Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dance Dance Retrospective: Solo Series

There are many, many DDR games released that aren't part of what I consider to be the core series, which is mostly games done by the arcade DDR team.  Some of these other games tried to do things differently, and some of these changes lasted while others didn't.  But none of these changes were nearly as drastic as adding two more foot panels to the standard four-arrow play area - and that's exactly what the DDR Solo mini-series did.

There were four games released for the Solo series: Solo Bass Mix (August 1999), Solo 2000 (December 1999), Solo 4thMIX (August 2000), and Solo 4thMIX Plus (December 2000).  As the name suggests, only one person can play on each cabinet at a time instead of two, however it is possible for multiple machines of the same game to be linked.  Down on the floor, the play area is arranged with panels on the upper-left and upper-right spaces in addition to the existing up, right, down, and left panels.
A DDR Solo 2000 cabinet.  Note the two corner panels.
Solo Bass Mix starts off with a mode select screen; the choices are Beginner, Expert (the standard mode), and Nonstop Megamix.  In this last selection, you get to play one of several medleys of songs mixed into one giant, three-minute track.  Unlike the nonstop courses in 3rdMIX on, there are absolutely no breaks in-between individual songs; the transitions are seamless, like what DJs do in real-world dance clubs.  Given the length of the nonstop songs, you can only play one of them for a single credit.

Solo 2000 does things differently.  Instead of selecting a mode when you start, you choose from one of three pad styles: 3-panel (UL, D, UR), 4-panel, or 6-panel.  From there, you go to the music selection screen.  Since you can choose from normal songs and megamixes from the same list, Solo 2000 represents the number of songs you have left with in-game coins (usually 3).  Regular songs cost 1 coin whereas megamixes cost 2.  Unlike Solo Bass Mix, you can also switch difficulties at will on this screen, by pressing Up or Down three times (in Solo Bass Mix, as in 2ndMIX, you had to do this at the mode select screen).

Solo 4thMIX and 4thMIX Plus are nearly identical to their 2-player counterparts, except for the obvious fact that they use the solo cabinet style.  This means the (giant) songlist and UI are the same, with new 6-panel charts available for all the songs.  However, the 3-panel mode and megamixes from Solo 2000 are gone, since they're not part of the original 4thMIX.  For more information, check out my coverage on 4thMIX, coming soon.  On the other hand, Bass Mix and 2000 both have quite distinct UIs.  There are no dancing characters, and the arrows have been re-drawn for both games, having more rounded edges than their predecessors.  Solo 2000, 4thMIX, and 4thMIX Plus also colored the arrows according to timing (gold for quarter notes, blue for eigths, and purple for anything more precise).  Since it helps players in deciphering toucher charts, this feature was introduced to the core series as the "Solo" and later "Rainbow" modifier.  Another feature of Solo 2000 that was later reused was the option to change the speed of the arrows, making them fly up the screen at double or half the normal rate.

The soundtrack of Solo Bass Mix consists of 16 normal songs and 6 megamixes.  The licenses, all taken from the Dancemania Bass CD series, are heavy in the hip-hop and Miami bass genres, as are some of the Konami originals.  More eclectic in terms of genres, Solo 2000 adds 20 songs and 3 megamixes to that lineup, for a grand total of 45 songs.  Notable songs from both games include:
  • "Drop Out" by NW260, from Solo 2000.  This song set a new speed record which would not be beaten for over two years: a whopping 260 beats per minute!  However, it has led to a rift between fans who discuss whether or not songs like these would be more comfortable with or without their tempo doubled like it is here.
  • "Hysteria" by Naoki 190, from Solo Bass Mix.  A fast rap song composed by Naoki Maeda.  Charts like 6-panel Maniac on this song are unique in that they break one of the rules of standard DDR.  You know how you never see more than two arrows on the same beat at a time?  Well, at the end of this chart, there's a jump where you have to hit four panels at once.  Given the layout (L, UL, LR, R), however, it's easy to do this by having each foot cover two panels.
  • "Wild Rush" by Factor X, from Solo 2000.  This song consists of six distinct segments, each with a different genre and rising in tempo from 80 to 180 beats per minute, so it's like six songs in one!
All of the DDR Solo games are relatively rare; I've never seen one in person, and it doesn't help that there was no direct home port of Bass Mix or 2000.  The good news is that there was a PlayStation game, called Dance Dance Revolution Extra Mix (June 2001, Japan only), which combined all the new songs from Bass Mix, 2000 (excluding megamixes), and 4thMIX Plus.  Using a re-colored 4thMIX UI, players could play these 50 songs in Single, Versus, Double, or 6-Panel modes.  The 6-Panel mode was also incorporated into the home version of 4thMIX and its international counterparts.  Learn more about these amazing games on the next episode of Dance Dance Retrospective!

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