Friday, January 20, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Class of 2003

As there were four years between Extreme and the next arcade release, I'll be doing something a little different for this installment in Dance Dance Retrospective.  Instead of focusing one whole entry on one particular game, I'll be touching on a bunch of the home games released in the year 2003, from all three major game markets: Japan, North America, and Europe.


For the Japanese market, 2003 saw the home ports of MAX2 and Extreme, as I had previously mentioned.  But after all that, they got a third title: Dance Dance Revolution Party Collection (PlayStation 2, 11 December 2003).  There's little in the way of original content to speak of, with only five or so brand-new songs out of a total 47, and an interface that's basically a re-skinned Extreme.  Like Extreme before it, Party Collection takes a greatest-hits approach, relying on revival songs from across the entire series to date, including the Dancemania licences that were brought back for Extreme.

North America

American and Canadian PlayStation 2 owners got their own version of MAX2, which again I had glossed over before, in the Fall of 2003.  But the XBox faithful were also blessed with Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix (XBox, 19 November 2003), the first "major" DDR release on a non-Sony console.  Despite the extra graphical horsepower the XBox has over the PS2, Ultramix looks similar to its contemporary, with cel-shaded dancers and the same FMV backgrounds from MAX.  But what made Ultramix stand out is how it integrated with XBox Live, the console's online service.  In addition to playing songs with people over the Internet, users could also buy packs of online-exclusive songs, pre-dating similar features in Guitar Hero and Rock Band by years.

Ultramix was developed by Konami's Hawaiian branch, and so some of the fans took issue with some of the game's stepcharts, which were a bit heavy on the Freeze Arrows.  As such, some of the songs from this game were given new Heavy-level charts in subsequent appearances.  That's not to say the game was a total loss, far from it; the Ultramix series spawned a total of four games between 2003 and 2006.  Unfortunately, none of the Ultramix games are backwards-compatible on the XBox 360, but they did follow them up with the Universe series, which saw 3 games in 2007 and 2008.


After the stellar, arcade-only Euromix 2, would Konami of Europe see fit to release a port for home gamers?  Sadly, no; while there were two games released for the PAL region, they both sucked in comparison to their foreign peers.  First is Dancing Stage Megamix (PlayStation 2, 30 May 2003).  It looks identical to Euromix 2, but only contains 28 songs - compare that to most of the American PS2 games, which average 70 songs a pop.  And the new licence songs from Euromix are nowhere to be seen; Megamix replaces them with 7 hit tracks including "A Little Less Conversation" by Elvis vs. JXL, "Love At First Sight" by Kylie Minogue, and "The Lovecats" by The Cure.  And all 7 of these songs only rank at 4 feet on Expert.  The soundtrack is rounded out by some of the Konami Originals from MAX and EuroMIX2, including "Max 300", which at least provides a counterpoint to the stupid-easy licences, but the whole thing is lacking in both quantity and quality.

Then there was Dancing Stage Fever (PlayStation/PlayStation 2, 24 October 2003).  There are 29 songs this time around; the 8 new licences include "All That She Wants" by Ace of Base, "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls, and... really?  "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners.  But shock of all shocks: some of these songs top out at 7 feet on Expert!  Now, I'm not dissing the lower-tier players when I say stuff like that - after all, that's what the other difficulties are for.  But if you're going to attract the better players with songs they might already know from outside of DDR, they should at least be exciting.  Oh, and wouldn't you know it, they saw fit to make a PSone port of Fever.  There are only 15 songs in this version.  Fifteen songs.  That means stuff like "D2R" and "MaxX Unlimited" were cut from the PS2 version, and since it's based off of 4thMIX, the Freeze Arrows are missing from songs that would otherwise have them.  So yeah, Dancing Stage Fever: it's an improvement in its own market, but by any other standards it's just unacceptable.  Can we jump ahead to 2004 please?

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