There are two ways to get self-concious college boys to dance. The first way is to get them drunk. This method is evidenced every weekend in the many bars in the College Park area. The second way is to disguise the dancing as a game. This method is evidenced by Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) for the Sony Playstation.
DDR’s simple gameplay resembles a sped up, musical game of "Simon Says". To play, you stand in the middle of a 3-foot square pad (included with the game) which has pressure-sensitive buttons pointing in the four cardinal directions. As arrows representing these buttons scroll to the top of screen, you tap your foot to the pad in the appropriate direction in time with the music. You’re graded on how closely the tap of your foot matches the beat of the music. That’s all there is to it. No complex puzzles. No full-screen video cut scenes. Just refreshingly simple, addictive gameplay.
When I saw this game for sale at the local Best Buy, I was a little wary. Even though I had fun fumbling through a couple of songs on the arcade version, I wasn’t sure the game was made for an uncoordinated, unathletic, non-dancer like myself. I was unimpressed by the other, more traditional games they had on the shelves, though, so I decided to be brave and give this odd dancing game a try.
When I brought the game home, I started in on the easy songs, mechanically stepping on the buttons as the arrows hit the top of the screen. These easier songs were helpful for learning the basics of the game, but they weren’t very fun. I felt like a robot, mindlessly responding to the simple inputs on the screen. It wasn’t until I got a little better and tried the harder songs that I really started to enjoy the game. Then I was able to really get into the groove of the music and allow myself to get lost in the rhythm of it all. Pretty soon, I found my feet almost automatically responding to the blur of arrows that scrolled up the screen. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually dancing and having fun doing it!
Graphically, DDR treats the player to an explosive, light show on the screen that can only be described as ‘a trip’. The backgrounds are generally a mess of bright spiraling colors and random images that barely go with the songs. In front of these backgrounds dances one of eight characters, all of which seem designed to look ‘cool’ to the games targeted teen audience (Think digital Backstreet Boys). All this amounts to a flashy distraction that the player quickly learns to tune out in favor of watching the stream of arrows.
This game isn’t about graphics though, it’s all about the music. DDR’s selection of 27 songs varies greatly from pop and rock tunes to ska and hip-hop jams, so no matter your musical taste, there are bound to be a few songs that you’ll like. Despite being from mostly unknown groups (sorry, these aren’t songs you’re likely to hear on DC101) the songs are all well composed and produced and most of them are very catchy. The game doesn’t force you to listen to songs you don’t like either; you can pick and choose which tunes to dance to each time you play, or leave it up to chance.
All these great songs would just amount to a glorified music CD without the Konami dance pad controller. For the most part the pad does its job well, responding quickly and accurately to your movements. My only real complaint is that pad doesn’t stick well to the floor, causing it to slip quite a bit during the more involved dances. This can lead to some frustration when the player misses steps they should have hit simply because the pad shifted out from under them. This problem can be overcome with practice (or liberal amounts of duct tape), but it is still annoying.
DDR is fun to play by your self, but part of what makes it so special is that it can be a very social experience too. If you buy two dance pads, there is a basic two-player competition available, but even with one pad there’s lots of fun to be had getting a bunch of your friends together and making them fumble through some songs. It’s much more interesting to watch people attempt to dance to DDR than to watch anything that shows up on the screen of most games. Add some pizza and sugary drinks, and you’ve got the perfect party game.
Many readers I’m sure are scoffing loudly at this game by now, and hurriedly looking for another cookie-cutter platformer or shoot-em-up to play. Those players brave enough to try something different, however, will find an addictive, fun, and above all different gaming experience in DDR. Even if you don’t, it’s still a great excuse for you and your friends to make fools of yourselves attempting to dance…
…and you don’t even have to be drunk to enjoy it.