Review: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (PS2)

Game: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme
System: Sony Playstation 2
Genre: Music/Rhythm
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment of Japan
Publisher: Konami of America
Release: 9/22/04

Dance Dance Revolution Extreme is quite possibly the most unique entry into my favorite video game series to date. All across the online world, the game literally ran through the gauntlet of user speculation. From the time it was announced, up until its official ship date, the game received THOUSANDS of complements, complaints, threats, misinterpretations, whines, and anything else people could talk about. Despite never playing the game to begin with.

And now the game is officially out. All the songs have been revealed. All the game modes have been gone through with a fine-toothed comb. Well, that statement is mostly a lie, as many in the online DDR community played the game for upwards of ten minutes, harped on all the game’s faults, and proclaimed it crap because of what they saw on paper.

I, on the other hand, waited until I could play the game MYSELF before passing judgment. After all, the same people complained exactly like this when EVERY US DDR game was released, no matter WHAT was in it. So I went into the game with a day’s worth of other people complaining online behind me. What do I think of it now that I played it myself? Read on, and find out!


MODES

As always, DDR never had a story attached to it, so we’ll go by the different gameplay modes in this category.

First up, as always, is the traditional Game Mode. You begin by choosing Single (one player, one pad), Versus (Two players, two pads), or Doubles (one player, two pads) Mode. Then you select a character, and after that, you can pick and choose any song you’d like to play. (You get three songs per play-through, although you can change it in the Options menu.) Like the last mix, you can choose to play on up to four different difficulties: Beginner, Light, Standard, and Heavy. There are a select few songs that contain “Challenge” step patterns, and a few others that “only” contain Challenge step patterns. Extra stages have returned, however, the new requirement to play them is to obtain a AA or higher on an 8-Foot song or higher song.

The scoring system has changed a bit from last game. All scores are now initially based on a score of 7,000,000 maximum, with an additional 3,000,000 possible through bonuses. It now officially doesn’t affect your score if you mess up at the beginning or the end of the song you play. You’ll lose the same amount of points at any point in the song. I have to admit that the score changing takes some getting used to, but it’s not that big of a deal. The only thing that seems interesting to me is the fact that there is a place value in the hundred-millionth spot that is NEVER used with the new system.

Letter-grade scoring has also been modified somewhat. Don’t worry, all the letter grades themselves are back, from E grades to AAA grades. However, in order to get an AA or higher, you’ll need to (1) obtain a full combo, AND (2) obtain 92% Perfects. Many have expressed their utter outrage that the scoring system would change to make it harder to obtain the higher grades. However, this grading system does have a bit of merit. It FORCES you to improve yourself in order to get the better grades. Also, it seems that the timing windows for Perfects, Greats, etc. have been SLIGHTLY adjusted from MAX2 to allow for looser judgment. It isn’t much, and it might not even be noticeable to some, but it’s a good trade-off in the long run.

Of course most of you are looking to see whether the “song courses” have returned or not, right? Well, worry not. Both Nonstop and Challenge Mode have returned from past US mixes. Nonstop Mode is back from MAX2, albeit in a reduced format. Those who remember the Nonstop Modes from Dance Dance Revolution and DDR Konamix will feel right at home. You get a bunch of four-song courses, and can choose between Normal and Difficult settings for them. You play the four songs…well, nonstop with a normal dance gauge, and lose when it depletes. The Challenge Mode (renamed from DDRMAX’s “Oni Mode”), however, is a LOT tougher. Just like in MAX, you are given four “lives”. If you get a Good or below, you’ll lose a life. Lose all four, and its automatic game over. The good news is that there are LOTS of new courses to choose from (rather than only six), many of them with consistent themes. All and all, courses are VERY well done this time around. And you can create your own courses with the “Order” sections in both. And the more courses you complete, the more courses will be available to you the next time you play.

Next up, we come to a MAJOR addition to the game that had not been seen in any previous incarnation of DDR before: EyeToy support. Yes, for the first time, DDR supports two different hardware add-ons in a mode aptly named “Party Mode”. There are many mini-games you can try in Party Mode, some of which involving DDR gameplay, and some of which that don’t. First, there’s “Watch Me Dance” mode, which is exactly as it sounds. The EyeToy camera shows you dancing. Then there’s “Hands And Feet” mode, which contains something that could very well revolutionize the game as we know it: using BOTH your feet AND hands to play the game. Along with the four arrows, there are two “hand” icons along side them. Your job is to stomp on the arrows, and wave your hands over the icons when prompted to. It takes some getting used to, but it actually is pretty fun. The downside of this is the fact there is only one step pattern available, unless you go into options mode to change it. I had no idea that there were harder step patterns to “Hands & Feet” until other players pointed it out to me. But still, that’s better than nothing. Then there’s “Clean The Screen” mode, which has you flailing your arms wildly to clear the screen of various debris (like bubbles and foliage) in order for you to see the arrows properly. I didn’t spend too much time here, but it was definitely a new twist to how I played, and it messed me up on more than one occasion.

Other mini-games that involve the EyeToy are “Coconut Panic”, which has you stomping on the left and right arrows to shake trees and using your hands to catch the hundreds of coconuts that fall out, and “Magic Ball”, which is an EyeToy-only Breakout-like game. Then there are some mini-games that don’t involve the EyeToy, like the track-and-field game “Hyper Dash”, and the animal feeding “Feeding Frenzy”. These games are pretty fun on the whole, but kinda get a bit stale unless you have a friend to play them with. In any case, the EyeToy games are a great addition, and I would definitely LOVE to see more games involving the dance pad / EyeToy combo in the future.

Then we come to another new American addition, “Mission Mode”. If you’ve played the “Challenge Mode” from the XBox’s DDR Ultramix, you have a general idea of how this mode works. You are given a set of missions, and you’ll have to clear them under certain conditions. However, be prepared for an INCREDIBLE experience, as this mode is the most complete I’ve ever seen it. There are 100 total missions, and they range from very easy, to NIGHTMARISHLY tough. I swear, some of these missions weren’t designed by humans, especially the one where you must complete Frozen Ray on Reverse scroll, Dark, mixed up arrow placement, and random speed up and slowdowns. I fully admit to only completing 79 missions at the time of this review. I’m good, but DAMN, I’m not THAT good!

Other modes present in the previous games return as well. Workout Mode is back, but works a little differently. Once you set up your workout settings, you’ll need to go into Game Mode instead. You still get to see the calories you burned, just in between songs instead of during them. Then we have Edit Mode, which remains virtually unchanged. You still can create edits for your favorite songs, and import edits from previous games into this one for songs that can support them. Training Mode also returns, which allows you to practice your favorite songs, but the option to slow down the song you’re practicing is missing! This was by far the best feature of Training Mode as well, which kinda peeved me off. But all other options are there. And finally, Endless Mode is back after unlocking all the songs, and allows you to play random songs forever…or at least until you pass out.

(Whew) That’s a LOT of stuff you can do here. Far more than the previous DDR games, that’s for sure. I was surprised I got through most everything in time for this review, and I usually don’t have that problem with DDR games! Lots of great stuff for you to take part in.

Modes: 8/10


GRAPHICS

Remember the graphics from MAX and MAX2? You know, the interface with the vertical song wheel, and the groove radar, and the way they looked virtually identical?

Well, it’s been completely been thrown out the window. The game has been given a brand new, sleek makeover.

The in-game menus have been updated to a brand new look that I REALLY like, especially considering what could have been. (Pre-alpha screens showed an interface looking like MAX2, except puke green in color. This is how Japan’s Extreme game looked as well.) Song selection has a new-looking song wheel, which is slightly reminiscent of the original Dance Dance Revolution game. It works exactly the same way, except the song selected is on the TOP, rather than the left of the screen. Although I will admit that selection in-game modifiers, as well as Nonstop/Challenge courses, is a little more cumbersome. You can only see one option/course at a time, making it harder for you to choose than the last game.

The HUD when you play, however…MAN, is it SLICK as hell! The bars that obscured the top and bottom of the screen are gone, allowing backgrounds and movies to be shown at full screen. The quality of the movies have also been increased, which is very nice, as it looks as though the game is FINALLY taking full advantage of the PS2 hardware. (Previous mixes simply replicated the JP arcade graphics, which run off of modified PS1 hardware.)

Music videos also return in this mix for songs like Move Your Feet and Only You, and they have been increased in quality as well. Not to mention that several of the videos are funny as hell. Of course we can’t leave talk of music videos without talking about the two exclusive videos to the two Silent Hill songs: You’re Not Here (SH3) and Your Rain (RAGE MIX (SH4). Both videos feature characters from their respective games, and are very well produced.

Dancing characters have returned from the previous mix, and have been upgraded from “hidden menu option” to “full game part” status once again. You’ll start with two brand new characters when you begin the game, but will have to unlock more as you progress. And none of the characters you unlock are new, either. Rather, they all appeared in the previous game as soon as you unlocked the Dancer Options. Although they do sport new costumes this time around, the selection still has been pretty scaled down. Plus, considering how advanced most of the background movies are, they really serve no purpose this time around. Considering there is no background story, all characters are simply window dressings that distract me from the song I’m playing.

Despite the many, many, MANY people claiming the interface is from hell, it is actually a very nice interface. It’s a breath of fresh air from the same damn interface being used for the last three years in ALL territories, and the good points do outweigh the bad points. It is a little harder to work with, but only in a few places.

Graphics: 8/10


SOUND

Now we come to the music, the cornerstone of any DDR mix. A bad song list in a DDR game WILL mean that it isn’t fun to play. So what’s my verdict on this particular song list?

The song list is good. VERY good. Exceeding my expectations in some areas, while being mildly disappointing in others.

You have 70 songs to choose from. 50 of them are brand new to the US territory, 7 are repeats from previous PS2 versions, and 13 are “upgrades” from the PS1 games (as its the first time they’ve appeared on the PS2 in the US). The giant song list also contains the most variation I’ve seen in a U.S. game. There’s a wide range of Trance, R&B, Synth, J-Pop, Disco, 80s Pop, Soul, and much more that doesn’t come to mind at the moment. I was quite surprised at the amount of variation in this mix.

The game has a total of 22 licensed tracks, the most ever included in US DDR mix. 9 came from various Japanese versions, such as “Don’t Clock Me”, “Wonderland (UKS) Mix”, and “Never Ending Story (Power Club Vocal Mix)”. Most of these tracks I downright LOVE, while others strike me with big “meh” feeling. But that’s to be expected, as personal tastes differ.

An additional 8 tracks brand new to DDR, with several of them being completely exclusive to the territory. Artists like 4 Strings and Darude return in this game with songs like Diving and Music (Bostik Radio Edit), which in my opinion are MUCH better than their previous DDR entries. New artists you’ll see will be Junior Senior with “Move Your Feet”, BT with “Simply Being Loved (Somnambulist)”, and…ugh…Village People with “Y.M.C.A”. Aside from the “obvious” one I could do without, I really enjoyed the new music. Not only that, but the new music came with an excellent set of steps to play with. I can honestly say that I have more fun playing Extreme licensed music than I did playing MAX2 licensed music.

The final five tracks are rather unique, as they have been dubbed the “Karaoke Revolution” crossovers. These five songs were originally remixed for the first KR game, but have since been RE-remixed with the same vocals for DDR. I must say that on the whole, these songs are…okay at best. There are some standouts, such as “Ladies Night” and “Like A Virgin”, and I’ve grown quite fond of “Bizarre Love Triangle”. But in each case, it sounds like Konami tried TOO hard to remix these songs. The end result is five songs where the music overpowers the lyrics more often than not. This is very evident in the covers of “Believe” and “Waiting For Tonight”.

Of course each DDR game comes equipped with its fair share of Konami Original music, and Extreme is no exception. There are 28 brand new tracks to the territory, including four brand new tracks never before seen in DDR. This portion of the KO list includes quite a few assorted tracks, with some that haven’t seen play in Japan for several years now, such as “Do Me (H.I.G.E.O. Mix)” and “Theme From Enter The Dragon (Notorious Mix)”. Japanese purists will be happy to know that “Firefly”, “Pink Rose”, and “Love Love Sugar” were included, while those cursing the XBox’ good fortune will be happy that “Can’t Stop Fallin’ In Love (Speed Mix)” and “Paranoia Eternal” finally debut on their US PS2s. And then there are my favorites, such as “321 Stars”, “A Stupid Barber”, “Jet World”, and the incredible MASTERPIECE known only as “A”. (PLAY “A” AND LOVE IT! PLAY IT NOW!) Us Americans can also rest comfortably knowing that we get two different songs in the “MAX” series this time out, with one completely brand new to the game, and one ported over from Japan.

Then we come to the 20 songs that can be considered “old” by us, and here lies my main gripes with the list. Now, don’t get me wrong, as I find many of the repeats to be good songs, and I enjoy playing them. However, it’s the fact that nearly HALF of these repeated songs are not available in the beginning of the game. Instead, they are hidden away as unlockables, and a rather large chunk of them at that. Now, I don’t mind having older songs to play on a newer interface. However, having most of them hidden away kinda takes away from the whole unlocking process. You’re happy you unlocked a “new” song, and yet you get an old one instead. Now, if the initial song list was larger, and contained more of these older songs by default, I would not be so vocal about this. I will say though, that none of the unlockable songs have appeared on previous PS2 mixes. So if you never played the PS1 games, these songs might be new to you.

To sum up, the song list is one of my favorite collections to date. 50 new songs is more than enough new material to satisfy even the hardened gaming purist, and I’m still glad I have access to some of my favorite older songs in retrospect. Excellent job overall.

Sound: 9/10


GAMEPLAY/CONTROL

Once again, DDR contains the same gameplay mechanics that have created quite a few generations of step fanatics. Simply stomp on four arrows in time to the music, and time your steps right as the scrolling arrows match the arrows at the top of the screen in order to achieve a good score. Nothing’s changed…unless you’re using the EyeToy. Then you’ll need to use your hands where appropriate.

For the most part, the controls are pretty responsive. Pad-wise, there’s no delay when stomping on an arrow and having it register on screen, which is a plus. EyeToy-wise, you’re going to need to be in a well-lit room in order for your hand movements to register correctly. For example, I found I played better during the day rather than the evening.

Now, despite the controls being pretty responsive, there is one fatal flaw in the control scheme that could effect the performance of MANY players: there is no option that allows you to turn the corner buttons OFF during gameplay if you’re using a dance pad. What this means is that depending on what pad you are using, if you accidentally step on one of the face buttons (X and O, for example), it will register as an arrow press for the arrow it corresponds to. Depending on how you play, this could SEVERELY impact your scoring, and your overall performance.

As for me, I did not have this problem much. I use a third-party metal pad that only contains two corner buttons, true, but I also have size 14 feet. I can count the times on ONE HAND where a corner button misstep hindered my score/combo/etc. However, the main people having this problem are those either using third-party pads with Triangle and Square activated as well, or those who went insane and purchased a $300 Cobalt Flux dance pad (which is a top of the line metal pad). It really all depends on someone’s situation as to how much trouble they have, but the fact is that it shouldn’t be an issue to BEGIN with.

Other little things I noticed were some subtle re-rating of certain song difficulties from previous Japanese versions. Don’t worry, the steps are the same in all cases. But the foot ratings (okay, they’re not feet anymore, it’s a force of habit) have been changed for unknown reasons. For example, Do Me used to be labeled a 3-6-9 on Light, Standard, and Heavy respectively. On this particular mix, it was changed to 5-7-8. I have no idea WHY some songs were changed this way, but it’s something that’s really not THAT bad in the long run. Especially since these songs never appeared in America before.

And despite the fatal flaw in the controls I described, the gameplay and controls aren’t TOO adversely affected. Believe it or not, you get used to it after a while.

Gameplay/Controls: 6/10


REPLAY VALUE

Hmmm…take one part highly addicting formula, add over four dozen new songs, revive a few old favorites, add over 30 combined song courses, with a dash of 100 missions, sprinkle in a few EyeToy mini-games, and slowly stir in 99% of the options we’ve see in previous PS2 versions. What do we end up getting?

Something that you’ll be playing for a very, very, VERY long time.

Again, this game has more options to take advantage of than any other music game on the US market. You have four difficulties per song on Single Mode, and three per song on Doubles. This isn’t even COUNTING the Hand & Feet difficulties, which apparently has more than one step pattern per song if you know where to look. Add to that the fact you can edit your own steps for any song, and there really is no limit to what you can do in the game.

And there is a LOT worth coming back to. Trust me.

Replay Value: 9/10


BALANCE

Its not often you find a game with such balance as DDR. And yet, Konami has managed to improve this balance for this particular game.

DDR Extreme can be picked up and played by any person on any skill level. The Beginner’s difficulty contains simple steps for every song, as well as an on-screen tutor who will perform the steps along with you. Those who are past this can start on Light, which contains easy step charts ranging from 1-6 in difficulty. Beyond that is Standard, which contains step patterns between 4-9. And still beyond THAT is Heavy, which contains the hard step patterns, ranging from 6-10. Of course some songs have Challenge steps as well, which are comparable to Heavy steps in some cases, slightly harder than others. This allows a slow, progressive way for players to get better.

What makes the balance in this game so interesting is the fact that this concept is carried over into other game modes as well. For example, when you first play the Nonstop and Challenge courses, you start out with three each, and each are pretty easy. But as you complete those courses, you’ll be able to unlock even more courses. And each course is more difficult than the last course. This allows a learning curve for the song courses that’s far less steep than what was seen in previous games. The same applies to Mission Mode. The first group of missions you see, most everyone can pass on their first attempt. But as you progress, the missions slowly become harder, and harder. Once again, the progressive learning curve comes into play. And its one of the best things going for this game.

Balance: 10/10


ORIGINALITY

When looking at a normal DDR mix, the originality must be searched for in order to appreciate it. After all, the gameplay has remained largely unchanged for its entire existence.

What’s original here is the work that’s gone into the new Party and Mission Modes. KCET managed to incorporate some imaginative stuff into this game. The EyeToy mini-games are perfect examples, as no one would have EVER thought to incorporate the use of two different pieces of hardware such as these in order to play a single game. The in-game missions also contain some interesting features, such as brand new song mods that can’t be accessed outside this mode. Imagine having all the guide arrows pasted together in one column, and having all four arrows scroll up in the same place. Or having to deal with playing a song with random speed changes. Or maybe having the guide arrows switch places, and REALLY screwing up your concentration.

But other than these additions, we’ve seen these modes before on the PS2 already. Only new things there is how these old modes are implemented.

Originality: 6/10


ADDICTIVENESS

As with most DDR games, I’m finding a LOT of stuff worth coming back for. Not only are the new songs top notch, but also the brand new step patterns are very well done. The song courses are enjoyable. The missions…well, I can’t stop giving props to the missions, now can I?

DDR runs off a simple formula. The combination of music and simple gameplay makes for a deadly threat to your free time and your energy. This hasn’t changed, and probably never will.

Addictiveness: 9/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Konami has gone way out of their way to please as many people as possible with this game. Beginners, experts, EyeToy owners, Trance fans, J-pop fans, R&B fans, Disco fans, fans of old material, fans of NEW material, workout buffs…there’s really something for everyone if you look hard enough. There’s even a dance pad bundle set on the shelves to help get new people into the game.

The only problem is that a small portion of the population will actually take the time to look at this game, considering music games are very low on the totem pole (damn Halo lovers). Mainly DDR fans will pick up this mix, while others will turn up their nose. Which is a shame, as this mix has a lot to look forward to.

Appeal Factor: 7/10


MISCELLANEOUS

Perhaps the biggest gripe I’ve seen people make about this game is the fact that it is called DDR Extreme. After all, there are several imported Japanese arcade mixes called DDR Extreme, and despite a few song similarities, the games are nearly nothing alike. There’s also a home version in Japan called DDR Extreme, which looks the same as the Japanese arcade game, and contains many of the same features. And these people are complaining that because our game looks differently and plays differently, our game should not named “Extreme”, if only to clear up confusion between the two territories. Of course, this raises an interesting question. Why DID Konami decide to call this game “Extreme” and not something entirely different?

Perhaps there’s another reason.

Just by looking at this game, and looking at the feature list, I see something more than I’ve seen in previous games. I see the game expanding in ways I’ve never thought possible in the form of the EyeToy. I see brand new, enjoyable songs. I see a list of challenges far more advanced than I ever came into contact before. It’s as if KCET has finally broken the traditional PS2 mix mold, and took this franchise to the…extreme?

Wow, that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Miscellaneous: 9/10