Friday, October 14, 2011

Dance Dance Retrospective: DDRMAX2

If you've been paying attention throughout my Dance Dance Retrospective series (and since the last entry was over three months ago, I'll understand if you haven't), you'll remember me having referred to DDRMAX rather nostalgically.  Although it holds a special place in my heart as the first arcade mix I truly grew up on, I'll admit it didn't have a lot of staying power.  While new gimmicks like the Freeze Arrows were well-integrated, if not well-executed, the game's biggest drawback was that it only had around 45 songs, cutting out anything and everything from all the entries that preceded it.  Fortunately its sequel, DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution 7thMIX (Arcade, 22 March 2002) proved to be a perfect junction between old and new.

The new, edgy colour scheme.
MAX2's colour scheme is an edgy departure from the last few games, dominated by dark reds, oranges, and greys.  The menus are built identically to those from MAX; you go through the style and difficulty selections in the same fashion.  Should you keep pressing right on the difficulty menu, you'll access the Nonstop Challenge mode, which we'll get to later.  The music selection menu is also carried over from MAX, however in addition to the Groove Radar carrying over, the traditional "feet" rating counter makes its triumphant return, this time expanded to a maximum level of 10 to accomodate the boss songs.  One new modifier has been added to everything we got in MAX: It's called "Dark", and it turns the step zone invisible, making it harder to play by sight alone (not that you're supposed to anyway).

The song list has been expanded to a grand total of 116 tracks, broken down into three segments: new songs, MAX revivals, and other revivals.  This means we get all but two of the songs from DDRMAX making a return (with proper difficulty ratings), and 30 of the most popular classic Konami originals, as voted on by a Japanese online poll.  Obviously not everything's been revived, but we do get hits like "Brilliant 2U", "Dynamite Rave", "B4U", and five versions of "PARANOiA".

Some of the songs get new background FMV clips.
Should you have noticed that there were no course modes of any kind in 5thMIX and MAX, have I got something for you: the Nonstop Challenge mode.  The courses here string anywhere from 5 to 10 songs in a row, each centered around a particular theme.  The catch is that whilst playing a Challenge course, your Groove Gauge is replaced by a battery with four lives.  Getting any mark Good or lower, or an NG on a Freeze Arrow, docks a life, and when you run out, you're booted out of the course immediately.  Suffice it to say, this is meant to be a challenge for seasoned DDR veterans, and the fact that many of the songs on these courses use Heavy-level charts only makes it worse in this regard.  In addition, many of the returning Konami originals have remixes which are only playable in Challenge courses.

Notable new songs include:
  • "Break Down!!" by BeForU.  A fast J-rock song with lots of crossovers on Heavy.
  • "Burning Heat (3-option Mix)" by Mr. T feat. Mototaki F (no, not that Mr. T).  A tie-in with beatmania IIDX 7th Style, this is a song based on Konami's own Gradius video games.  This is one of the few songs with a 12-beat structure, meaning that the "chaos steps" are 12th notes rather than the usual 8ths or 16ths.  ...If that went over your head just now, take some music lessons.
  • "D2R" by Naoki.  Since apparently there were no songs by Naoki in MAX, we get two.  The first is a speed rave song following the bloodline of "B4U", and the second...
  • "Destiny" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry, is a hyper eurobeat song which, again, follows its own tradition.
  • "Little Boy (Boy On Boy Mix)" by Captain Jack.  To be honest, there's nothing much notable about this song, except for the subtitle.  It was originally "Boy Oh Boy Mix", but the innuendo-infused rename came from a website which misspelled it whilst reporting on MAX2's location test, and apparently it stuck.
  • "Long Train Runnin'" by Bus Stop, adapted from the hit by The Doobie Brothers.  I don't know about you, but from my experiences it became a frequent pick from casual gamers when it got included on the American PlayStation 2 port.
  • "Tsugaru" by RevenG vs. De-Sire.  Composed by Naoki Maeda, who for some reason used two of his own aliases.  A feudal-Japan-inspired song which may evoke a samurai battle, except for the electro bridge near the end.
  • The Extra Stage system also returns, using these two songs:
    • The Extra Stage is "MaxX Unlimited" by Z (Naoki Maeda).  A remix of "MAX 300", but with far more jumps, Freeze Arrows, and tempo changes.
    • The Encore Extra Stage is "Kakumei" by DJ Taka vs. Naoki.  A trance remix of a piece by classical composer Frederic Chopin.  Appropriately enough, "kakumei" is Japanese for "revolution".  When played as an Encore Extra Stage, the new Dark modifier is used on top of everything from MAX.  It also appears in a Challenge mode course, with an exclusive Challenge-level chart, which is ironically a tad easier than Heavy.
Japan got a faithful port of MAX2 for the PlayStation 2 on 24 April 2003, with a few added songs from games released since the arcade original.  It also inspired a couple of "ports" worldwide; North America got DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution (PlayStation 2, 23 September 2003) and the Eurozone got Dancing Stage Euromix 2 (Arcade, 7 August 2002).  While their visual interfaces match the Japanese MAX2, the songlists don't match up apart from a few Konami originals (even if they are awesome in their own rights).  These two games also replaced the Challenge mode with a Nonstop mode which uses a regular lifebar, and brought back the Beginner difficulty level, not seen since the 3rdMIX era.  The American MAX2 also used real music videos for the background videos on some licenced songs, and re-introduced the pre-MAX characters as an unlockable option.

On the next Dance Dance Retrospective, we will showcase what many assumed to be the last mix for arcades: Dance Dance Revolution Extreme.

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