Review: Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 (360)
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 10/21/08


Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 is something of an interesting product. It’s really the third attempt by Konami to generate any sort of interest in the Bemani franchise as a whole amongst the next generation console crowd, and as a product, it’s really about the most advanced product in the franchise lineup, which logically makes it about the best DDR game on the market, more or less. However, it’s still fairly primitive in comparison to not only the various other rhythm games on the market (largely because it hasn’t evolved as much as fans would have hoped it would at this point), but also when comparing what it COULD be to what it IS. Make no mistake about it, Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 is absolutely a great game for fans of the franchise, but as an introduction for new players, it’s fairly apparent in the first few minutes of booting up the game what Konami was trying to do with the game, largely because everything that COULD have made the game more than its predecessors is generally weak, leaving the game, essentially, as just another DDR game.

As with DDRX, there is once again something of a story to the Quest Mode of Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3, but as it’s essentially miniscule, let us once again take a look at the game modes instead. You’ve once again got Game Mode, which is still your normal Solo/Multiplayer DDR experience where you can dance alone or with friends to any of the unlocked tracks in the song list. You’ve also got the standard Single/Dual pad play options, depending on how skilled you are and how many pads you own. Party Mode is where most of your multiplayer fun will be had, though, as it contains all of the multiplayer game types you’re looking for, including Nonstop (play playlists or an infinite songlist, as needed), Freestyle (play whatever arrows you want, try to keep the beat beyond the fever line to score), Attack (use the arrows to earn weapons and defensive items), Bomb (hot potato, DDR style), Sync (everyone matches up or you all fail), Triple and Quad play (for those with three and four mats) Relay (take turns doing steps), Speed (guess the arrows fastest to win), Point (the person with the highest accuracy, step-wise, is the winner), and Score (play for points), giving you A WHOLE LOT to do with friends. Quest Mode allows you to take on the role of a new dancer trying to make their name in Dance Dance City, by way of beating dancers and completing challenges and such. It’s also where you’ll unlock most of your content in the game. New to the game is DJ Mode, which allows you to take up to five songs, cut them together, put in DJ effects, and make them into something new and interesting, if you’re interested.

On the returning front, we have Workout Mode, which allows you to play song sets up to a time or calorie goal to help you get your cardio up and lose weight. Xbox Live mode, as you’d expect, allows you to jump online and play against friends or strangers, in Single or Double sets, under Point, Score, Bomb or Attack rules (for Single) or Score or Point rules (for Double). You also have Training Mode to train yourself how to succeed on various songs, How To Play Mode (and Beginner Difficulty) to teach you the basics and help you learn how the game works if you’re new, Edit Mode to make your own dance steps, Records to check out your dance records, and the standard Options mode, which allows you to change visual, audio, and gameplay options (including the ability to turn off or dim movies/backgrounds, though this game lacks the options to change the arrows into neat stuff and the ability to turn off the announcer, sadly). For those looking for tons of stuff in their DDR game, Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 definitely brings the variety, and fans of the franchise should have a TON of stuff to do here, in both single and multiplayer flavors.

Visually, DDRU3 is as good as you could expect; the video quality is top-notch, the game menus are as clean and clutter-free as ever, and the character models are clean and very well-animated. Instead of featuring static backgrounds for the characters to dance in, as do some of the other games, DDRU3 instead continues the original trend of showing background videos as the characters dance, though it also features the characters shifting into vectored versions of themselves and fading in and out, which is pretty neat the first time you see it. The animated dance backgrounds are, of course, as epilepsy-inducing as ever, and the dancers, while clean and well-animated, aren’t as wacky as the dancers in some of the other games, leaving DDRU3 feeling more polished yet less imaginative when compared to other titles. Aurally, well, DDRU3 once again continues the trend of combining notable licensed tracks like Moby’s Alice, Miami Sound Machine’s Conga, the Jackson 5’s Dancing Machine, Devo’s Watch Us Work It and Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat with the standard Bemani dance tunes from fan favorites like SMiLE.dk, NAOKI, and DM Ashura. The announcer is also significantly less annoying than in previous games, which is just as well since you can’t turn her off for some bizarre reason, though DDRU3 also really lacks any breakout awesome tracks in its list, which is kind of sad, considering DDRX featured several.

For those who don’t understand how DDR works, well:

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 DDRU3 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, or Freeze Arrows (which make you hold your foot in position, often while having to plant your other foot on another arrow). 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 there are exceptions. 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 and the Foot Meter here), 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 Oni (real hard).

Those are only the basics of gameplay, of course; DDRU3 more or less uniformly apes the designs of its predecessors nicely, but the interesting elements are not in the basics, but in the details. The Quest Mode is, of course, the most interesting part of the game; aside from offering up a significant single player experience for you to play around with, it’s also where you’ll unlock most of the unlockable content in the game, as well as where you’ll be able to create your own dancer. There aren’t a ton of options to choose from, mind you, when making your dancers, but there are enough to make your dancer interesting, from hair and skin color options to over two hundred different costumes per gender to choose from. The mode itself should take you a few hours to make your way through, and offers multiple challenges at multiple difficulty levels, allowing you to upgrade your abilities and earn more and better loot as you go. For the more creative players, there’s also Edit and DJ Modes to play with, with the former allowing you to customize your own dance steps and the latter allowing you to build your own remixed tracks, which should allow you to have some fun if you’re the sort of person who likes to do that. Workout Mode, a staple of the franchise nearly since its inception, returns as well, allowing you to burn those calories to the DDR beat, and for those who want some multiplayer action, between the Party Zone’s multiplayer modes for local friends and Xbox Live support for distant friends or total strangers, you’ll have plenty to love. Add to that the option to download new tracks through DLC, and fans will love DDRU3 as much as the earlier games in the series.

Except for one thing: 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 DJ Mode, there’s once again literally NOTHING new to this game, which most fans of the franchise won’t care about, but those who have played the DDRU series of games before will find this to be more of the same. It also bears noting that DJ Mode, in and of itself, is nothing special; it allows you to blend together tracks and add in some record scratch noises, and even if you can properly learn the controls of the mode and figure out how to use the sound effects provided to maximum effect, well, you’re still only remixing the tunes in the game. I mean, here’s a thought: why not allow the player to import tunes from their hard drive and map steps to them, then upload those steps to the internet for OTHER players who might have those songs on their hard drive? I mean, a step pattern can’t take up that much space on the net, and that sort of idea might actually get the community interested again. Further, while it’s great that I can create my own character, it’s NOT great that I can’t create a character that looks all that different from other created characters. Six hairstyles? Four skin colors? A bunch of variations on thirty or so different outfits? That’s it? I’m not saying we need something on the level of Smackdown versus Raw, but I AM saying that the Karaoke Revolution games have featured competent character creation features for a few years now, and the fact that DDR fans can’t get the same concession is pretty sad.

Instead, we have what amounts to the exact same thing we’ve been playing for years now, not just in the franchise, but in THIS SPECIFIC VERSION OF THE FRANCHISE, and it’s becoming old. It’s not even like the different multiplayer modes are in any way an improvement to the game; most of them are only minor variations on the “dance better than your opponent to win” theme, and while Attack and Bomb rules make multiplayer games a little more hectic, they don’t change the overall experience in any meaningful way. Oh, and it also bears noting, for those who happen to stop into the store to look at the game up-close, that of the six songs listed on the back of the box, a whole one is included in the game. ONE. I understand that games can occasionally have their contents changed at the last moment, but printing the labels with the incorrect songs anyway and then ALLOWING THEM TO GO TO MARKET THAT WAY is lazy and, I’m sorry, if I’m promised the Eurythmics and Daft Punk and I get Moby and Miami Sound Machine, well, enjoy your failing marks in the Miscellaneous category, guys.

Realistically speaking, Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 is more or less a release that was created, not with the intention of selling the product to new and disenchanted players, but with the intention of selling the same game to the same people who have been buying the games for years now: the hardcore fans. Viewed from that perspective, DDRU3 isn’t bad; it looks, sounds, and plays exactly as you would expect it to, offers enough features to be worth playing a few times, features enough single and multiplayer modes to keep you playing for a while, and features Xbox Live play for those who want to compete with others to be the best. That said, there’s absolutely nothing in this game to convince you to pick it up if you’re tired of the series; aside from DJ Mode, there’s virtually nothing to distinguish this game from the other two DDRU games on the 360, and with the fact that the box is advertising songs that aren’t in the game, and the fact that there are no new or significant features in the game, there’s no reason to be interested in this. DDRU3 is pretty much a product for the fans, plain and simple, and if you count yourself among the fans, you’ll have reason to pick it up, but if you don’t, you won’t. That’s the beginning and the end of it.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: WORTHLESS

Final Score: DECENT.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Dance Dance Revolution Universe 3 is pretty much the definition of a “fan only” product; everything it does has been done in other games in the series, and the only reason for someone to be excited about it is if they want to dance to more songs. It still looks, sounds, and plays just fine, there are plenty of single and multiplayer modes to have fun with, and the overall experience is quite solid and well assembled overall, and fans will have lots of fun with it. Everyone else, whether they be new players or players who’ve become tired of the franchise, will have little to be excited about, however; the core game is the exact same thing it’s always been, there are no significant new features to make the game worth owning if you’re not already a fan, and the game obviously isn’t a priority for Konami considering it’s printing with songs advertised on the box that aren’t in the game. Taken as a product for the fans, DDRU3 is worth owning if you count yourself as one, but for everyone else, it’s a rental at best and utterly uninteresting at worst.

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