By Lee Clontz
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m not the target market for Dance Dance Revolution Universe.
How out of the game's demographic am I? The instruction manual includes an ad for a troupe of young ladies called the Slumber Party Girls, which are on a TV show "inspired" by this game series. I don’t know what the premise of the Slumber Party Girls' show is, but I’m assuming it has something to do with stepping on arrows.
Dance Dance Revolution Universe :: Konami
If you’ve somehow never seen a Dance Dance Revolution game, it goes roughly like this: you stand on a pad with arrows pointing in the four compass directions. Onscreen is a corresponding column of arrows that glide up from the bottom, sort of like Tetris in reverse. When an arrow reaches the top of the screen, you press the matching arrow on the pad. This is done in time with music and is ostensibly dancing. You may have seen kids play DDR in the arcade and, with the proper training, the gameplay does bear some resemblance to dancing. I, on the other hand, look like I’m trying to stomp a roach infestation.
DDR Universe is the first iteration of DDR on the Xbox 360 and the first next-gen HD version of the franchise. The game offers a bewildering variety of modes- – Quest Mode, Game Mode, Party Mode -- but they all boil down to the same basic premise: stepping on arrows in time to music. To that end, it succeeds quite spectacularly.
For DDR veterans, this will all be old hat and DDR Universe will represent little more than an mild graphical upgrade and, more importantly, new song selections. For newbies to this series, such as myself, there’s a tutorial that walks you through the different types of moves you’ll encounter and how to plan for them. A beginner mode lets you follow along with the onscreen avatar of your choice, but you’ll quickly graduate to "basic" mode, where you'll probably stay for a long time. I accidentally started a game in one of the more advanced modes and the screen looked like the Persian archery attack in 300. All I could do was watch a blizzard of arrows zoom by, mesmerized like a cat watching a ceiling fan.
"This is where we dance. This is where they laugh!" Dance Dance Revolution Universe :: Konami
The look of the core game elements is quite simple -- we're talking about moving arrows after all -- but the intensely-colored video backgrounds do their best to burn out your eyeballs. The visuals, combined with the thumping song rhythms, can lead to a degree of sensory overload in those over 30 or those with a Y chromosome. As one who fulfills both of those criteria, I’m fortunate to have survived playing the game at all. The game interface is peppered with constant injury warnings, and you'd be wise to heed them.
The song selection could stand some variety. Most of it is club-style dance music, which probably fits the expectations of seasoned DDR players. A selection of, say, 80s songs would go a long way to expanding the demographic this game appeals to, although there are a couple of thumped-up classic rock songs -- Magic Carpet Ride and Somebody to Love -– to keep geriatrics such as myself from feeling too out-of-touch. More songs are coming to the Xbox Live Marketplace, and one can only hope that some variety will be downloadable in exchange for precious Microsoft Points.
Dance Dance Revolution Universe :: Konami
The non-arrow-stomping modes in the game include a jukebox to watch the game’s videos, a dance editor to save your own dance moves for the game’s included songs and a toggle for "workout mode," which tracks your calorie count as you play through the game. The calorie counter is very cleverly implemented, with a graph showing calories burned and the cumulative number of steps you’ve danced. On basic mode, I was burning around 200 calories in 45 minutes of gameplay and working up a light sweat, which is a darned sight better than I managed leaping buildings in Crackdown.
Going online was about the most intimidated I’ve ever been in any Internet gaming session, but several attempts at finding open games of any sort on Live were fruitless. Either DDR players play private games among themselves or, more likely, I was playing after their 9 p.m. bedtime. I’m told that the Live play is lagless, so I was a little relieved not to have been able to find an open game, lest I have no excuse for getting utterly served.
There’s a lot I liked in DDR Universe, including a perky announcer who constantly tells me how cool I am and what a great dancer I’ve become. More games should include this feature. Life should include this feature. In future releases, Konami, I’d also like to be complimented on how tall I am as well as my fresh breath.
For someone who's never played it before, DDR Universe is kind of an inspiration. I imagine a game -– a cross between Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution -– that will finally let me fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a rock star, if only in my own living room. A microphone, a dance mat and a plastic guitar will be all I need to lose myself into hours of entertaining my virtual fanbase. My wife, I suspect, will start watching TV upstairs.
Achievement Unlocked indeed.
Ratings System (1 to 10)
Game Play: 7
It’s kind of a one-trick pony, but it’s addictive like Lucky Strikes. The tutorial is a welcome addition, especially for those of us new to the series. Loading screens are a little too long, especially for such a simplistic game.
The backgrounds are often distracting and, worse yet, the feedback messages about whether your steps are timed correctly appear over the upcoming arrows, making a tough game tougher. It’s all very visually impressive, though, in a “2001” alien tunnel sort of way, and the game is as fun to watch as it is to play. I’m sure that’s why my wife kept laughing while I was working the mat.
The game ships with 60 songs and more are coming via the Marketplace, though it would be nice if you could import songs from the 360's hard drive. If you like to stomp arrows, this game will keep you happy for a very long time. It makes a great party game if you have a gigantic living room and the spare coin for multiple dance mats. It’s like “You Got Served” sans head slides.