcom on the Neo Geo Pocket Colour gaming kind of guy.

I then assumed they sent this to the wrong Alex here at Inside Pulse. Alex Williams is a well known DDR fanatic, and is highly ranked and respected for his ability. But no, the label was addressed to the Main Eventah, so I shrugged and did what I always do for Inside Pulse: I stepped outside my comfort zone and played the hell out of a game in a genre I normally wouldn’t.

Now that’s not to say I dislike Dance/Rhythm games like I do say, First Person Shooters. I play DDR in arcades and I’m decent at it. I’ve just never owned a home version. Wait. Scratch that. I owned a home version of some PSX DDR game back when I lived in England called Dancing Stage, but I bought that for my fiancee, and never played it very often, as I was too busy with Hell Knight or Ogre Tactics. It’s more Rhythm games just aren’t my genre of choice to spend money on. But a reviewer needs to put aside their genre preferences, other wise s/he will be reviewing only games they like and thus giving out inflated score after inflated score and judging a game’s worth based more on emotion than actual quality. Bias swings both ways after all.

So I spent a better part of a week playing the first home version of a dance game I’ve had in my personal space for the better part of three years. I admit that while reading Mastiff’s press release, it felt much like reading RoXor’s game’s press release on In The Groove, which was basically, “We’re not a DDR clone. I swear to God we aren’t! Please like this game.”

However Mastiff insisted the gameplay of DDR and Pump It Up: Exceed were wildly different. Pump it up have the arrows at a 45 degree angles instead of 90 degree ones, and there is a fifth button in the middle. Again, upon reading this I was skeptical. Wow. a fifth thing to step on. THAT’S going to make a real difference. And the angle thing just seemed lame to me, especially when I unfolded the mat. But then, everyone is so used to DDR, Konami’s standards are almost brainwashed into them.

So the question is, does Pump It Up: Exceed stand out from the Rhythm pack, or is it just another DDR knock off? And how well will Mastiff’s latest publication do with a gamer who has always been pretty apathetic to the genre?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Pump It Up features 4 playable modes and then three non interactive modes.

First we have Arcade mode, which simulates the arcade experience. You play through three songs trying to get an “A” or an “S” rating. If you do that for all three songs, you get to play a fourth bonus song. As long as all your scores are better than a D or an F, you get an Internet password and your score is entered into the statistics section.

The big difference between this game and DDR, is that Pump it up adds two things not found in Konami’s rhythm games. The first is the fifth middle button in addition to the four directional arrows I mentioned in the preamble, but the second is a very unique idea indeed.

It’s awith the life bar. In both DDR and PIU,you have to hit the arrows properly to keep your life up and the game going. If you get a perfect or great comment on a step, your life bar increases. If you get a bad or miss, the life bar decreases. Once the bar is out, the song will end, even if you’re not done. However, Pump it Up does give you the option to turn off the life bar and let you play through the whole song, for good or bad and still get a score on it, which is great to people new to dance games, and your ego is a little less bruised. The closest thing DDR has to this is what I’m told is Event Mode, which allows you to keep playing even after you’ve failed the game.

Like I said, we’ve got a bit more of a challenge here and although it doesn’t sound that hard or different when I describe it, once you’re on the mat and you have to adapt to these changes, it’s much like playing a completely new game.

The second mode is Home Mode. Here you can just play whatever songs you would like, in any order or as often as you want. However playi9ng in home mode does not add to your high score. Consider Home Mode how you can unlock modifiers, which slightly tweaks your game play experience.

The third mode Sudden Death mode which is basically “Anal Retentive Mode.” here you have to get a song completely perfect, or the game ends. As you might imagine, I haven’t been able to get more than 3/4th through a song on this mode.

The final playable mode is Survival Mode, which is not available from the beginning. You can unlock Survival mode by clearing 20 songs in home mode. You basically are doing a marathon here, by playing through songs until your life bar is finally depleted.

Now there are three other modes. Video mode is unlockable once you’ve cleared a total of 20 songs in either home or arcade mode and basically you can just watch the videos for any song you’ve finished. Now you can watch the videos instead of having them be a massive distraction for you.

There also Tutorial mode, which teaches you how to play the game, and Statistics, which is just that. Your stats on how good a player you are. Needless to say, I don’t look at that one very often. My top ten ranking for Ikaruga on the Game Cube, sure, I’ll look at that one. But my collections of B’s and C’s and very few A’s on Pump It Up shames me, even if I rarely play this genre. My stats read like George Bush’s report card (Ha ha ha! Damn my Gary Tredeau like political wit!)

Really, I have to give this a middle of the road score for modes, simply because a lot of other dance games have more playable modes in them. In the Groove had 1-2 more options than PIU, and there was a lot of overlap. DDR’s last version had about 10-12 modes, so PIU’s lackluster options here are noticeable.

However, due to the 101 different songs I can play through, that does even things out a bit more.

Like I said, middle of the road. Lots of songs, but very few options. And when 2 of the three modes (home and arcade) are very similar, it really leaves you wanting something like say, a workout mode. I run a lot in the summer and spring, but come winter in Minneapolis (the worst six months of the year!), I want to do something besides riding an exercise bike or treadmill. PIU gives me a much better workout than DDR, but I’d like a mode to plan a nice 60 minute plan to add to my weight lifting. But for something like that it appears, I’d have to get DDR Max 2.

Modes Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Pump It Up doesn’t have graphics in the usual sense that I would review. A good part of the game is video footage from music videos. Very little of the game is graphics per say. However, the videos are quite nice and fun to watch. The problem is, they’re almost too good, as they are very distracting from the gameplay and the first time you play a new song, you will catch your eye wandering. I found this to be the case with BanYa’s redux of classical songs. What can I say? I like Vivaldi and found the footage drawing my eyes more than the arrows and gold circle that I was SUPPOSED to be paying attention to.

I’ve never noticed the background visuals to be distracting in a DDR game, but holy hell were they in PIU. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not with PIU’s reputation as being for hardcore rhythm fans or it is accidental, but I really had to train myself to only look at part of the screen, because the visuals were just too entertaining.

So the graphics are very good indeed, but this is one of those times where as a gamer you almost wish the graphics and animation during gameplay were actually dulled down.

Graphics rating: 7/10

3.Sound

I want BanYa CD’s. I want lots of them. And I want them NOW. That’s my feeling after playing through this game. The music is simply wonderful. BanYa takes a lot of classical composer songs and terms them into fun upbeat tracks you can really move to. The K-Pop (Korean Pop) songs are also excellent.

With 101 songs to choose from, you’d think there would be some really lackluster tunes to hop around on the PIU pad too, but in fact there’s not. I can’t think of a single song on PIU that I didn’t enjoy, and I’m very picky with what I like or have as background tracks.

There are very few bands on PIU you will recognize, but it’s often the non familiar songs that will become your favorites. Bands you’ll recognize include Crystal Method, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sugarhill gang, and Elvis. But other than that, the bands on PIU are ones you’ll primarily only recognize if you’re a dance game junkie.

My two favorite tracks are by BanYa, who is the “Pump It Up house band” according to Mastiff. I remember looking through the Reviewer info sheet Bill Schwartz sent me going, “Who the ^&*$# is this band and why do they have so many tracks in this game?” Now I know, and I love them. I really need to get an Mp3 of Winter and Beethoven Virus.

Aurally, I prefer this to any of the DDR games I’ve played in the arcades or on Dancing Stage. Sheer brilliance, and I can’t image how PIU2 will be able to hit this level of quality.

Sound Rating: 10/10

4. Control/Gameplay

Okay, I have to get this out of my system right now. The Pump it Up pads SUCK. At first I was willing to give the pad the benefit of the doubt thinking I had no rhythm at all, but I specialize in games that require insane levels of hand-to-eye coordination. I mean how many people do you know can get through Ikaruga or Gunbird 2 without dying? However with Pump It Up I was noticing I really had to stomp on the pad in order to get it to register my movements. And even then the back arrows weren’t very cooperative. So I got off the mat and decided to play the game like it was a satanic version of the old board game Simon. This was I’d be slapping the mat and treating it more like a 2D shooter.

Guess what? The back arrows still had seems to have problems registering the steps. It seems as if the pad is either sluggish/unresponsive or the back arrows need to be hit in a very precise spot in order to register on them. I even had IP fan favorite from our Music section come over and she agreed. The pad needs to be a lot more sensitive to movement and pressure.

Due to the pad seeming to need a lot more force on it than a DDR pad, especially as PIU requires a LOT more full body movement than DDR, I can’t recommend the game for use in a dorm or apartment setting unless you are on the ground floor, as you will drive people INSANE with the loud clomping. God knows on the harder songs, I drove my pet rabbit, Mr. Chewy Biteums insane, as thumping/loud stomping means danger in bunny commincation, so when I was playing the songs of higher difficulty I was probably saying, “HOLY CRAP! Five headed dragon with acidic fire breath and Patrick Duffy for a leg is in the living room!”

So yes, I enjoy the game a lot more, but as I can’t believe Mastiff would send out a defective pad to you know, a REVIEWER, I’m going to have to assume this potentially a problem with all the mats and warn you readers ahead of time. personally I’d LOVE it, if I just happened to get a shitty dance pad, because I enjoyed playing this game, and would feel a lot less frustrated when a series of nothing but down arrows came on the screen knowing that I’ve memorized the pattern and movement and yet the buttons don’t register some of the time.

On a personal preference, I find the pad is too small for me. I think I’m taking a tiny step and find I’m standing on the “back buttom” instead of the Upper left arrow. Same with being in the starting position. I find I overshoot the arrows when I first start playing. But that’s just me. The pad is too confining in size for my own personal preferences. But once you start playing for a while, you adapt.

So that’s control. And really it boils down to this game scoring a lot better in this category if the pad was more responsive. I wish it was just that I sucked, but after 2nd, 3rd, and 4th opinions on the mat and learning that the DDR Xbox pads have the same problems when you jump around, the logical conclusion is, “Mastiff…make the mats better next time!”

Gameplay wise though PIU is incredible. While playing it, the game really stands out from DDR even though it’s not apparent when you just read about it.

First of all that middle X/yellow circle area adds a whole lot more to game play. You will find yourself having to bring your arms into play and well as your feet. After all, with the harder songs you’ll have to hit 3-5 sections of the pad at once. And you’ve only got two legs. Hitting all 5 at once isn’t something I’ve worked out yet. Do I use my head? My groin? Drop a dumbbell on the pad? Who knows???

The second is something I just touched on above, but unlike DDR where you’re really just moving your legs around, Pump it Up forces you to use your whole body. You will be jumping and rotating a lot. Sometimes even 180 degrees, which can make looking at the screen an evil bitch. I’ve rarely seen DDR players in the Arcade move or shift their center of gravity. But here? Holy hell, you do it on damn near every song.

PIU really does feel like you’re “Dancing” compared to DDR, and you do get a bigger workout from Pump It Up. I enjoy the songs, patterns and bodily movements required of me a lot more than I have in any DDR game. I just wish I didn’t have to risk eviction or giving my pet a heart attack every time I play on hire than Normal in this game. Oh, and that the pad properly monitored by back footsteps.

So you’ve got an unresponsive control scheme and some amazing gameplay. Yin Yang effect I suppose. The two balance each other out from my experience with the game.

One, one last addition. In talking to Pump It Up fans, they said the Arcade version has very long load times. I’m happy to report this was not the case with the PS2 version.

Control & Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

With 101 songs, and the ability to play on one or two pads, and by yourself or with a friend, Pump It Up’s Replayability goes through the roof. Although Arcade and Home mode are essentially the same and Sudden Death is only more the best of the best players in this genre, you will get a lot of play out of Pump It Up.

It would have been nice to have a few more modes, or even more songs unlocked at the beginning. But what’s here is great and I won’t quibble too much on it.

Replayability Rating: 8/10

6. Balance

Okay, Pump It Up is MUCH harder than DDR. I am above average/pretty decent with DDR. I’ve got Rhythm and can do pretty well at the game. However, I freely admit to sucking hard at Pump It Up. I’m decent on Normal, but anything higher? Hoo boy, let me get this bag on my head before playing it in front of strangers or onlookers.

However, Pump It Up is supposed to be harder than DDR. it’s geared towards an audience that finds DDR too easy/passe/tame/fill in the adjective here. And so of course it’s going to be overwhelming to a gamer like myself who only has a modicum of experience with the genre.

That being said, even people I know who LOVE dance games swear up and down Pump It Up is insanely difficult. So I don’t feel so bad.

So yes, if you’re looking for the Mars Matrix of dance games, you’ve come to the right place. The crazy unbalanced “Hit all four squares at once then two a second later than five a second after that” is probably why I prefer this game to DDR. I like that degree of challenge, and it’s why I keep coming back for more on Pump It Up. But in the end, the game is going to drive away all but the most hardcore fans of this genre. Or masochists like myself. And even then I’ll probably take some spankage and blindfolds over Pump It Up.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

It’s hard to believe how much shifting the pad buttons 45 degrees and adding a fifth button changes the gameplay. But it really, REALLY does. After 15 minutes of playing I got the notion of “DDR knockoff” out of my head really quickly. PIU was a far more intense and challenging experience.

In the end it is still a dance game, and it’s hard for any game of this genre, be it Pump it Up, In The Groove, or anything else to NOT have a lot in common with DDR. On paper they’re all very much the same. In practice…well, ITG and DDR are still very similar, but PIU feels like an entirely new experience, especially to those probably not used to Bemani games at all.

I give Andamiro a thumbs up for turning the genre a little bit on its head and giving us some very distinct gameplay. It’s going to be hard for me to want to play “just” DDR after this.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

For a non dance gamer, I got pretty into Pump It Up, playing it for several hours at a time. Saturday I woke up at 7am and was playing the game for four hours straight. 7am. On a WEEKEND. After a night of carousing. That’s a pretty good sign that I enjoyed this game I think. Even though I stink at it.

With excellent tracks, some gameplay graphics/video footage that blows away anything I’ve seen in any other dance game, and some crazy hard footwork, it’s hard not for someone like me who constantly bitches and moans about the lack of challenge in today’s games to get sucked into this. I realize the insanity of PIU may drive away more people than it draws in, but for me, it was, and is, pure gold.

Just you know, let’s hope Mastiff hires a better company to produce the pad.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

Much like In The Groove, Pump It Up is going to appeal to a small niche of hardcore dance game fans. Sure, there will be the occasional person like me that they won over with frantic heart attack inducing gameplay, but I also have a Pikachu obsession that would make most 9 year old girls shake their head in disbelief, so I really shouldn’t be counted as the Everyman in this Jungian equation.

Pump It Up’s going to attract only a small percentage of Bemani freaks out there and little else. But then, that was the point of the game. To give an alternative to DDR and actually BE an alternative to DDR.

Appeal Factor: 4/10

10 Miscellaneous

The fact Andamiro managed to get 101 songs on a PS2 disc deserves some admiration. I believe the last DDR game has something in what, the high seventies in terms of selections you could make? And with all of the songs pretty enjoyable for the purpose of gaming, that’s another feat that I had once though impossible.

PIU gives me what I want in a dance game. Tons of tracks, a variety of musical styles, and it’s hard enough to make me feel like a rank amateur.

However the negatives are of course that the pad isn’t very good, and that had the game not been sent to me to review, I’d never have even thought about the game at all. Even though I enjoyed playing Pump It Up, it’s not a game I’d spend sixty dollars on, especially in this age where awesome games are coming out for 20-30 bucks. I realize have the cost is in the pad, but when the pad is crappy, it’s even harder to justify that price tag to me.

All in all this was an enjoyable experience outside my usual realm of gamin preferences, but Pump It Up wasn’t that memorable to make me go, “I am going to play a lot more Dance games.” Instead it made me go, “Hey, this’ll be a great hour of exercise in the winter to keep my lower body muscle mass from atrophy in the negative 40 winters of Minneapolis. Now I just have to find a dance game with a workout mode.” Which happens to be DDR Max 2. Insert irony here.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

THE SCORES

Compilation and Modes: 5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 10/10
Control & Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal: 4/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10

Overall Score: 66/100
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (Not Bad. Not Bad At All)

Short Attention Span Summary
Pump It Up is pretty decent game. It’s not my cup of tea, but I recognize that it’s a great alternative to DDR. It’s be an even better alternative with a more responsive pad, but with the current state of the game, I can’t recommend it to anyone who lives in a communal building such as an apartment or dorm. It’s harder and more intense than any version of Dance Dance Revolution I’ve played, and I do prefer this to Konami’s juggernaut, but in the end, it’s only going to appeal to a fraction of gamers into this genre, and the price tag isn’t worth it considering the pad quality. I’d say rent it first, or play it at a friend’s house who already owns it and decide that way. But if you’re looking for something that has more bite than DDR, this is your game of choice.