Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Extreme

Things were really picking up for the Dance Dance Revolution franchise by the end of 2002.  More arcade machines were being imported from Japan, more home games were being released in the US and Europe, and most importantly, I said in sarcasm mode, I discovered the thing.  So with all this momentum building up, it seems ironic that Konami created what many thought would be the end of the series.  But you have to admit, they did it big with Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (Arcade, 25 December 2002), the first core series title to abandon the established numbering system.  Now, my opinion on Extreme has been tainted by over-exposure as, for a number of years in the mid-2000s, it was the only DDR title most arcades would carry, so I happened to get sick of it real quickly.  But time heals all wounds, amirite?

The cabbage-green colour scheme is... an acquired taste.
(From the Japanese home version.)
The colour scheme in Extreme is based on greens and yellows, which in my belief didn't turn out as cool as the last few games, but again, it may just be my fatigue of the whole thing.  The framework is built off of MAX2, with three notable additions: 1) the Beginner difficulty level.  In case you've forgotten, Beginner mode was last seen in the 3rdMIX era, and is a simplified version of the Light-level charts, with almost all of them ranked at 1 foot.  As in 3rdMIX and its spinoffs, Beginner charts show a dancer on-screen playing the same steps, except this time, in versus games the other player can play on his or her own difficulty.  Technically this was first revived by Dancing Stage Euromix 2 earlier in the year, but it's not like you're gonna see that game in America or Japan. 2) the Challenge difficulty.  Technically used in 4thMIX and MAX2, but this fifth difficulty level is now available during regular gameplay.  This means the Challenge mode remixes from MAX2, which only have Challenge charts, can now be played freely.  And 3) the Nonstop mode.  In addition to the Challenge mode from MAX2, Nonstop, which uses a regular Groove Gauge as opposed to the "battery" life bar, makes its first appearance since 4thMIX.  Nonstop mode here behaves identically to its use in 3rdMIX; all the courses are 4 songs long, and the difficulty can be changed between one of two settings.  4) the Marvelous timing mark.  It indicates more precise timing than the Perfect mark, but is only used in Challenge mode.

Recognise that robot in the background?  Even the artwork evokes the classic era.
(From the Japanese home version.)
The songlist in Extreme is BIG: it set a new record at 240 total songs.  Most of the stuff from MAX2 is back, but they brought back scads of revival songs from all over the franchise, including the 2ndMIX Club Versions, thus giving the songlist a "Greatest Hits" feel.  There are even Dancemania licences making repeat appearances, including "Butterfly" from the first game.  And let me tell ya: that song drove me to insanity like wow, considering how often it gets played by the casual set.  Seriously, arcade operators should put up "No 'Butterfly'" signs like guitar stores do with "Stairway to Heaven".  On top of that, Konami set another online poll, this time giving players the chance to nominate songs from the other Bemani games (click if you need a refresher) for inclusion into Extreme.  The winners included some of the biggest hits from their respective franchises: "Colors", "V', "A", and "Sakura" from beatmania IIDX, "Daikenkai" from Pop'n Music, "Across the Nightmare" and "The Least 100 sec." from Guitar Freaks & DrumMania, and so on.

Notable new songs include:
  • "AM-3P (303 Bass Mix)" by KTz remixed by U1.  This song was first introduced in the American exclusive DDR Konamix (mentioned previously) earlier in the year, and made its arcade debut here.
  • "bag" by RevenG.  This song is driven by bagpipes, uniquely enough.  At only 65 BPM, this is among the slowest songs in all of DDR, but with a level-10 Heavy chart, this means the arrows are packed really tightly.  Speed modifiers are highly recommended should you attempt this.
  • "Cartoon Heroes (Speedy Mix)" by Barbie Young.  A cover of the 90s Euro-pop song by Aqua of "Barbie Girl" fame.  One of the hardest songs to come out of the Dancemania Speed albums for this game.
  • "Daikenkai" by des-row feat. Tsuboi for Alpha.  A tie-in with Pop'n Music.  While this Japanese rap-rock song is regarded by some as one of the worst in all of Bemani, it boasts a mid-song tempo change and a Challenge chart which is considerably draining for an 8-footer.
  • "Sakura" by RevenG.  A tie-in with beatmania IIDX 8th Style.  This song uses traditional Japanese-style instruments but plays similar to "MaxX Unlimited", with a breakdown section and a max speed of 320 BPM.  The Heavy chart is ranked at 10 feet (albeit an easy 10 feet), but ironically, the Challenge chart is easier at 9 feet.
The extra stage system returns, with a twist.  This time around, when you get an Extra Stage (by getting a AA grade or better on your final song on Heavy), you can play any song you choose.  These are the "boss" songs which are selectable as an Extra Stage:
  • "Trip Machine Survivor" by De-Sire.  A remix of "Trip Machine".  It's not really a boss song - the Heavy chart ranks at level 9 instead of 10 - but it's grouped in with the other bosses.
  • "PARANOiA Survivor" by 270.  A remix of "PARANOiA" which, with a tempo of 270 BPM, has more in common with "Max 300".
  • "PARANOiA Survivor MAX" by 290. A faster (290 BPM) version of "PARANOiA Survivor".  Adds a Challenge-level chart which, for a while, was considered the hardest chart in all of DDR.
  • "The Legend of MAX" by ZZ.  The next evolution of "Max 300" and "MaxX Unlimited".  This one runs at a constant 333 BPM apart from the expected breakdown in the middle.  While it is faster than the other "Max" songs, the steps are a little toned down in the technical department compared to "MaxX Unlimited".
  • However, should you earn the Encore Extra Stage, you'll be forced to play "Dance Dance Revolution" by DDR All Stars.  Another speed-rave song from the Naoki camp, the challenge chart is special in that it's composed entirely of passages from other famous DDR songs, like "AM-3P", "Afronova", "Dynamite Rave", "B4U", et al.
The Japanese home version of Extreme (PlayStation 2, 9 October 2003) hosted 100 songs, including the debut songs from the arcade version, debuts from the American MAX2 a smattering of revivals from across the series, and "max. (period)" by 2MB (Yuichi Asami), a new remix of "Max 300" which ends in a double-tempo rush.  That means 600 BPM, too fast for me to even follow.  While North America also got a home game entitled Dance Dance Revolution Extreme in 2004, it turned out to be a different experience entirely...  But that will have to wait for another day.  Before I can explain myself, I'd like to take you around the world, showcasing some of the home games released in 2003, on the next Dance Dance Retrospective.

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