Seriously, what could make DDRMAX such a milestone in the evolution of the Revolution? It all starts with a gimmick, albeit a gimmick that caught on quickly: ladies and gentlemen... the Freeze Arrow. These are long green arrows which, instead of just stepping on, you have to step and hold your foot on the panel until it passes the step zone completely. Successfully holding a Freeze Arrow for its duration earns you an "OK" mark and points, but taking your foot off the panel too early knocks you with an "NG" mark, which doesn't break your combo, and a Groove Gauge penalty. Higher-level charts mix it up by placing extra notes on other panels during a Freeze Arrow, which you must hit with your other foot. From my experiences, arcade panels need a shot more pressure to keep a Freeze Arrow held compared to a soft home pad.
Going through the menus, MAX looks a lot like 5thMIX, sharing a color scheme dominated by soft blues/greens and rounded corners. The second screen, however, is new: after your play style is confirmed, you get to choose which difficulty level you wish to start out on. (At this point it's also worth noting that the difficulty names have been changed to Light, Standard, and Heavy. This will stick for a while longer than the last time they changed those names.) This menu is technically pointless; you can change your difficulty at will later on, just like you could since 3rdMIX, but perhaps new players won't know about that. I know I didn't. So with that out of the way, we are introduced to out music menu. It's a lot like in 5thMIX with one glaring exception: the difficulty ratings have been replaced by the "Groove Radar", a five-sided chart displaying the chart's difficulty visually based on 5 criteria:
|The Groove Radar indicates difficulty.|
- Stream: Average density of steps in the chart.
- Voltage: Maximum density of steps in the chart.
- Air: How many jumps are used in the chart.
- Freeze: How many Freeze Arrows are used in the chart.
- Chaos: How many irregular notes (8th, 12th, 16th), or "chaos steps" as I will now call them, are used in the chart.
DDRMAX runs on a brand-new engine, comparable to the likes of the PlayStation 2, and Konami chose to show this off during the gameplay. The animated still images which comprised the background footage of the previous generation are replaced by computer-generated FMVs. This new eye candy ranges in subject matter from more smoothly-animated shapes and text, to footage of the classic characters - who are conspicuously absent from this and the next few games. They even replaced the previous announcer with an African-American - yet equally hammy - one, whose lines such as "U.M.A.! U.M.A.!" qualify as, for better or worse, crazy. But in the end, you're still trying to survive and score points (the maximum score is now 50 million points plus a bonus, regardless of difficulty).
|Gameplay with Freeze Arrows.|
- "So Deep (Perfect Sphere Remix)" by Silvertear, a licenced trance song. With the new combo system, where jumps add 2 to your combo streak instead of 1, the Light chart tops out at 125 notes, Standard has 250, and Heavy has a whopping 500 max combo. This gives the Heavy chart a distinctive - and stamina-draining pattern of chaos steps.
- "Exotic Ethnic" by RevenG (comp. Naoki Maeda). Following the tradition of the "artist" formerly spelled Re-Venge, this song utilizes Egyptian and Indian musical influences, a fast tempo (190 BPM), and charts filled with Freeze Arrows and (on Heavy) crossover patterns like in "Afronova".
- DDRMAX also marks the introduction of the Extra Stage system. By getting a AA grade on your final song on any Heavy chart, you get to play "MAX 300" on Heavy. Not only is this the hardest song/chart in the game, but the 1.5x and Reverse modifiers are automatically switched on, and your Groove Gauge starts out full but does not recover. Clear that with a AA, and you get to play the Encore Extra Stage, "Candy" on Heavy. Break the combo or a Freeze Arrow just once here, and the song ends. These two songs are initially locked, but beating them once as an Extra/Encore Extra Stage unlocks them for regular play (thankfully, other workarounds exist in the home versions).
- The Extra Stage is "MAX 300" by Omega (comp. Naoki Maeda). This hardcore techno song sets new records for speed (300 BPM) and difficulty (555 max combo on Single Heavy). In fact, Heavy on this song is so hard, even I can't beat it consistently (usually only in the arcade, where I have a bar to lean on). Take my word for it, or it'll stomp your stamina to the curb. Also of note is during the middle of the song, when the tempo slows to a brief stop during a Freeze Arrow.
- The Encore Extra Stage is "Candy" by Luv Unlimited (comp. Naoki Maeda). This electro-pop song is loaded with Freeze Arrows on most charts and while it is a world easier than "MAX 300" (when the old ranking system was re-instated in DDRMAX2, the Heavy chart was rated at level 8), but as an Encore Extra Stage, you're expected to clear it without messing up. Once.