Monday, September 10, 2012

Dance Dance Retrospective: SuperNOVA

Have you ever noticed the copyright notice screens that played on older arcade DDR editions, which among other things made a warning along the lines of "the public use of this machine outside of Japan is prohibited".  So believe it or not, all those DDR machines up through Extreme were technically brought over here illegally.  Evidently it wasn't a serious offence; as amusement machine distributors imported the games nonetheless, building up the series' popularity worldwide.  And yet technically, there were only two entries officially produced for America, and four for Europe.  But that all changed when the series made its long-awaited return to the arcade scene, with 2006's worldwide release of Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA (EU: 28 April 2006, NA: 15 May 2006, JP: 12 July 2006).

As this was the first arcade entry to be released in almost four years, SuperNOVA catches up by not only reviving most of the songs from Extreme, but the numerous home games that were released during that interim period, including the Ultramix series.  Given the huge song library (303 tracks in all, with 121 arcade debuts), a tradition from 1st and 2ndMIX rears its head once again: the songs are divided into Easy, Medium, and Hard setlists of about a hundred songs each.  However, by pressing the Down arrow twice at this screen, you can select all the songs during play, or access the course modes.  The "beginner helper" characters that play the steps on-screen on Beginner charts are gone, but have re-appeared in spirit for the Tutorial mode, selectable from the same menu.  Replacing the traditional lessons from the home versions, Tutorial Mode  While we're on the subject of difficulty, for some reason the main three levels have been renamed to Basic, Difficult, and Expert, presumably to split the difference between the classic (Basic/Another/Maniac) and European (Standard/Difficult/Expert) naming schema.

Players "attack" each other with modifiers in Battle Mode.  (PS2 version.)
SuperNOVA's gameplay engine is largely carried over from Extreme 2, particularly in the home version, which retains the sub-menu accessible at any of the menus by pressing Start.  Unlike that game, however, SuperNOVA brings back the extra stage system, which works largely like it did in Extreme.  Also, the bonus score has been scrapped, so scoring is always out of 10 million points per song.  One of the only "new" additions to this game is the Battle Mode.   An extention of the versus mode, this has two players (or one player versus the computer) automatically "attack" each other with modifiers, hindering the other's ability to read the notes, with the goal of holding the majority of a "tug-of-war" lifebar.  Technically this was resurrected from Dancing Stage feat. Disney's Rave, but in the years since that game, many modifiers have been added to the DDR canon.  Battle mode even uses modifiers that affect one lane of arrows instead of all four, so... have fun.

The new stages and character models.  (Arcade version.)
The in-game graphics engine has been entirely revamped, dispensing with those of previous games, which used random animated backgrounds and (in some games) characters dancing upon an invisible plane.  Instead, we get the characters doing their thing on futuresque 3D stages, each with distinct colour and shape themes.  I have a rather sour opinion on this decision, as the artistry derived from arranging the scripted animations of yore has been replaced with what is essentially one image for the entire song.  The character models and animations have been also updated for the first time since the series began, but my belief is that in doing so, they have taken a turn into the uncanny valley.  Maybe it would help if they changed facial expressions every once in a while, I don't know.  And I'm not afraid to say it: some of the female characters' costumes and motions cross the line into slutty.

Notable songs include:
  • "AA" by DJ Amuro, a crossover from 2004's Beatmania IIDX 11: Red.  A more trance-like remix of "A" from Extreme, you may be surprised to know that this song's title has no official pronunciation.
  • "Centerfold (130 BPM Move-It Mix)" by Captain Jack.  Their cover of the J. Geils' Band's 1982 hit was the last new song of their used by DDR.  Note that this was the first new DDR title to come out after Captain Jack's frontman's death, so despite their unused back catalogue, could this decision have been out of respect...?  ...Nah, coincidence as far as I'm concerned.
  • "My Only Shining Star" by Naoki feat. Becky Lucinda.  The next in the line of Maeda-san's euro-rave songs, this time with a new vocalist.
  • "Peace (^^)v" by BeForU.  Since we last met BeForU, they had focused less on the Bemani games and started putting out their own albums.  That the in-game music video for this is concert footage may be evidence for such.
  • "Red Zone" by Naoki & Tatsh, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX 11: Red.  Has inspired a number of parody videos on both sides of the Pacific.
  • "Tierra Buena" by Wilma de Olivera, a crossover from 2003's Guitar Freaks 9thMIX & DrumMania 8thMIX.  An Andean-folk-style song, this gets my pick for one of the worst songs used for DDR, or at least the most ill-fitting.
  • "Xepher" by Tatsh, a crossover from Beatmania IIDX.  This gothic-rave song is classified by some as an unofficial boss song, since it has a level-10 Challenge chart.  And if you ask me, the boss songs should me more like this, relying on technical step patterns alone instead of cheap tempo-related gimmicks (see below).
There are more boss songs to choose from in your extra stages:
  • "Healing-D-Vision" by De-Strad.  Bearing only a slight resemblance to the original "Healing Vision", this one has 12th-note patterns and doubles in speed from 180 to 360 BPM near the end.
  • "Max 300 (Super Max-Me Mix)" by Jondi & Spesh.  A revival from Ultramix 2, this has more in common with "MaxX Unlimited" than "Max 300", with its multiple BPM changes.
  • "Fascination MaxX" by 100-200-400 (Naoki Maeda).  As the artist name suggests, this song change tempo, seemingly irrationally, between 100, 200, and 400 BPM.
  • "Fascination (Eternal Love Mix)" by 2MB.  A remix of "Fascination MaxX", sharing its speed changes and pauses.
  • "Chaos" by De-Sire (Naoki Maeda).  Features dozens of little pauses which take loads of practice to memorise.  In fact, some of the stops on this and "Fascination MaxX" knock the arrows off-beat, rendering them imposisble to make edit steps for.
The home version for PlayStation 2 was also released in all three regions (NA: 26 September 2006, JP: 25 January 2007, EU: 27 April 2007).  In place of Dance Master Mode from Extreme 2, the home games introduce the Stellar Master Mode. The stages, called "Stellar Joints", each feature a handful of songs that can be played at will, but with a list of goals to accomplish at the player's pace. Once enough have been fulfilled, the player can take on some boss missions and move on to the next Stellar Joint. These missions include special modifiers like in the last two games. My favourites are the one where you have to play the sequence as fast as possible, regardless of rhythm. I'll tell you one thing, this needs to be spun off into its own Time Attack mode pronto.

Apart from the Stellar Master Mode, the home version of SuperNOVA shares the same EyeToy and online functionalities of Extreme 2, or at least it did until the next game came out and the servers were, yet again, shut down.  Only this time, the online mode hosted a small number of exclusive songs which were not even playable offline.  And when the service went down, there was no workaround to get to the songs within SuperNOVA.  But they were put into the sequel, which is what I'll discuss when Dance Dance Retrospective returns next... week? month? two months? with SuperNOVA 2.

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