Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dance Dance Retrospective: 4thMIX

With a release date of August 2000, Dance Dance Revolution 4thMIX was the first original game in the core DDR series put out during the new millenium.  It was followed by an updated re-release, 4thMIX Plus, in December of that year.  (And yes, I count the millenium as having started on 2000, not 2001.  I understand why some people count it from AD 1, that they think the year 0 doesn't count as AD, but I believe it does...  Screw it, it's not worth arguing here.)  But only four games in, was now the time for a radical makeover?  In terms of gameplay, no, it still plays identically to all the entries before it.  So let's dive into what has changed.

With a high-contrast color scheme of pinks and greens on black, the UI has received the majority of this game's changes.  Right off the bat, you get to choose your play style without having to hold the Start button after putting your money in the machine.  (The 2-player Versus and 1-player Double modes, which use both sets of panels, require you to pay a second set of credits.)  Double-tapping the Right panel switches you to Link Mode, where you can play the Nonstop courses or use edit data from your memory card.  Otherwise, you then select your character and setlist.  The 136 songs in this game (plus 14 new songs in 4thMIX Plus) are broken up into seven setlists of roughly 20-30 songs each, with a different character used for each.  I'm guessing it was designed to keep you from getting lost in the massive (for its time) array of songs, but I'm not a real big fan of this decision.  Even if you know what songs you want to play, they may not all be in the same category.  Fortunately, 4thMIX Plus and the home ports add an "All Music" option, which does what it says.

Too much music for one setlist.  (From Konamix.)
So how does one go about selecting these songs?  4thMIX finally does away with the CD wheel of the previous games, in favor of a list of titlecards, displayed 7 at a time.  The difficulty levels for all three charts (now named Basic, Trick, and Maniac) are listed at once, but you can't choose them during song selection.  Instead, you set your difficulty after picking a song.  Also note that some songs have new Maniac-level charts, many of them very difficult for the time. 4thMIX Plus brought the old charts back in as a fourth difficulty level called "Maniac-S" in Single or "Maniac-D" in Double.

Surprisingly for a PSone-era game, 4thMIX outputs a display size of 480i, double that of the previous games, and it would be the only one to do so for a while.  But let's face it, not everyone's gonna notice that.  You might notice the all-new background animations, on the other hand.  Oh, and the scoring system drives me bonkers.  Rather than being a percentage of a maximum score, it's some kind of absolute number which quickly skyrockets into eight digits on harder charts.  They don't even give us the courtesy of ending it in a zero digit like good video game scores should (?).  I think it's supposed to be based on 777 points for a Perfect mark and 555 for a Great, but when you throw a combo bonus on top of that, things get really crazy.  The letter-grading system is also consolidated a bit; it only goes from E to AA, where A is awarded only for a full combo performance and AA is for all perfect marks (AAA in the other games).

The new scoring system on a roll.  (From Konamix.)
I admit I have been overly critical up to this point, but when you have so few changes to work with, sometimes the negatives stand out the most.  Please bear in mind that all in all, 4thMIX is a fully loaded package.  With its balance of quality of charts and quantity of songs, it's one of my favorite games from this early era of the series.  It has all the songs from the core series to date (with only two exceptions, due to specific requests from the artists), plus all the Konami original songs from Solo Bass Mix and Solo 2000 (two of them only showed up on 4thMIX Plus).  Notable songs from this game include:
  • "B4U" by Naoki.  Another speed rave song in the vein of "Brilliant2U" and "Dynamite Rave", this track was deemed by Naoki Maeda himself to be his favorite song in DDR Konamix (see below) "because this song best portrays the image of DDR by capturing the perfect blend of performance and physical activity from the player"1.
  • "Love Again Tonight (ForMelissaMix)" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry.  This song marks the DDR debut of this Australian singer, who would collaborate with Naoki Maeda for a number of years afterwards.
  • "My Summer Love" by Mitsu-O! with Geila, and "Orion.78 (AMeuro-Mix)" by Re-Venge.  The first is a pop song in the vein of Ace of Bace's early/mid-90s hits, whereas the second  is a heavily Okinawan-flavored trip.  Both tracks are slow, at 100 BPM, but manage to pack lots of notes in their level-9 Maniac charts.  The home version adds an exclusive remix of the latter, "Orion.78 (Civilization Mix)" which runs at twice the speed and is even harder.
  • 4thMIX adds a host of songs transplanted from the beatmania IIDX game series, but they must be unlocked by the operator.  ".59", "era (nostalmix)", and "Holic" are some of the most well-known.
  • This game also has the first songs in the core series with tempo changes.  In addition to "Wild Rush" from Solo 2000, ".59", "era (nostalmix)", and "Saint Goes Marching (Remix)" all change their speed at least once during the song.
The home port of this game was released for the PlayStation in Japan in March 2001.  As I mentioned at the end of my last Dance Dance Retrospective entry, this game includes the 6-Panel mode from the Solo series.  Another game based off the 4thMIX engine, Dance Dance Revolution Extra Mix (June 2001, Japan) combined all the new songs from Bass Mix, Solo 2000 (excluding megamixes), and 4thMIX Plus... oh wait, I already said that.  Abroad, the platform was also borrowed for Dance Dance Revolution Konamix (April 2002, North America), Dancing Stage Party Edition (November 2002, Europe), and the PSone version of Dancing Stage Fever (2003, Europe).  Konamix and Party Edition share a songlist comprised of over 50 Konami originals and in Konamix's case, nothing else.  They even brought back some songs from the Club Version games and made a new remix of "AM-3P" from 2ndMIX.  (And by the way, Konamix was the first DDR game I ever bought, so it's really nostalgic to me.)  Party Edition replaces the one Japanese-language track in the American game ("Dive" by BeForU) with six exclusive licenced songs, by Kylie Minogue, The Cardigans, The Bloodhound Gang, and more.  As for Fever, the PSone version is basically Extra Mix with a replaced (and horribly small) songlist, but it isn't worth mentioning... especially since we have bigger fish to fry.  Coming soon... 5thMIX.

1Dance Dance Revolution Konamix instruction booklet. April 2002.

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