Review: Dance Dance Revolution X (PS2)

Dance Dance Revolution X
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 09/12/08


How the mighty have fallen. Ten years ago, Konami unleashed Dance Dance Revolution on the world and pretty much revitalized the arcade industry and spearheaded the advance of the rhythm game genre; ten years later, the luster has worn off, people have moved on to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and DDR has become something of a niche franchise. That’s not to say that it doesn’t still have its share of fans, but rather to note that the franchise has fallen from grace, so to say; former high quality dance pad manufacturer Red Octane has pretty much abandoned the franchise that brought it to the table in favor of Guitar Hero, the arcades are back to their terminal state, and the games really don’t sell as well as they used to. Dance Dance Revolution X is meant to be something of a celebration of a decade of the DDR experience, and for fans it’s an absolute success, though it’s also something of an example of exactly why the franchise has lost its steam in recent years, as it’s pretty much a whole lot of the same.

Astonishingly, DDRX has an actual story mode; perhaps not astonishingly, it’s about as basic as you’d expect (two people talk, decide to dance together, repeat). It’s not a bad effort per say, but it’s really… well… unnecessary. No one plays DDR for meaningful storylines, so putting one in is a lot like sticking a storyline into Solitaire. The game modes, on the other hand, are as robust as ever. You’ve got Game Mode, which is your normal Solo/Multiplayer DDR experience, including Tutorial (to learn how to play), Standard (just choose tracks and dance), Battle (fight another player or CPU in Battles), Course (play through a setlist), and Endless (play an endless set of tunes). You’ve also got the standard Single/Dual pad play options, depending on how skilled you are and how many pads you own. New to DDRX is Street Master Mode, which is your aforementioned story mode, where you play as a character through their storyline (such as it is) to unlock songs/costumes/other stories to play. Workout Mode once again makes its return, and allows you to play song sets up to a time or calorie goal to help you get your cardio up and lose weight, theoretically. You also have Training Mode to train yourself how to succeed on various songs, Edit Mode to make your own dance steps, Party Zone if you want to play other players across a LAN, Records to check out your dance records, Information to see info on songs/characters/etc., and the standard Options mode, which allows you to change visual, audio, and gameplay options (including the ability to turn off the announcer, turn off or dim movies/backgrounds, and the option to change the arrows into other things, like feet, diamonds, and Vic Viper… which is neat, if nothing else). There’s plenty to do in the game if you’re a fan, and while Street Master isn’t a hugely fantastic addition, and the game lacks anything else to really distinguish it from other DDR titles, what’s here is still solid.

Visually, DDRX is decent; music videos are clear and well presented (and hats off, by the way, to whoever involved threw together a Gurren Lagann video that avoided focusing on Yoko’s boobs for longer than half a second, as I’m sure that must have been tough), the menus are clean and easy to work with, and the characters and stages are largely pleasant to look at. The character models are blocky and basic in most respects, though, and the environments can occasionally be distracting with their bright color palettes (though this can be adjusted in the options), though this isn’t a big thing as most of the game is about the audio over the video. Speaking of the audio, DDRX retains the tradition of having over seventy solid, danceable tracks, combining licensed tracks like “Here It Goes Again” from OK Go and “Always On My Mind” from the Pet Shop Boys with classic DDR tunes like “Boys” and “Butterfly” from prior games. Generally, the audio quality is top-notch, the music is well-chosen and fits the game, and all in all the soundtrack is good. Generally speaking, there are three reasons the audio is awesome in DDRX and one reason it isn’t: it IS awesome because “U Can’t Touch This” from MC Hammer, “Bloody Tears (IIDX Edition)” (AKA a Castlevania remix) and “Time Hollow” (a track from the game Time Hollow), which shows that KNoami knows how to 1.) find awesome licensed tracks and 2.) use their own tracks to awesome effect; it ISN’T awesome because the announcer is one of the most annoying things, in any video game, ever, and while you can turn him off, that doesn’t mean he’s any less annoying.

DDR, for the uninitiated, works like this: at the top of the screen, there are a series of arrows (or whatever you change them to) facing up, down, left and right. From the bottom of the screen, moving arrows scroll upwards that are also facing in one of those four directions, and as they pass the bank of arrows at the top, you have to step on the dance pad (or press the direction on the controller, if that’s how you want to play) at the right time. Do this correctly and the arrows disappear as the game informs you of your success; do it wrong and the arrow scrolls away and the game notifies you of your failure. Now, as the franchise has progressed over the past decade, more elements have been added to the gameplay to keep fans interested, and DDRX certainly has a lot of interesting things to keep you guessing beyond the basics. For one, there’s the arrows themselves; you might have to step on one arrow at a time, two arrows at once, Freeze Arrows (which make you hold your foot in position, often while having to plant your other foot on another arrow), or the newly introduced Shock Arrows (which are a full panel of electric arrows; if you hit the pad when they pass, this blanks out the normal arrows on-screen and hurts your combo), though these are exclusive to Challenge difficulty, which we’ll cover shortly. The pacing of the songs can also mess with you, as the arrows will often follow the song pace, meaning arrows will stall or change speed to match the tempo, just to mess with your timing. Scoring is also pretty simple: hitting Great/Marvelous/Perfect steps (IE steps when the arrow is almost exactly lined up with the step zone) nets you Combo meter, which fills the bar at the top of the screen; failing to do so loses you some of that bar and resets your Combo to zero, and if you lose all of the bar at the top, you fail the song. If you can get all Great/Marvelous/Perfect scores, your song is ranked “Full Combo” in addition to whatever letter grade you earn, thus improving your score.

The objective, in most cases, is to score the highest you possibly can, in both single and multiplayer modes, though in Battle mode this is changed somewhat to a tug of war contest where both players will be attacking each other by successfully making steps, with attacks like disappearing arrows, arrow speed/volume increases, and so on. The difficulty chosen will also have some effect on that, obviously, as each song is given a general difficulty level (called the Step level in prior games) that can go from, as of DDRX one to twenty, with lower songs being easy, and higher songs being insane. The difficulty is based on five song complexity categories: Air (the number of jumps needed), Freeze (number of freeze arrows in the song), Voltage (maximum dance step density at one time), Stream (overall step density across the song), and Chaos (step abnormality across the song). Each song has a few different difficulties to choose from, from Beginner (real easy) to Expert (real hard). Some songs also have a Challenge difficulty, which is generally similar to another difficulty in the song list, but with the aforementioned Shock Arrows added to the dance palette; these arrows only pop up in this difficulty mode, and not all songs even have a Challenge option, so if you’re looking to avoid Shock Arrows, it’s actually pretty easy to do so.

Beyond the basic gameplay, as noted, there are plenty of other options to keep the gameplay interesting for a while. Street Master mode, as noted, is where you’ll spend most of your time, as that’s where you’ll unlock most of the new tracks and costumes for characters. You’ll start out with Emi and Zero available to play as, and as you go through their stories, you’ll unlock more characters to play as, and as you complete the various chapters, you’ll unlock new things along the way. Each character has a Normal and an Advanced path to clear, with the normal tracks asking simple things of you (clear this song, usually), and the advanced tracks asking more complex things of you (score this high, outscore your opponent, beat a certain number of songs, and so on), as well as throwing more difficult songs at you. This mode is actually a good thing for novice players to play through, as the pace of the mode is leisurely, the difficulty of the tracks increases slowly enough to allow you to keep up, and there’s plenty of neat stuff to unlock to keep you coming back. You can also jump into Training Mode to practice your steps, Edit Mode to make your own steps for songs, and Workout Mode to track calorie burning while you play (or you can set an amount of time you want to play if you’d rather), all of which are nice extras. If you happen to have a few different PS2’s and dance pads lying around, you can also jump into Party Zone to allow a bunch of your friends to play together at the same time, instead of just two at a time.

Now, of course, the biggest complaint anyone can make against ANY DDR game is that it’s really more of the same thing you’ve been playing for the past decade, so if you’re annoyed about that for whatever reason, there you go. Aside from the Shock Arrows, the fact that song difficulty now goes to twenty, and Street Master mode, there’s literally NOTHING new to this game, which most fans of the franchise won’t care about, but for those of you who are looking for something more advanced, this isn’t it. Beyond that, however, DDRX has a few other annoying quirks, aside from the annoying announcer, that might make you want to stop and think twice about it. For one, Party Mode is essentially useless unless you have multiple TV’s, dance pads, and PS2’s around the house, and all of them are networked together, and the fact that it ISN’T an online mode when such a game would benefit nicely from having an online mode hurts the game a lot. The actual design of Street Master mode is also fairly annoying, in that in order to unlock EVERYTHING you have to play through the normal and advanced sets, which is good because it gives the less experienced player a reason to improve and develop, but bad because it forces skilled players to play through low difficulty songs they could do in their sleep instead of, say, unlocking the normal difficulty prizes upon completing the advanced track. It also bears noting that the one significant gameplay addition that has been added to the franchise, the Shock Arrow, isn’t particularly well implemented, either; it feels like it was simply inserted into normal music tracks instead of having tracks built around it, and when they do show up, they feel as though they were placed awkwardly into a normal step routine instead of being placed somewhere for a reason. Oh, yes, and Battle Mode is still a cumbersome, uninteresting multiplayer mode, much like most battle modes in most rhythm games, though this, at least, you can avoid easily enough.

Dance Dance Revolution X is, as one might expect, pretty much another DDR game, no more and no less, which is probably why it will appeal exclusively to fans and those who’ve never played the games before, and no one else. That’s not to say it’s in any way bad; it’s absolutely a great game, it’s just the SAME great game that’s been released on the PS2 a bunch of times already. If you’re completely new to DDR or you’re a lifelong fan, you’ll want to check this one out, as it’s got a lot of great songs and it’ll keep you entertained for a while. If you’re burned out on the franchise, though, this version does nothing that will raise your interest, as it’s essentially the same as the last few games. A new coat of paint and a couple of new modes make DDRX worth a look for newbies and fans, but everyone else will most likely be able to pass it by.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dance Dance Revolution X is basically a ten year celebration for the fans of the franchise, and while it won’t do anything to win over those who are worn out on the games, what it does do should be more than appealing to anyone who’s new to the games or anyone who considers themselves a fan. It looks decent, has a great set of tracks to dance to, features plenty of unlockables to keep you playing, and plays as well as the franchise ever has. It doesn’t really do anything innovative to bring back the interest of those who have abandoned the series, it lacks online play, and the few new things added to the game don’t do anything to improve on the formula any, but DDRX still plays perfectly fine, and for the fans, that’s pretty much good enough.

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