Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: Extreme (2004)

As early as the first quarter of 2004, buzz for the American version of Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (21 September 2004, PlayStation 2) was high.  Early screenshots depicted an experience nigh-identical to the arcade game many of us, at the time, had a fondness for.  Read here if you don't remember.  And then... somewhere along the line, Konami pulled a bait-and-switch on us, transforming the title we knew and love into something that, while essentially played identically to the DDR format you should be familiar with by now, looked alien and unusual.  And based on the laws of the Internet, when something like that gets changed, it sucks.  There was a mild furor stirring up on online DDR communities around the release of the new Extreme, with people likening it to what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.  Only problem is, that game played well and was highly regarded in hindsight; would the same happen here?  Yes, actually.

This design is what had everyone up in arms?
What little issue could've gotten gamers so up in arms?  Well, it all has to do with the interface style.  Extreme 2004 replaces the yellow-green colour scheme from the arcade version with a simpler, blue-green-based look.  And instead of the MAX-era "song wheel", the music selection screen is something of a mix between that and the one from the 1st-3rdMIX era, with the song titles curving up to the top in a circle.  True to the classic style, pressing Left shifts the tracklist to the right and vice-versa.  Is it a half-hearted attempt at evoking the old games?  Maybe, but this was anything but a dealbreaker for me, and judging by its reception nowadays, I'm glad my opinion spread so far.

So what could've inspired such a "drastic" change in aesthetics?  Some people would point to the integration of the Eyetoy camera (PS: predates the Kinect by seven years).  While the music menu looks as if it was designed to be controlled with your hands, this was not the case. Instead, you can access Eyetoy-enhanced gameplay from the game's Party Mode, you can play normally with yourself as the backdrop ("Watch Me Dance"), wipe the screen with your arms and body to see the arrows ("Clean The Screen"), or use your hands as additional inputs ("Hands And Feet").  This last one is notable is the closest thing we've gotten to the 6-panel mode from the DDR Solo series in a while.  There are also other minigames that use the Eyetoy or the dance pad which, while they don't involve dancing, are fun diversions in their own right.  My tip of the hat to Konami for doing the impossible: creating a casual party game which doesn't neglect the "true gamer" set.

Hands and Feet mode.  I apologise for the derpy model.
How can I prove this claim?  All 5 difficulty levels are accounted for, and the 71-song setlist features a good number of songs from the 2002 Extreme, including "The Legend of MAX" as a boss song.  (NB: The Extra Stage system has been scrapped; the main mode does not limit the number of songs you can play before you quit.)  The scoring system is a little weird: like in 5thMIX and Max, the game adds a bonus on top of your base score.  However, the base score always tops out at 7 million points, and the bonus can bring it up to an even 10 million.  This is just me, but I'm like, why not just give us the 10 million up front?  Maybe if I knew *how* the bonus was calculated, I wouldn't be so up in arms...  There's also the Mission Mode, which gives you a hundred score-based or modifier-based challenges for sections of songs.  Unfortunately, the unlocking mechanic in Mission Mode is a little unweildy, and the difficulty can get out of hand, especially on missions where you have to get as many Great or Good marks as possible.

Notable new songs include:
  • New licenced songs include "YMCA" (by The Village People), "Move Your Feet" (by Junior Senior), and "Go West" (Pet Shop Boys).  Continuing the tradition from MAX2 USA, some of these songs use their own music videos.
  • Expanding on how the 2002 Extreme featured songs crossed over from other Bemani games, this time around there are pop song covers featured in the Karaoke Revolution series.  These are "Believe" (as made famous by Cher), "Bizarre Love Triangle" (New Order), "Ladies' Night" (Kool & the Gang), "Like A Virgin" (Madonna), and "Waiting For Tonight" (Jennifer Lopez).
  • In addition, there are two songs inspired by the Silent Hill franchise, of all places: the R&B "Your Rain (Rage Mix)" by Akira Yamaoka and the quasi-country "You're Not Here" by Heather. 
  • "Highs Off U (Scorccio XY Mix)" by 4 Reeel.  A revival licence from MAX, this samples from "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  Notably, this song notably has the F-bomb in its lyrics but the game STILL got an E (ages 6+) rating, but to be honest, it's a little hard to catch.
  • "Memories" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry.  An unlockable trance/eurobeat song dating back to Euromix 2, this was kind of mis-handled this time around.  Unlike with the other hidden songs in this game, no amount of gameplay will unlock this one.  It turns out you have to use a button code to unlock it - the only problem was that this code wasn't unveiled until a 2006 promotion with Burger King - over two years after the game was released.  To unlock "Memories" at any time, enter this on the main menu with a controller in the second port: Right, Right, Right, Right, Up, Up, Up, Square, Left, Left, Down, Down, Down, Square, Square, Select.
  • "Maximizer" by Climax-S (Sota Fujimori).  Despite it's name, it's not technically another sequel to "Max 300", but as a 190 BPM happy-hardcore songs topping out at 8 feet on Heavy, it's no cakewalk either.
You know what's weird?  For the first time, the North American home version was the first international port of any one DDR title to be released.  Its counterpart in Europe was Dancing Stage Fusion (5 November 2004, PlayStation 2) which, at 54 songs, finally took the European franchise a step towards respectability.  Japan was last with Dance Dance Revolution Festival (18 November 2004, PlayStation 2), whose 66-song setlist included exclusives from Ultramix, even DLC songs.  It makes sense because since the XBox console bombed in Japan, they'd never get any of the Ultramix games in a million years.  So, if the XBox wasn't in your interest back in the day, you should consider importing this one.

Why am I starting all my paragraphs with questions?  Heck if I know.  Just stay tuned for the next episode of Dance Dance Retrospective, where we throw yet another Extreme on the pile: 2005's Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2.

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