Review by Wyrdwad
"I'm bitter, but I still have to admit that this is a good game."
Konami keeps pumping out Dance Dance Revolution games like bunnies, and I anxiously gobble up every one that comes my way. It's one of the perks of living in Japan, you know.
Still, I think Konami has managed to break their own record this time around. Less than six months after the release of DDRMAX, and over a month before the PlayStation 2 release of it, all of the DDRMAX machines around the Sendai area have been replaced by DDRMAX 2 machines, and life goes on unabated.
And silly innocent me knew nothing of this, until I wandered into a game center with the intention of playing a quick game of DDRMAX before catching the train back home. Almost missed the last train and got stranded in Sendai that night, I did.
Now, as anyone who'd read through my previous review of DDRMAX would know, I absolutely loved that game. Best game in the DDR series, barnone. When I saw that it had a sequel, I was naturally very excited, but also filled with a certain degree of inexplicable dread. ''No,'' I thought, ''it's too soon... can it really be good?''
As it happens, my gut instinct was right on the mark with this one.
Now, in case you've been ''on Mars, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears,'' and have thus never heard of Dance Dance Revolution (or don't know anything about it), it basically works like this: You choose a song. The song begins playing. As the song plays, arrows scroll up the screen. As they near the top, they'll pass through little arrow markers. Every time an arrow hits one of these markers, you have to step on the corresponding arrow on the dance platform. If two arrows hit their markers at once, you'll have to jump to successfully hit both arrows on the dance platform. And after each arrow, you receive a grade (perfect, great, good, boo, miss) indicating how well you did. Continue to get greats and perfects, and your combo will rise, and the announcer will become creepily aroused. Continue to get boos and misses, and you'll be booed off-stage, and eventually get a game over. Simple, but effective, and very very addicting.
The first DDRMAX (a.k.a. Dance Dance Revolution 6th Mix) managed to add a new innovation to this formula, in the form of ''freeze arrows''. Unlike normal arrows, freeze arrows had trails behind them, and required that you not only step on the corresponding arrow on the dance platform, but also hold your foot there until the trail is gone. If you successfully cleared the freeze, you'd receive an ''OK''. If you didn't, you'd receive an ''N.G.'', which hurts you even more than a ''miss'' on a normal arrow. Again, a very simple innovation, taken straight from other Konami BeMani games (like Para Para Paradise), but it added a whole new dimension to the game, and worked remarkably well in practice.
DDRMAX also included an interesting innovation in the form of a ''song radar'' display. Rather than giving an arbitrary numerical difficulty rating for each song, DDRMAX displayed a pentagonal graph for each song. Each point in this pentagonal graph represented a certain kind of step (jumps, freeze arrows, half-beats, quarter-beats, and regular beats), and the result was an extremely informative, if initially confusing, indication of exactly what you were in for.
The real charm of DDRMAX, though, was its music, and the steps which accompanied its music. The soundtrack was leaps and bounds better than that of 5th Mix, and the steps for each song were among the best seen in any DDR release ever.
Well, DDRMAX 2 is almost exactly what you'd expect from a sequel. The interface remains mostly unchanged from the original DDRMAX (which had an interface greatly inspired by 5th Mix's), though it now contains both the song radar AND the good ol' arbitrary numerical ratings. And the song selection of DDRMAX 2 contains a sizeable chunk of new tracks, as well as the entirety (almost) of DDRMAX and a near-thorough rehashing of all of the Konami original songs from 1st through 5th Mix. So really, even if the new songs don't appeal to you, there's still more than enough to choose from here.
And it's a good thing, too! The new songs in DDRMAX 2 are excellent... at first glance. After all, with a soundtrack taken from the DanceMania ''80s'', ''Speed'', and ''Fantasia'' series, the music is an absolute joy to listen to, and the fact that you can dance to these wonderful songs is, initially, very exciting. We're talking songs like Duran Duran's ''The Reflex'', dance remixes of ''It's Raining Men'' and ''It Only Takes a Minute'', Captain Jack's ''Little Boy'', BeForU's best song ever (titled ''Break Out!''), new tracks from Jenny Rom and Judy Crystal (Jenny Rom's ''Waka Laka'' being one of the catchiest DDR songs in recent memory!), an inexplicably easier sequel to DDRMAX's famed super-fast song ''MAX 300'' entitled ''Maxx Unlimited'', the amusingly titled ''Whistle Song (Blow My Whistle B*tch)'', and many many more.
The steps to these new songs, however, fare less well, and seem like a throwback to the awful steps from 5th Mix. Though some songs have pretty cool steps, and most every song has great steps in Light and Standard modes (''easy'' and ''normal'', for the layman), the Heavy (''difficult'') mode steps in this game are, with a few exceptions, pretty terrible. For some inexplicable reason, whoever designed these steps seemed to really enjoy sadistically placing jumps amidst long strings of half-beat steps. Almost every song has at least one incidence of this pattern, and many songs use it regularly. As a result, these steps are so exhausting that someone's bound to get seriously hurt on them eventually. Sure, they're challenging, but they're also not particularly fun. At all. If you're really good at DDR, these steps are sure to impress an audience, but at the cost of your own health, and without giving you that same rush of joy that DDRMAX's songs delivered (unless by ''joy'' you mean ''sweat and bile''). If you're not super-great at DDR, but you're good enough to be playing on Heavy mode, these steps will be a serious turn-off for you, and may dissuade you from this game entirely. It's only if you're not quite good enough to dance Heavy mode steps that you'll really enjoy the new songs, as they truly do have fantastic Light and Standard mode steps.
Again, though, that's not to say that every new song in DDRMAX 2 has terrible steps. There are certainly good ones in the bunch. And even if there's nothing whatsoever to your liking among the new songs, DDRMAX 2 still offers you all the wonderful songs from the original DDRMAX, as well as a horde of old Konami original songs (the original ''Afronova'' from 3rd Mix currently seems to be one of the most popular songs to dance around here, oddly enough).
I am, however, very bitter about one thing in particular. Before DDRMAX 2 was released, I discovered a wonderful song in the original DDRMAX called ''Follow Me'', which had truly fantastic Heavy mode steps that were extremely difficult, but also extremely fun. It became my staple song, and the one I'd use both to end my day of dancing and to impress any crowds that may have gathered nearby. Well, when DDRMAX 2 was released, I naturally danced only the new songs from it for a while, trying to get a feel for what the game had to offer. When I was beginning to get discouraged by the rather poor steps, though, I decided to move on to DDRMAX songs in order to end on a high note. And the first song I decided to dance was ''Follow Me''.
But, for some inexplicable reason, ''Follow Me'' is missing from DDRMAX 2.
Yes, as far as I can tell, the entire soundtrack to DDRMAX is included in DDRMAX 2... except for ''Follow Me''. My staple song.
Luckily for Konami, they didn't touch ''Cow Girl'', my absolute favorite DDR song ever. If they had, I'd've had to bust a few heads. Nonetheless, discovering that ''Follow Me'' wasn't there... really really peeved me. It also brought up the question: what OTHER songs are missing from DDRMAX 2? Is there another DDRMAX song whose absence I just didn't notice? What Konami originals are missing in action? Come to think of it, I don't believe ''Afronova Primeval'' is there, even though its much older counterpart is. This act of carelessness on Konami's part, while most likely explainable (perhaps comparable to the exclusion of three songs from the PlayStation release of 3rd Mix due to licensing issues), causes an unhealthy amount of doubt and distrust in my mind, and does a great disservice to what I must reluctantly admit is a very good arcade game.
My other gripe about this game is merely its timing. I've had less than six months to get myself acquainted with DDRMAX, and now DDRMAX 2 has replaced it. Right when I was finally starting to get really really good at DDRMAX, too! And sure, I can still practice DDRMAX songs even now, but I'll always have that temptation, that nagging feeling that there are new songs I need to get good at. I'll always feel like all the pros will be looking at me funny, and laughing at me behind my back, when I dance really hard songs from DDRMAX and ignore really hard songs from DDRMAX 2. And I have to wait until May 16th before I can play DDRMAX in the sanctity of my own apartment, too, which also means I have to wait until May 16th to play ''Follow Me'' again! It just seems... unfair. Why, Konami, why? Why did you have to release this game so quickly? Why couldn't I have just had a little more time to get acquainted with its prequel?
DDRMAX broke new ground when it was released. It breathed new life into an old series, and, in my opinion, pulled it out of a small rut it had dug itself into. The series' popularity was declining, and it was only a matter of time before it would die out completely. DDRMAX changed all of that by adding a new kind of step, a new way of rating the songs, and an unbeatable soundtrack with fantastic steps, complete with the fastest and most difficult song ever to appear in a DDR game (''MAX 300''). DDRMAX singlehandedly saved the Dance Dance Revolution series from very very gradual death, keeping it afloat in a Simpsons-like state of immortality.
DDRMAX 2 certainly does nothing to counteract these improvements, but it also does nothing to add to them. DDRMAX 2 is, quite simply, DDRMAX with new songs. It's still undeniably a great game, and one that any DDR fan can easily get his/her yen's worth out of, but it just doesn't have that same sort of wondrous newness, of phoenix-like renewal, that the original DDRMAX had. It also has more flaws on the whole, merely because its new songs have such disappointing Heavy-mode steps. If the new songs themselves were the only things to be included in the score, I'd give this game a 6. On the whole, this game can possibly be 10-quality (since it does contain virtually all of DDRMAX, after all). So, I averaged the two out, and came up with a final score of 8. It's great because of what it does again, not because of anything new it has to offer.
As an aside, though, it is my opinion that the inevitable home release of DDRMAX 2, whenever it may be created, will most likely be much less wonderful. If, like all of the previous DDR home versions, it includes only the newest songs, perhaps with a couple bonus tracks taken from the inevitable DDRMAX 3, it will be a sorely disappointing game. But since the DDR series is now moving to PS2, it's quite possible that we may see a DDRMAX 2 containing everything in the arcade version. And if so, it will be a wonderful thing indeed.
But I'm still bitter.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/31/02, Updated 09/03/02
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