Friday, December 3, 2010

Dance Dance Retrospective: 3rdMIX

Riker, motherhumper.  Just like that thing from Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is the point where the Dance Dance Revolution franchise started to get really good.  What I mean by this is that 3rdMIX introduced numerous concepts that many players took for granted ever since.  I'm talking about things like being able to select your own difficulty and characters, and arrows that are colored differently according to timing.

This game was first released for Japan on October 30th, 1999, with a PlayStation port following on June 1st, 2000.  The interface is still similar to 1st and 2ndMIX, but with even more welcome changes.  When you first start up, you get to choose your own character out of four choices (male characters for player 1 and females for player 2).  Then you choose your mode, but the choices are different this time around.  The traditional mode is called Medium, where you can choose between the Basic and Another levels at will during music selection by pressing Up or Down twice.  The Soft mode is different from  the Easy mode in 1st and 2ndMIX, since you play on simplified charts that are easier even than the Basic difficulty.  Finally, in place of a Hard mode, there is the brand-new Nonstop mode.  Here you have to play four songs from one of several pre-set playlists in a row, without breaks in-between the songs, while groove gauge carries over from stage to stage.

Change your difficulty any time at will! (From NA PSX release)
The color patterns in-game arrows have changed this time around.  They still cycle through colors in a rainbow fashion, but now off-beat notes (8th, 12th, and 16th) appear different from the basic quarter notes, whereas in the past all the notes went through the same pattern and were harder to tell apart.  In truth, this feature, called Vivid, did debut in the 2ndMIX Club Versions, but now you can switch back to the old color scheme, called Flat, with a panel code.  Other new modifiers are variations on Hidden from 2ndMIX: Sudden hides the arrows until they reach mid-way up the screen, giving you less time to react, and Stealth makes the arrows disappear altogether, forcing you to memorize the sequence just to survive.  The maximum difficulty was bumped up from 8 feet to 9, which again was first done in the 2ndMIX Club Versions.  In another nice feature, lyrics appear on-screen during gameplay, fading in and out like in karaoke, that other great Japanese institution.  Sadly this feature was never re-used outside of European home games and the ultra-rare DDR Karaoke Mix.

There are a total of 35 new songs in this game; in fact, they're the only songs you can choose from normally, but there is a way to play the songs from 1st and 2ndMIX instead.  After inserting your coin(s), you can enter a code with the yellow menu buttons (Left, Left, Right, Right) to switch to 2ndMIX Mode.  There is also a different code (Left, Left, Left, Right, Right, Right, Left, Right) which unlocks Step Step Revolution, where you play the songs from 3rdMIX on the Maniac difficulty (now titled SSR) only.  Also note that in SSR mode, the Flat arrow colors are used by default, and you will need a code to switch to Vivid instead.

Some of the notable new songs in this game include:
  • "Captain Jack (Grandale Remix)" by Captain Jack.  Completely unrelated to the Pirates of the Carribean character, the Captain Jack was a dance-music duo headed by Franky Gee, who served for the United States Army in Germany before switching to a musical career.  Much of their music appears on the Dancemania CD series, so it's only natural that Captain Jack was one of the most prolific non-Konami bands to appear in DDR.  "Captain Jack" was their first single released in 1995; the version seen here is a speed rave remix of the song, and has some very fast and chaotic patterns on Maniac.  Franky Gee died in October 2005 of a brain hemorrhage, and not much of the band's music was used in DDR since.
  • "Dynamite Rave" by Naoki.  A Euro-rave song in the style of last game's "Brilliant 2U", "Dynamite Rave" has become one of the signature songs of DDR.  At a brisk 150 beats per minute, the many jumps on Basic and 16th note trills on Maniac provide an intense workout.
  • "Afronova" by Re-Venge.  Another song composed and performed by Naoki Maeda.  This song is very African-tribal influenced, hence the name, and at 200 beats per minute was one of DDR's fastest songs at the time.  This song is best known for its rapid-fire step patterns on Maniac, which at one point forces the player to face his or her body off to one side and twist to the other.
  • "Drop the Bomb" by Scotty D.  First appearing in the home version and 3rdMIX Plus (see below), this is a high-energy rap song with some surprisingly heavy lyrics for a dance game.  The artist is none other than Scott Dolph, who you may remember had a character named after him in Metal Gear Solid 2.
Karaoke-style lyrics are a rare feature for the series.
Since it was so fine-tuned, the 3rdMIX engine was used for many DDR games released over the next few years.  Counting international and home versions, 3rdMIX has the most releases based on it out of all the games in the series.
  • Arcade games:
    • The original 3rdMIX for Japan.
    • Two versions of 3rdMIX for South Korea.  Both games licensed then-recent K-Pop songs in order to buck the image that the franchised focused more on old material.  Only the new songs from the first version carried over to later Japanese releases.
    • An English-language version of 3rdMIX for east Asia, excluding Japan and Korea.  Despite being 100% in English, there are no new songs, and a couple of existing songs were even cut for some reason.
    • 3rdMIX Plus, and upgraded re-release for Japan in June 2000.  Added 14 new songs and the ability to select the Maniac difficulty outside of SSR.
    • Dancing Stage Euromix, for Europe in October 1999.  The songlist was a collection of licenses from 1st and 2ndMIX, licenses and originals from 3rdMIX, and some new licensed songs like "I Will Survive", "Video Killed the Radio Star", and "Word Up".  The difficulty names were changed to Standard, Difficult, and Expert for some reason.
    • Dance Dance Revolution USA, for North America in May 2000.  The songlist was similar to Euromix, but without the exclusive songs.
  • Home games, all released for PlayStation in their respective markets:
    • 3rdMIX for Japan.  In addition to 3rdMIX and SSR, the home port added the "3rdReMIX" mode where you could choose from Basic, Another, and Maniac in the same game.  Also the debut of Diet Mode, better known in the West as Workout Mode.  Here the game tracks the calories burned during gameplay, and keeps you playing until you reached a time or calorie goal if you so choose.
    • Dance Dance Revolution Best Hits, for Japan in 2000.  No new content, just songs from 1st through 3rdMIX.  One new feature (I'm not exactly sure where it first appeared) is in Soft/Beginner mode, where the in-game characters play the steps on a dance pad.
    • Dance Dance Revolution, for North America in March-May 2001.  Just like Best Hits, no new content, just a different sampling from 1st-3rdMIX.
    • Dancing Stage Euromix, for Europe in September 2001.  None of the non-exclusive licenses were brought back for the home version, but some originals from 1st and 2ndMIX were brought back to make up for it.
As successful as this interface format was, the next core series game would get rid of it in favor of a radical makeover.  But before we find out how much has or hasn't changed, there's one interesting detour we must take... the DDR Solo mini-series.

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