Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Spin-Offs

When a franchise reaches a certain level of popularity, like Dance Dance Revolution did in Japan at the turn of the millenium, its creators will expand on its popularity beyond the canon entries.  And you know what that means: spin-off games.  Fandom must work differently in Japan.  How else could you explain that there were so many DDR titles released within the span of only a couple of years?  (Seriously, it makes Guitar Hero look like Mega Man Legends in that regard.)  And yet despite only packing a dozen or two songs each, they sold most of them for 5,000 yen* a pop?  I've brought up the 2ndMIX Club Version games and the Solo games in previous entries, and I have let slip that even these games pioneered certain tweaks which would become commonplace in the core series.  So let's explore the rest of the... rest, and see if they have anything worthwhile to contribute.  Please bear in mind that very, very few of these were released outside of Japan and as such, I've never seen any of them in person.  I gathered much of my research on these topics from the website DDRer's Stomping Ground, so if you can read Japanese or have a translator handy, I invite you to read up for yourself.

*5000 JPY = 47.52 USD in Jan. 2000

Until 2008, the Dance Dance Revolution series was known by the name "Dancing Stage" in Europe.  I don’t know, maybe repeating the word "Dance" in the title was too Japanese.  But for some reason, Konami used the Dancing Stage name for a couple of small-name releases in Japan, too. Dancing Stage featuring Disney’s Rave is, as you might expect, a tie-in with Disney, and as such features arrangements of songs from their films and theme parks.  The game also features covers of other licenced songs as well, and not very good covers if I say so myself.  But it did include the "Dance Magic" mode, an extention of versus play where both players can "attack" their opponents with modifiers in the hopes of messing them up.  For 2006's SuperNOVA, this feature was brought into canon as Battle mode.  Oddly, Disney's Rave was one of the few spin-offs that got published in America, as Dance Dance Revolution Disney Mix (PlayStation, 2001).  It replaced some of the licenced songs with Konami originals from the core series, including the mighty "B4U", of all things, and added the Single Maniac difficulty missing in the original.

But say Disney isn’t your thing, maybe you need your licenced games to be a bit more… Japanese in flavour.  They’ve got you guys covered too, with the subsequent releases of  Dancing Stage featuring True Kiss Destination, in 1999, and Dancing Stage featuring Dreams Come True in 2000. Both games feature tracks from their respective J-pop bands, but with only about a dozen songs each, I’d just barely recommend them for fans only.  The same goes with Dance Dance Revolution Oha-Sta, which was a tie-in with the childrens' variety show Oha-Sta (short for "Ohayo Studio", or "Good-morning Studio").  DDR Oha-Sta is yet another game based on the 3rdMIX engine and boasts the standard Basic, Another, and Maniac levels, but as expected from its target demographic, the charts are easier than most of their core series peers.  Taking this concept further is Dance Dance Revolution Kids.  The songs here include TV and anime theme songs, including those from Pokemon and Digimon Adventure.  So, in case you've been dreaming of some sort of Pokemon/Digimon crossover, then sorry, this is the closest you're going to get.

By this point, nearly all the home DDR releases were made for the PlayStation. But that changed with the release of DDR GB for the Game Boy Color.  One wouldn’t think the Game Boy Color was a natural choice to serve as a home for DDR.  Think about it: the 8-bit sound processor is forced to beat the songs beyond recognition, and the traditional dance pad is not an option.  But apparently portable gaming is a bigger deal in Japan than I could've imagined, because somehow it caught on.  Japan got a total of five games for the DDR GB series, including ports of Disney's Rave and Oha-Sta.  And what's more, they even made a dedicated DDR controller that plugged into the GBC's headphone port.  For the longest time, the only other releases for Nintendo platforms were Dance Dance Revolution: Disney's Dancing Museum (Nintendo 64, 2001, Japan only), and Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (Gamecube, 2005).

You may have noticed that many of these games were released around the turn of the millenium.  For better or worse, these habits died out around 2002, the year when games like Dance Dance Revolution Extreme and Beatmania the Final more or less swept away the old generation.  But the spinoff games never stopped, far from it.  There's the Ultramix and Universe series, which I've mentioned before, and licenced titles like DDR Disney Channel Edition and DDR High School Musical in America, and DDR Winx Club in Europe.  To think I've come this far and I haven't even made a passing reference to the Hottest Party series on Wii...  That's because it deserves its own entry, next time on Dance Dance Retrospective.

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