The Dance Dance Revolution

The past few years have seen a good number of music-based video games. Frequency, Amplitude, PaRappa, and the hugely popular Dance Dance Revolution series for Playstation 2 and Xbox. But why has DDR collected such a huge fan base, while the rest have only cult followings?

Well, like no game out now, DDR makes the player move! Other music games keep the gamer sitting still, never engaging more than the thumbs. DDR is more accessible because the game ditches hand-held controllers, which may bore some, for “dance pads” — flat mats with the controller’s buttons arranged so that players must use their feet, rather than their thumbs. CNN has even compared DDR to rigorous aerobic exercise classes.

After starting the game, players must step on the directional button that matches the scrolling arrows on the screen. It sounds easy, but the trick is staying on the beat. Three levels of difficulty (Light, Medium, Heavy) offer increasingly complex moves and challenging rhythms. At the end of each song, typically 1:30, a score and grade (AAA-E) are given for the player’s performance.

Of course, the game offers a few different play modes. The simple Game mode is straight “dancing,” with long combos and high points emphasized. Battle mode pits player against player, giving the game a more competitive edge. And since the game requires a good amount of physical activity, a Workout mode is also included that lets players focus on burning calories and meeting exercise goals.

The graphics of most DDR games are pretty basic; flashing arrows scroll up the screen, while meters track the player’s performance. While most games might suffer from simple graphics, Dance Dance Revolution’s let the player focus on getting their steps right. Video clips can be played behind the arrows, but players may find them distracting.

Appropriately, DDR games feature mostly dance and techno music. Ian Van Dahl’s “Castles in the Sky,” Crystal Method’s “Busy Child,” and even the disco anthem “Get Down Tonight” appear in some of the games, along with some equally catchy tracks like “The Whistle Song” or “Dream a Dream.” Just about every song is engaging, even for gamers who aren’t especially familiar with techno.

Though a large series, most of the series’ games have virtually no gameplay changes, only new songs; Dance Dance Revolution’s developers seem to stick to the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Gamers from the Nintendo era probably remember Track and Field, which used a Track Mat much like Dance Dance Revolution’s Dance Pad. In that game, players controlled an athlete sprinting a hurdle-laden track by running in place on the Track Mat.

With dozens of games in America, Europe and Asia, Dance Dance Revolution is a massive video game dynasty. Avid players can shed pounds in a more fun and engaging way than conventional exercise programs, and at around $50 for the game and dance mat, it’s very affordable.

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