DDRMAX 2 Review
Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2
The Dance Dance Revolution continues with the latest edition of the arcade and console dance game sensation. You'll need a dance pad to play, since the entire game is about stepping on an arrow on cue. You'll also need to set your inhibitions to one side, or at least close the curtains. Safe in your manhood, you can take a crack at a music list that is designed to appeal more to North American sensibilities than past editions.
Rob de los Reyes
If you're a student or the parent of one, you probably don't need to be introduced to the DDRMAX series. In certain parts of the world and in certain age groups, Dance Dance Revolution (the "DDR" in DDRMAX) is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. What began as (and continues to be) an arcade event has over the years spawned several home console iterations, the introduction of the dance mat as an input device, and the creation of a health and fitness business unit of Konami designed to take advantage of the great workout a game of DDR provides. And the whole game involves nothing more complicated than stepping on one of four arrows when a corresponding arrow floats to the top of the game screen. Who knew?
DDRMAX 2 is an attempt to expand the series' already considerable worldwide popularity. In particular, Konami is overtly seeking the attention of North Americans (who perhaps have been put off by the Japanese techno/rave music that dominates the rest of the series) as well as "dance novices." Oh, let's just say it. Old people. Konami would also like to reach some of us old folks who may have seen street kids playing the game, rapidly flailing their limbs in unnatural directions like some sort of recombinant, tentacled hummingbird, and thought "Maybe this game isn't for me." As a result, DDRMAX 2 is probably more accurately characterized as DDRMAX 1.5 – a few specific additions have been made in an attempt to reach out to new players, but the differences between DDRMAX 1 and 2 are not vast. Fortunately, that's not too much of a problem. A moderate improvement on an already accomplished series leaves you with a safely satisfying purchase.
The only pity is that Konami hasn't gone further in what seem like some obvious areas. Although there is quite a lot of new music in DDRMAX 2, and much of that new music is familiar to the North American ear, it's hard to understand why there isn't more. A large part of the playlist is strikingly similar (if not identical) to the songs from DDRMAX, and many of the new songs are the same sort of Japanese techno/rave as before.
It's not that such music isn't fun to listen or dance to, so much as that the game really is easier to play if you know and like a song. That was true of a song like I Like to Move It in DDRMAX, and it's true of songs like Long Train Running (the Doobie Brothers song, albeit remixed), In the Navy and Breakout here in DDRMAX 2. More to the point, if you're ever going to expand the game's audience beyond its traditional demographic, why not hit those other audiences where they live? Why not, say, DDRMAX – The 80s or DDRMAX – Flannel & Grunge? In any event, after many hours with DDRMAX, the new songs in DDRMAX 2 deliver welcome variety. And, notwithstanding the criticism above, those new songs are reason enough for owners of the original game to pick up the sequel.
Just as important are two other improvements. Where DDRMAX included three basic difficulty levels, DDRMAX 2 has added a fourth – Beginner mode. Beginner mode is, as you might expect, even easier than the original Light mode and includes an animated dancer on a simulated dance pad designed to show you where to step and when. It's a bit of a shame that you can't seem to set the backgrounds in Beginner mode to the regular game backgrounds. That way, even a novice or once-a-year player could jump in and feel like he was playing the same game as everyone else. Still, access to the regular backgrounds, including some brand new video footage, serves as a reasonable carrot to entice you off the bunny hill and into the regular difficulty modes. And, more to the point, better to have something for novices to do than nothing at all. It's a good change, and one that should give would-be DDRMAXers the courage to give it a whirl.
The other large change in DDRMAX 2 is the addition of an Endless mode. In normal gameplay, a session consists of three songs, then you're kicked to the game credits and the opening menu. Endless and Nonstop modes break the stop-and-start pattern in favor of continuous play. This, too, marks a genuine and pleasant addition to the DDRMAX series but again leaves you wondering why Konami hasn't gone just a bit further. The problem with the three song sets is that you end up with an awfully high ratio of game set-up to actual game play. Endless and Nonstop modes are welcome changes, but why not cut to the chase and just let us choose in advance the number of songs in a set? Or, if nothing else, how about streamlining the menu screens so that, for example, you don't have to cycle through a menu screen with no actual function?
Yet all these criticisms are nuance. DDRMAX 2, like its predecessors, is raw fun. Easy to learn, difficult to master, and a legitimate cardio workout vastly more interesting than treadmills and stairclimbers. The sooner you put your embarrassment and hang-ups to one side, the sooner you start to appreciate the elegant simplicity behind the flashing lights and bright colors. On that score, it might help if DDRMAX 2 didn't keep shouting "You're not an ordinary fella!" – that's probably what a lot of guys are afraid of.