Review by Snow Dragon

"Confessions of a Rhythmless White Boy"

Having finally had the opportunity to stand on a ''dance pad'' and ''get funky'' with my ''bad self,'' I now have proof that this ''game'' is the perfect litmus test of your abilities as a modern dancer. I had a looming suspicion that I was a fat (not to be confused with ''phat'') white boy with no rhythm all this time, but for a game to finally prove it once and for all to me .... let's just say for the time being, I'll stick with my good ol' gyrations and pelvic thrusts. They've served me well in the past, and until I can slay this demon and become a true lord of the dance, they'll be my entire repertoire as far as I'm concerned.

And so here you are in the mystery world of Dance Dance Revolution. The pad is on the floor, a clean pair of socks is on your feet, and the TV is on in front of you. Seen that Skechers commercial where the guy just slides effortlessly on the box and he looks so slick with his awesome dance moves? When you play DDR for the very first time, you will not be as good as him, no matter how well you dance on the club floor in front of a bunch of strangers. He's not even looking at the screen, for God's sake.

If you've never been to a dance club once in your life, you'll be stumbling on the pad, slipping, hopelessly pounding away at random directions from the first moment you mess up in the hopes that you'll get back on track. For the first time this winter, I broke a sweat doing something.

And I had fun every minute of the way.

The point of Dance Dance Revolution is just that - to dance in time with the beat of the song playing. You can choose from a couple of pre-arranged sets of songs, with each set grouped by difficulty, or you can have the game assemble a random track list from all of the songs in all of the sets. If you're an amateur, you'll want to start out with songs listed with two or three yellow footprints (indicating that that's as easy as you're going to get). As you progress and your dancing skills improve, you'll work your way up to five- and six-yellow-footprint songs before getting to the red footprints, which set you up for an actual career in club dancing judging by some of the smooth operating that I see you have to do.

The songs all have great dance-ability, from the easiest and slowest to the hardest and fastest. Even when my friend, who is a skilled student in the Zen of this game, was hammering away on a tune with an impossibly fast tempo, he didn't look like a fool who was purposely trying to hit Down, Right, and Left at the same time. When all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, you actually look like you have mad dancing skills, and that is possibly DDR's greatest accomplishment of all. While the entire process does require a great amount of focus and a decent enough grasp of the concept of rhythm to know what you're doing, it lets you ease into it and pace yourself, as if you are actually learning how to dance for a real occasion. If you are the patient sort who is intrigued by a fun, fresh concept every now and then, I invite you to follow me further.

Mostly techno and hip-hop beats inhabit the overall playlist, but you get nice classic rock songs revamped for the millennium peppered throughout, such as a fantastic remix of Deep Purple's ''Smoke on the Water'' (which is easily the most entertaining song to dance to in the whole game). As the arrows go up the screen, you stamp down in the corresponding directions as they go through the arrows at the top of the screen. If you press on the dance pad exactly in time with the beat, the TV reads ''Perfect!'' Closer-but-no-cigar downbeats and upbeats get messages like ''Good,'' ''Great,'' and ''Almost,'' and the game will go so far as to say ''Boo'' if you totally miss a direction. Get enough Perfects in a row and you'll be the toast of the town. Conversely, lose track of where you're at and you'll get the boot from the higher-ups. Or, dance barely well enough to stay in the game. When that bar in the upper corner totally runs out, you're done for.

Starting out on the easy songs and getting the single beats down was a fun experience; as a band nerd, I think the undying tick of a metronome helped me some in getting down the game's basics. Most of the first songs are heavy on downbeats and counting in 4/4 time while only introducing you to simultaneous direction presses near the ends of the songs. Upbeats soon make their way into the mixes along with the fast beats, and soon your feet are flying around the mat pushing buttons, albeit not necessarily the right ones.

If you truly love it after your first humiliating outing, you'll be strangely begging for more. Those who hate it either don't have the patience to see what is at heart a fun and original game, they're narrow-minded putzes, or they're ashamed of their lack of rhythm. Seeing as how I've never had any such problem with the latter, I found it an enriching experience that never lets up on musical action and packs a wallop pleasing to gamers from all walks of life and all genres.

As an analytical observer of the game, however, I clearly saw that faults began to crop up even in the middle of my good time. Speaking as someone who'd never stepped on a dance pad before, I found that perception became a problem as focus on the screen became more and more intense. It was hard to tell where exactly behind me the Down arrow was, and it became frustrating to step back and miss, thereby effectively screwing up my admirable chain of perfect dance steps. Compounding the situation is the fact that the game offers nary a chance for you to glance down and gather your bearings. Stepping in other directions became a problem when I wasn't exactly in the middle of the pad, and I had trouble keeping my lead feet rooted on one direction sometimes. These are all minor gripes coming from the mouth of a novice though, and as I discovered, they soon disappear with the passage of time and your gradual adaptation to the game's workings. If you have even rudimentary knowledge of music in your brain at all, the game is not too hard to pick up and play at a moment's notice. Pretty soon, even hitting two arrows at once or banging out four sixteenth notes in rapid succession becomes second nature. The possibilities begin to bloom.

As far as the technical aspects such as graphics go, you expect them to take a hit when being ported from the arcade to the old gray PlayStation. The dancers have that distinct polygonal feel that games like Super Smash Brothers on N64 did, especially the out-of-this-world club hoppers whose Japanese roots are so deep they couldn't hide them if they wanted to (the guy with a blue two-pronged outlet plug for a head, the Slinky-like dancers with the international male and female signs for heads). However, whether it seems strange or not, most of your attention doesn't gravitate toward the graphics when playing this game, aside from the arrows scrolling up the screen. The look of the game is perfunctory to the experience, and if it's nice, sharp, and pretty, more power to it. While it appears grainy and far inferior to what an arcade machine's motherboard can produce, you find yourself simply not caring. The dancers have that eclectic Japanese physiognomy that makes them stand out like a Dalmatian in a pack of Chihuahuas, but the post-modern look suits the game well, considering the tunes you hear coming from the DDR jukebox.

And speaking of tunes, the sound in this game is no less than crystal-clear high definition CD quality through and through. The rave songs are appropriate for the mood that DDR establishes, with their booty bass beats and definite rave tempo. You won't hardly see a name you recognize among the artists listed unless they happen to be among your hood's local flava. A melodramatic announcer with a deep but silly voice (think an Americanized Telemundo) interjects every so often with a goofy phrase like ''You have great taste in music!'' or ''I'm curious to see how cool you are!'' His over-the-top antics kind of upset the balance the game has going, but once you get into the groove, you tune out everything. You tune out that crazy announcer, you tune out your friend lending his support on the second dance pad - heck, you even tune out the song that's playing. The irony of a silent beat becomes lost on you.

You're drawn in, and you're not coming out.

Though Dance Dance Revolution centers nearly all its activity around the songs in its catalogue, there are other ways to enjoy it that you find on the menu. If you're not up to par with your more hip homies yet, take some time to familiarize yourself with the game and the dance pad in Training Mode. The amusing inclusion of a Workout Mode seems good for taking off unsightly inches if stuck to regularly (and what with it being a new year, now's as good a time as any to find a regimen and buckle down). As a calorimeter though, it's not quite as accurate as you would have it to be. Word of warning, though: don't take in a heavy meal before dancing here - you don't want to sweat it off and chuck it up, do you? You can cooperate or compete with friends, go through the sets on your own and set records, or download the songs from the game and boogie to them on your own time.

Whatever the case may be, Dance Dance Revolution is great for all those with piqued interest and a willingness to leave behind the conscious feeling that those around you are watching. Certainly it will only appeal to the right kind of person, of which the type is few and far between. To the scoffers (and there are many) I say begone with ye. As for me, it gave me quite a beating, and after half an hour of rigorous dancing, I'll admit I had to take a breather. But still it draws me in, waiting for me to master it so it bestow upon me that golden crown, the title of Fat White Boy With a Sense of Rhythm. Rest assured I'll be coming back for more.

I'll conquer this beast yet.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/06/03, Updated 01/06/03

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