|Viva la Dance Dance Revolution|
If you've set foot in a decent amusement arcade in the last few weeks or years, there's a good chance that you've encountered a certain games machine that probably fascinated and baffled you in equal measure. No, we're not talking about the change machine that refuses every note you put in it no matter how much you flatten them, but the one where groups of people gather to step around on an oversized control pad in time to blaring music. You know: the dancing one.
It's very probable that you occasionally stopped to watch someone playing Konami's Dancing Stage (more commonly known by fans by its Japanese moniker, Dance Dance Revolution). Conflicting thoughts probably entered your brain as you watched decidedly average looking blokes and girls busting mad moves in front of an invisible crowd before asking yourself the unanswerable: why? Why go to the trouble of dancing to a preset routine? Why exert yourself so much for a mere video game? Why pay for the privilege? And most importantly, why run the risk of having a bunch of people like you staring while internally questioning the point of your actions?
"It's the best party game ever created. It's so much fun, no other game can cope with it," says 'Colonelboeller' of Germany. That's why.
Even if you've only had the briefest of glances, the basic concept of Dancing Stage should be immediately obvious: listen to the music, watch the arrows shoot up the screen and step on the corresponding arrow at your feet. But how can such a simple concept generate comments as bold as the above? Well, if you think about it for a second, the answer isn't so hard. Consider the likes of Scrabble, Twister and Tetris; three maddeningly simple games that are still played to this day because of their near-infinite entertainment potential. Dancing Stage has this potential: fact. You may scoff, but take a look at the evidence.
Unlimited growth and self-improvement
Once you've brought yourself to actually have a go and you've had a few stabs at the extraordinarily basic, er, Basic level, the only way you can possibly go is up. The biggest initial challenge a Dancing Stage novice encounters is overcoming the self-consciousness that causes most first-timers to coyly jab away at the directions, giggle nervously and not realise that they're dancing away to a rhythm that only exists in the minds of contemporary interpretational dancers. That feeling does pass, although some are quicker to relax than others, and it's at that point that you'll be in the right frame of mind to concentrate on doing well rather than looking sane.
The game wholeheartedly encourages improvement and progression. Every tune has four selectable difficulty levels - the harder the level, the more steps you must perform for the same song. In theory, then, you can start on one song and gradually make it tougher as your aptitude increases. However, this does not mean that every tune is equally difficult; the game also takes the tempo into consideration and the outcome of this is the foot difficulty rating. Every single song plays for 90 seconds, meaning faster songs naturally require you to perform many more steps in the same time period as a slower song due to the increased speed. In addition, you'll need to perform combos of precise steps in order not to 'Fail' the song, a simple yet clever step that prevents you from getting ahead of yourself by making accuracy an absolute necessity for successful progression.
"I can always improve - until I can full combo every song on Maniac Double without breaking a sweat, which isn't going to happen for a while..." - 'Tasogare', England
The beauty of it all is that you can take it all at your own pace, because there's no 'end' as such; you just do your 3 songs, see how you ranked (from AAA to E) and try and improve next time. The possibilities are endless; able to finish the fastest song on the hardest setting? Try doing it with two pads instead of one (known as Double). Done that? How about having the arrows only appear or disappear halfway up the screen? Done that? How about having no arrows on display at all and flipping them all in the opposite direction? Done that? Don't lie...
You're not even restricted by how you can play the game; as long as you step on the arrows correctly, the way you do it can become an art in itself. It's now reached a point where self-styled 'freestyle' dancers incorporate moves such as knee drops, hand plants and even breakdance-style leg spin manoeuvres into their routines - all while still hitting the correct arrows in sequence. Take a look at some seriously extreme freestylers in competition by viewing the videos contained
The point is that you can enjoy the game in any way you see fit, whether it be the occasional quick dance for a quick laugh or performing a perfect 300 step routine from memory. In other words, the casual players are just as welcome as the hardcore for a truly universally appealing experience.
Play it at home
Thankfully, people who don't have access to arcades with any DS/DDR machines can now purchase a dance mat for their PS one or PS2, plus a copy of Dancing Stage Euromix, Dancing Stage Disney Mix (both by Konami), or even Disney Interactive's Jungle Book Groove Party. As a substitute for an arcade machine worth thousands of pounds, the mats do an extremely good job of recreating the experience at home for a fraction of the price. The game conversions are arcade perfect, bar a few differences with the song selection due to various licensing issues.
"I've been playing for four months, mostly at home on the mat, which is nothing like the arcade machine for the solidity of the pad. I keep thinking about buying my own arcade machine!" - 'Uphoriak', England
Purists argue that the slippy nature of the home mats prevents players from becoming as good as they can with the solid metal constructs in the arcade, and to a degree (i.e. if you want to perform slightly more advance routines) they're quite right. However, a number of creative sorts have already modified their pads to combat this problem and are more than happy to share their methods with you on theIt's hard to think of another game where players have strived so hard, for want of a better phrase, to keep it real.
Meet new people
A perk of both the arcade and home versions is how many people are brought together through their mutual love of the game. Visit any major arcade at the weekend and you'll be hard pressed to find a machine that you can jump on straight away; people actively spend their spare time meeting up with fellow players, discussing techniques and practising alongside them for hours on end. They've even introduced a form of Dancing Stage 'etiquette'. For example, people waiting for a turn must leave their money on the machine, quite often to the chagrin of those not in the know who've been queuing for a turn for ages, only to be cruelly turned away because they haven't followed the rules. Discover the bizarre truth
"At the earlier stage, when I was learning, I just played it non stop, so God knows how much I have spent. Probably around £2,000 already." - 'MadKAZ', New Zealand
Not everyone can afford to socialise in arcades, however, and the home experience is rapidly becoming an equally popular pastime, whether it's groups of kids at parties, or a bunch of beered-up lads and lasses seeking a fun post-pub experience. With everything already paid for, everyone's quite happy to play at their own rate without fear of ridicule and failure. The other beauty of a dance mat at home is that it can also be utilised for any other PlayStation game, often resulting in surreal bouts of Street Fighter where people leap around trying to execute fireballs, or Track and Field where it's actually necessary to run on the buttons for a fully authentic 100m dash. Which brings us quite neatly onto...
"Yes, of course it's kept me healthy. When I started playing DDR I looked like...let me say it straight: I was fat." - '[MJX.]', Germany
A game that requires so much physical effort can only lead to good things - whoever said that games are bad for you? With the home versions of the Konami efforts, a United Sports Club sponsored fitness mode has been incorporated, allowing you set your current weight, the number of calories you wish to lose or the amount of time you wish to exercise for, and how strenuous you wish the routines to be. It's a great way for anyone wishing to keep fit who's turned off by the generally boring and repetitive nature of 'proper' exercise.
It's also a great way to get the older audience interested in the experience who may be dissuaded by the challenge associated with its game status, especially because it's impossible to fail in this mode. Introduce the mat as an exercise tool while showing them the fun they can have with it and you can almost guarantee that they'll look at in a different light (and that's something we can personally vouch for).
These four reasons alone should hopefully have convinced you that there's more to that strange noisy machine than meets your cynical eye. More importantly, we hope that it's actually given you the impetus to pluck up some courage and give it a go instead of being the observer for once. We've barely scratched the surface here, but that was the whole point; we've told you enough to allow you to decide whether you're interested enough to learn more and if you are, we're more than happy to point you in the right direction.
We'll leave the final word to Jason Ko, webmaster of DDR Freak, one of the biggest online DS/DDR communities on the 'net:
"For people who still haven't played yet, try it out - it might begin a dance revolution in your own life."
For the official Konami Dancing Stage Euromix Site, click
For info on every facet of Dancing Stage/DDR imaginable and then some, pay a visit toor
Thanks to Jason Ko and everyone on the DDR Freak forums that helped make this feature possible.