3/2 Revolting Gyrations

(screens from gamershell.com.)

     You've seen it in the arcades. You've read about it in the weblogs of tubby otaku who use it as a social outlet. You've had to push a few dozen mixes of it to the side in a futile search for old SNK Playstation games.(Well, that's me, anyway.) It's Dance Dance Revolution, and now I've been exposed to it.

     The best description I can think of for the unitiated is that it's karaoke for your feet. You pick a song and flail around on a big directional pad as the scrolling arrows line up with the static arrows at the top of the screen, while trying to ignore the insane images flashing before your eyes. Do good and your little life bar thingy goes up and the announcer sounds like a rabid dog. Screw up and your life bar shrinks. If it gets too low, the game proceeds to slide in subliminal "DANGER" messages and film clips of a freaking SHARK ATTACK.

     It's hard to say anything particularly disparaging about the gameplay itself. DDR may be the first game I've encountered where your actual skill and rhythm are the only things that count. Unless you set your side to beginner's level after daring the other player to crank his challenge all the way up. When you screw up in that game, you know it's because you weren't fast enough or mistepped or whatever. My number one complaint about the format itself is putting all the arrows in a row. I get front and back steps mixed up a lot. Of course, I'm not particularly good at the game or anything. I have weak ankles and hate to sweat, so even if I get into the swing of a song before the last three steps, I wind up screwing up.

     I guess the real appeal of DDR lies in the atmosphere it gives off. Even if they stick the machine in the corner behind the sit-down Galaga machine, its pulsing lights and sugar rush music make it into the center of the bloody room. At the college game room I first played at, it was the only machine in full working order that wasn't Maximum Force. Or whatever they call that one. It also features the crappiest Area 51 cabinet ever created. Seriously, this thing consists of a plain white cabinet with the screen, and a white table a couple feet in front of it with a pair of Lethal Enforcers pistols. I think it's a bootleg. Between that, electronic darts, air hockey and a Tekken Tag machine that devours change, it's hard to ignore the Mountain Dew-colored machine shining its brights in your face while playing Happy Happy Hardcore Hits. Today, I was at the arcade with a friend, and some random guy came up. Within ten minutes they were talking casually. Within fifteen they were unsettingly happy and sweaty. My theory is that there's a field of about a 30 foot radius that the machine generates to eliminate shame and social inhibition. Kind of like alcohol, or a naked person in the middle of a crowded street, it's a loud, bright, happy ice breaker. Supporting evidence: some burnt-out looking guy plugged in his PS2 and hopped around dancing and fake-conducting to the strains of Final Fantasy Anthology on CD playback mode. Tchaikosvky/Chocobo Boy.

     Earlier they were showing Cowboy Bebop DVDs on that PS2. Which leads me to make the observation whoever did sound design on the menus needs to be shot for having the looping title theme reset right as it gets to the good part of Tank!.

     I loathe the announcer. He sounds even more like a Japanese-American speed addict than the guy from Real Bout Fatal Fury Special. I suppose the same could be said of the weird-ass voiceover from Street Fighter Alpha 3. But whereas they sounded like they were struggling with English like a marlin on a line, the DDR DJ sounds like an oddly judgemental mental patient as he sobs "THANK YOU... FOR SHOWING ME THE ULTIMATE DANCE!" The last thing I need to hear while concentrating on slowly scrolling arrows while sending signals from my brain to my feet and ignoring the dancing unicorns on the LSD-trip background is "Hey, is that a UFO?"

     The machine has a pretty diverse selection of music, ranging from about a hundred J/A/K-pop songs to bagpipes. Of course, people tend to settle on the same three or four songs and play them endlessly hoping for a high score. There's also a handful of Konami game theme remixes (Konami made this game. And Yu-Gi-Oh. I grudgingly admit my admiration for Konami's ability to churn out marketable crap just as well as come up with original properties.) There's also a Tokimeki Memorial-themed mix out in Japan that I'm morbidly interested in, but know we'll never see.

     This is a good case study on how to cash in fast and efficiently. There are like 7 (probably more) mixes of this game out now, as well as some random others like a Disney mix. Let me stress that the game hasn't been around all that long, so we're looking at nearly tri-monthly releases here. It's so simple, I bet Electronic Arts is wishing they'd come up with the rhythm genre first. Remix some popular old songs, add some new pop songs, toss in some random original tunes. Anyone with a "Best of [Decade]" collection in their music library would realize they have an almost unlimited supply of material to tap. We have Beethoven remixes here, people. This is a cash cow we have here. A COW made of fucking CASH.

     Nobody said a cow couldn't be a little fun, though.



Konami wants to know how much funk is in your Japanophile trunk.

Even the Power Rangers can shake a tail feather. Or something.

DDR Max for the PS2. Practice your shameless public displays.