For all of the emphasis on eye-popping graphics, complex controls, and in-depth stories in today’s video games, it’s often the simplest concepts that work the best.
Guiding Ms. Pac-Man through a maze to avoid a quartet of ghosts, rolling a cornucopia of household junk into a ball in Katamari Damacy, or rearranging simple geometric shapes in Tetris -– all are examples of gameplay honed to a straightforward, but addictive sort of fun.
It’s this “Less is More” lesson that Nintendo has re-learned to the tune of recent mainstream success with the casual gamer-friendly Wii. On a smaller scale, the same could be said for Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, which after almost a decade and countless home and arcade editions remains little more than “step-on-the-arrows-in-time-with-music” rhythm game.
For those expecting Dance Dance Revolution Universe on the Xbox 360, the newest entry into the series, to evolve or change from previous incarnations because it’s on a next-gen system –- prepare to be disappointed (or delighted).
Despite high-definition, high-resolution widescreen graphics and all the other gee-whiz features of the muscular Xbox 360, DDR Universe essentially remains the same game you first embarrassed yourself playing at the local arcade in the late 90’s. (Here’s a startling revelation –- flailing wildly on DDR arrows makes you about as much of a real dancer as wearing a red ski mask and jumping off your roof makes you Spider-Man)
That said, DDR Universe is quite a shiny, features-laden step on the arrows game.
The first thing I noticed when playing for the first time was how rich the visuals looked on my high-definition display. In fact, at times my eyes felt overwhelmed at times with the sensory overload of the brightly colored kaleidoscope shapes and backgrounds, arrows, and rendered dancers that pop on the screen.
Konami apparently believes DDR Universe will attract lots of new players, as evidenced by the “Basic Edition” menu options that offers handholding tutorials and extremely simplified steps. There are also plenty of features for the experienced player: traditional arcade, quest mode, workout, challenge mode, training mode, edit mode, jukebox and Xbox Live. Some of these modes are interesting, others are relatively pointless. For instance, you can plug in a total of four dance pads in Party Mode to attempt a variety of challenges, but who is going to have that many dance pads in one place (or room for all of them on the floor at once). Workout mode, on the other hand, is improved if you’re using DDR as part of some sort of exercise regimen. Instead of being relegated to a separate mode that does nothing to unlock songs or engage in challenges, workout mode now tracks your calorie loss while playing the regular game.
Other reviewers have said DDR needs more online play, but of all games, this would seem like the least intuitive game to play against a stranger on the Internet. Unless, that is, you could somehow see a webcamed video feed of your opponent, but the idea of seeing a random sweaty person jumping up and down in their basement somehow sounds even less appealing than going to an actual gym.
Quest Mode is the featured single player experience where you can unlock 15 hidden tracks and videos, but the mode is unfocused and frustrating, especially compared with previous versions. When starting Quest, you are dropped on a virtual map of North America where you are challenged to a series of dance-offs in a city in each state (or province up in Canada) to gain a bigger fanbase and cash. The game never really tells you what to do in Quest mode, nor does it tell you what exactly hiring backup dancers does, or what the advantages of moving to different states are. It feels very slapped together and haphazardly created. What’s worse is that it is basically impossible to win any of the early dance challenges, even if you perform each step near perfect.
DDR’s Universe’s list of 70 or so tracks is about par for the course – several licensed songs from relatively big mainstream artists (Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Chris Brown), lots of Euro-flavored and Japanese beat-heavy techno tracks, and a few offbeat genre songs. A favorite of mine is “8-Bit”, a catchy tune featuring the blips and beeps of the old school Nintendo era. There are additional songs to download, 10 of which are available now on Xbox Live, but I wonder how many people will care for the idea of spending more than the $69.99 they shelled out for the game and the pad.
Overall, DDR Universe is a good addition to the series, if nothing else, for the pretty graphics and the plethora of game modes. But if you look past the sheen (and who buys DDR for the graphics, anyway?) it’s disappointing that DDR Universe hasn’t stepped it up a bit now that it’s on a next-gen system.