Review by CrossHanded

"Shamefully glitchy, broken, and poorly designed. Unworthy of the "DDR" name."

The DDR franchise has been around for awhile: nearly a decade already. We've come from simple versions on the PS1 to 60 frames per second standard on PS1 5th Mix to the newer versions which feature music videos and mainstream song licenses.

Through it all, the core of DDR is very simple: Arrows move up on the screen to music, players step on a dance pad to the arrows. Surely the Xbox 360 can handle that as well as a PS2 or even a PS1 can...? Not if its DDR Universe.

~Not a "real" DDR game~

The probable source of this game's problems is that it was not developed by or had any involvement with the Konami Japan offices that produce the game's main product line on the PS2 and Arcade. It was developed by the Konami Hawaii team which started with the PC, then ported the engine over to Xbox 1, then finally to the Xbox 360. DDR Universe was their final project, with the dev team getting the proverbial axe before the game even shipped. With their development philosophy, making the game run properly and true to the franchise was a secondary priority, and they instead focused their efforts on other things that don't really help the game play like motion capture, video backgrounds, dancers, unnecessary visual effects, and "quest" modes.

~I Can't see...!~

The extra visual efforts only serves to hinder and slow down the frame rate of the arrows - which are absolutely necessary for the player to be able to play the game. Choppy arrow scrolling is an eyesore and makes it harder to concentrate on timings, even for beginners. The most apparent example of the problem is when the dancer is randomly overlayed by some effect that resembles "predator" or "metal mario". When the metallic effect is happening, the arrows will instantly drop to sub 25 frames per second, the speed change itself being a major distraction. Since you can only turn off the dancers and videos completely and not these effects, you're left with a static ugly background picture if you want to play the game at an acceptable frame rate. Why did they add these "features" if you have to turn them off anyway to make it play correctly?

Another major graphical flaw is that this game is forced-letterboxed to be widescreen even on standard TV's. In all modes, arrows appear MUCH smaller than they do in any other version of DDR. In DDR, you need vertical space to be able to see which arrows must be hit next. In the PS2 and Arcade versions, this area has remained standard and consistent with 6 "beats" worth of arrows visible on-screen at 1x. In DDR Universe, particularly in Quest mode, they squash the viewable area down to about 70% of what it should be so that only 5 beats are visible! Its like being forced to play on SUDDEN, where the game hides the arrows from you till the last second. They did this why? To show a static character avatar picture which in NO WAY helps game play!

On top of that (literally) the grading indicator (PERFECT, GREAT, BOO) is proportionally much larger than it has been in any other version of the game, and thus blocks a bigger portion of the arrow pattern that the player needs to see. It is much harder to read the arrow patterns in this version of the game than in the PS1/PS2/Arcade versions. This makes it perhaps the worst version of the game for new players to learn how to play.

The random visual effects do many distracting things like strobe flashing, and causing the dancers to pop or warp into the camera in awkward ways. This is distracting and is extreme to the point where it seems intended to induce the player into an epileptic seizure. Of course, these annoying effects are not present on the PS2 DDR product line.

Arrow colorations are not faithful to arcade/PS2 DDR standards. The vivid arrows do not properly represent fine-degrees of variance that are helpful at the highest level of play. However the "solo" note skin is more arcade-accurate and helps tremendously.

On a positive note graphically - the dancers look and animate quite nicely, and I like the general art style they chose. This is about the only thing that is a graphical enhancement over what has been seen on the PS2 - and even this is subject to personal taste.

~At least it sounds good...~

The songlist, while reading on paper didn't attract me at all to this version of DDR as it has hardly any recognizable "signature" DDR artists- for instance, there is no song from Captain Jack, nor does it have many interesting remixes, or noteworthy inclusions from the current arcade games. On the PS2 they always have a handful of these but aside from DJ Miko's Sky High and "Hot Limit" which uses a different cut and stepchart than from 5th mix - there are no songs that a longtime player will recognize.

This means that the songlist is made up mostly of no-name artists whose material is.... surprisingly pretty decent. Many people comment that the song list is made up of too much euro, techno and electronica - it is heavy on it but they tend to go better with DDR than most of the other genres they threw in there. I especially enjoyed Everytime We Touch, Beyond Here and Now, Nightshade and Ignition.

Stepcharts are another mixed bag, that of which has disappointed me since 7th mix. If you're a beginner it probably won't matter much, but for expert/heavy steps I'm still seeing a lot of abuse of freeze arrows and generally unfun or stupid jump-eighth-jump occurrances. I'd say there's enough quality for most players to find fun songs.

I did like the peppy female announcer, my only complaint being that she harasses you for staying on a menu for more than a few seconds.

~Other Modes, Bugs Galore, and the Quest from Hell~

What kills this game ultimately is the low quality and bad design, and the Quest mode is the epitome of the catastrophe that is DDR Universe. You would think that Quest mode would be optional since most people would want to use DDR as a play for fun/whenever/party/workout kind of product. Unfortunately they made the mistake of REQUIRING the advancement of quest mode and many many hours to be able to unlock any of the songs that are not selectable by default!

The point of playing DDR is to dance to songs, and being able to play a new song is the reason a person would even buy a new version of DDR in the first place. But the unlock mechanism is a horrible train wreck of random chance, un-comprehendable rules, and fatal bugs that make it impossible to access the entire song list. You can play and get perfects on every single arrow on an expert song in a quest mode situation and STILL LOSE. You are supposed to be able to play many songs in a row in order to eventually win but this is broken by the unending song bug (described below). Whether you win or lose comes down to mostly random chance, being maybe 1 in 100 for a song unlock situation. If you lose, you have to play a punishment round to reopen the regional tournament to get a chance of unlocking again. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a PHYSICAL game and forcing players to abuse themselves repeatedly physically just to unlock a song, but can't be done through "eventual" play is NOT a smart design move by Konami - someone in any of their departments should have not allowed it to ship like this.

A common bug that occurs in DDR Universe is that when a song is completed, the game will get STUCK. The dancer will continue dancing in semi-slow motion, even though there are no arrows. They will keep on dancing. FOREVER. You can press your arrow buttons to no avail. The only way out of this is to quit the song (by holding back/start) and get an instant FAIL if you haven't beaten the quest mode goal or opponent yet. This makes winning impossible because it seems that you should be able to win through the course of multiple songs, but if the game gets stuck, you cannot progress to another song and cannot win, and therefore cannot unlock songs. This has been verified to occur regardless of console, and even after multiple product exchanges. Don't look for it to be patched/fixed ever either, as Konami Hawaii no longer exists.

As for other modes, playing on Xbox Live is pretty much pointless. Your opponent is probably using a control pad instead of a dance mat, and you can't see them dance. They should have done something with the Xbox Live Vision camera since it would be great to be able to see and broadcast your DDR moves - but no such functionality exists even despite the huge delays in this product's release. Challenge Mode is ridiculous. It's meant to challenge even the most hardcore players but the tasks it asks of you are just plain sadistic or require stepchart memorization. I doubt anyone will bother to complete them all legitimately and with a dance pad.

~And a scam, to boot!~

As a final insult to those that purchased this product - the so-called "downloadable content" is really just access keys to "unlock" content that is already on the disc you bought. You're not downloading actual song data - you're just paying them $10-$12 for something that you could or should already be able to play.

~Stay cool! Stay away!~

In writing this review, I've taken into consideration that some players may be more experienced than others and therefore have different expectations. Unfortunately the problems extend so deep into functionality that even beginner players would have a crippled learning experience, and experts will just end up frustrated at the inferior quality and design, and stick to playing their PS2 versions.

Don't get me wrong - I love DDR and I was very much looking forward to this release. The Xbox 360 platform has so much potential for with live online play and the vision camera and USB support. Since it doesn't utilize the system for any of it strengths and at the same time performs much worse than the PS2, I would say to either stick to the PS2 products or hold out for a future version made by developers that understand at least the basics of how to make a DDR game play correctly. They shut down the office that made this product, so its no wonder that its a rushed, glitchy, ill-implemented botchery of a once great franchise - released only to sell some obligatory units due to DDR's brand name recognition.

The Bad:

- Generally buggy quality with constant lockups at the end of a song
- Glitches and bad design make unlocking songs impossible
- Distracting graphic effects kill the frame rate, adversely affecting game play
- Forced Widescreen/squashed display. Arrows are too small
- Lengthy load times
- No support for USB/PC dance pads or peripherals
- Very broken, very unfun "Quest mode" with no story content.
- "Downloadable content" is a scam to make you pay $10 more for whats on your disc
- Lack of DDR "signature" type songs
- Online play isn't fun or interesting
- No hope of bug fixes or improvements (studio was closed before game even shipped)
- Should be a $20-$30 bargain game but its $50-$80+!

The Good:

- Great looking dancers and nice motion capture
- Songs by unknown artists are actually pretty good
- My favorite announcer in a DDR game so far
- Timing option allows for Playstation 2 controller adaptor and video lag to be compensated for
- They didn't forget the ABXY button shutoff option for better performance on soft pads

Helpful hints for maximum enjoyment:

- Use an XFPS 360 controller adaptor to be able to use a RedOctane Afterburner Metal Pad or other Playstation 2 dance pad on the Xbox 360. Set the timing option to 2, or another number depending on what works for the pad you're using.

- Can't stand the crappy frame rate? Turn off the background movies and/or dancer. It makes a world of a difference, but sort of cripples the visual show.

- Don't buy this version of the game if you can help it. Rent it first if you're curious. If you want to get into DDR I recommend DDR Extreme 2, followed by DDR MAX 1, as they have the strongest song lists and run at a rock solid 60 frames per second whether or not there are dancers or videos playing.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 04/19/07


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