Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Competition

It has been said by Nintendo's Satoru Iwata that "[...] the history of entertainment is also the history of imitation", and this certainly rings true for the Dance Dance Revolution.  Considering how it and its Bemani brethren have all but crafted their own genre, it was inevitable that other companies would try and take a bite of Konami's apple.  Some of these even had lasting effects on the Bemani franchise, so it was also inevitable that I'd have to talk about it at some point.

One thing I should point out before we start is that a lot of these imitators, particularly during DDR's earlier days, originated from the Republic of (South) Korea.  They have an excuse:  For decades after World War II, the two Koreas banned Japanese products in response to what the former empire did during its earlier colonisation of the peninsula.  (Not their finest hour, I'm willing to admit.)  Of course, this included video game hardware and software (although some Nintendo and Sega products were re-branded and sold by South Korean companies).  South Korea's ban expired in 1998, but the damage was done: Personal computers, not consoles, stuck as the Koreans' platform of choice for playing computer games.  And, as we will see below, they saw themselves as having some free reign to adopt Japan-originating gaming concepts as their own.

Pump It Up! (1999-Present, Andamiro (South Korea), 18 games)
Pump It Up! (PIU), by Andamiro, is not only the most prolific of the games to copy Dance Dance Revolution, but is the most direct clone.  The game uses a dance pad of five panels arranged in an "X" shape, essentially, the inverse of DDR's controller.  The soundtrack has primarily composed of contemporary Korean pop licences and original songs by "Banya", their counterpart to Naoki Maeda of DDR.  But ever since the mid-2000s, once Andamiro noticed how their games were taking off in Central and South America, they started throwing Latino songs into the mix as well.  The end result is that there's virtually nothing recogniseable to North American ears, so you'll pretty much have to explore the tracklists blindly to find something you'll like.  But PIU also innovates in its own ways, like the nonstop megamixes, the quest modes (think Dance Master Mode from Extreme 2, but you can save your progress with a USB memory stick), and much harder high-level charts.  These advancements in difficulty have inadvertently (?) resulted in an uneven difficulty curve among the three difficulty levels (think Normal = Light, Hard = Standard, and Crazy = hard than Heavy).

Believe it or not, I have faint memories of playing one of the PIU games even before I heard of DDR.  (I bombed. ^.^;)  Since I discovered DDR, I have had a love-hate relationship with this series.  Initially I was opposed to it in a manner similar to how I regard Shrek to this very day - which is bad.  But after only a couple of years I got over myself, and recognised that both series have things they could learn from one another.  Andamiro could learn to licence more songs Americans would be familiar with (we're 300 million strong, don't count us out), smooth out the difficulty curve from the Hard to Crazy levels, and put some honest-to-blog trance songs in the mix.  And Konami could learn to get creative with their high-level charts, especially since jumps with 3 or more simultaneous arrows are commonplace in PIU yet unheard of in DDR, and start letting us use USB devices to save profiles instead of forcing their eAmuse system upon us (as covered here).

For the reasons I detailed at the beginning of this article, PIU has had much less success on the home console scene compared to DDR.  Only one console release was sold in either Korea or North America: Pump It Up Exceed (PlayStation 2 / XBox, 2005).  Apart from that, they also released PlayStation Portable versions of PIU Exceed and Zero within Korea, but bear in mind the PSP has no region restrictions, so if you're inticed enough, feel free to get importing.  The most recent game, Pump It Up: 2011 Fiesta EX was released worldwide in 2011.

EZ2Dancer (2000-2004, Amuseworld (South Korea), 5 games)
EZ2Dancer can best be described as a hybrid between Dance Dance Revolution and DanceManiaX (refresher).  The control setup utilises three floor panels to step on and two hand sensors to wave over.  The last game, EZ2Dancer Super China, was released in China in 2004.

TechnoMotion (2000, F2 Systems (South Korea), 2 games)
TechnoMotion branded itself as a fusion of Pump It Up and Dance Dance Revolution, in that it utilised the gameplay styles of both franchises.  The two dance pads each boasted nine panels, allowing for modes supporting four (DDR), five (PIU), or eight panels (all except the centre panel).  As awesome as it would be to play songs from both series on one machine, we were sadly not granted that luxury; the soundtrack was almost exclusively K-Pop licences.  The last game, TechnoMotion: The 2nd Dance Floor, was released worldwide in 2000.

In The Groove (2004-2005, Roxor (United States), 2 games)
In The Groove comes to us courtesy of Roxor Games, made up of programmers for StepMania, an open-source DDR clone for computers.  The control setup is identical to DDR's 4-panel layout, but so many more tricks: three- and four-panel jumps, Mines (pressing the panel will deal damage), and Rolls (like Freeze Arrows, but the panel must be tapped repeatedly).  Sadly, it was too similar to DDR for its own good; in 2006, Konami sued Roxor, and bought the rights as a settlement, preventing a third game and a home port of the second game from being produced.  But the news isn't all bad; the team members later jumped ship and developed the Pump It Up! Pro games, blending the music and concepts from both PIU and ITG.  The last game, In The Groove 2, was released worldwide in 2005.

Guitar Hero (2005-2010, Activision (United States), 11 games)
Don't laugh.  I'm lumping the Guitar Hero series in here not because it involves dancing - it doesn't - but because it represented a shift in music gamers' mentality.  In focusing on rock & roll music, Guitar Hero was, from what I've inferred, more in tune (no pun intended) to most Americans' taste in music, allowing it to take off in ways DDR could never hope to out of its native Japan.  And take off it did, a little too well in fact - with so many of its spinoffs and competitors crowding the market, on top of the traditional once-a-year installments, Activision put the series on an indefinite hiatus after 2010.  The last game, Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock was released worldwide in 2010.

Just Dance (2009-Present, Ubisoft (France), 15 games)
With Just Dance, dancing games have finally come back into vogue - but not as you remember them.  This new paradigm involves mimicking dance steps and poses with your whole body, either by using the Wii Remote, or with the PS3 or XBox 360 motion cameras.  As usual, many competitors have emerged, the most prominent being Dance Central and Konami's own Dance Masters, and even DDR tried to incorporate this kind of gameplay at some point (the Choreography Mode in DDR 2010).  The most recent game, Just Dance Wii 2, was released in Japan on 26 July 2012, with Just Dance: Disney Party currently in development.

But enough about these pretenders.  On the next episode of Dance Dance Retrospective, our main event is making its long-awaited return to the arcades!  But... does anybody care anymore?

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