Monday, August 19, 2013

Dance Dance Retrospective: DDR X

It took me until the 15th anniversary of Dance Dance Revolution to talk about its 10th. Go figure. But whatevs, the time is right to talk about the game that took DDR into its second decade: 2008's DanceDanceRevolution X.
The new DDR X cabinet. ...In Japan.
For the first time in ten years and goodness knows how many games, Konami designed a new cabinet for the arcade version of X. The machine boasted a HD widescreen display, a new external light patterns, including LED bars along the sides, and USB ports which, rather than support profiles as I would've hoped :-(, replace the PlayStation Memory Card ports for the purposes of transferring edit charts from the home versions. At least... in Japan. In order to cut costs, the machines sold in America and Europe were co-manufactured by Raw Thrills... Seriously!? It's not bad enough that Raw Thrills produces inferior games in genres already conquered by the Japanese; now they have to go and ruin one of their franchises directly!? The result is that the HD monitor tends to lag behind the sound, throwing off timing (results may vary), the pads were constructed out of a single piece of metal instead of the "grid" pattern used before, thus being easier to break (again, results may vary), and those pretty light-bars on the sides were taken out. And the USB ports, while still present, were not supported by the home version, but instead a Web browser-based program which only supported a selection of songs from SuperNOVA on, and I couldn't even get the darn thing to work. As in SuperNOVA2, an e-Amusement kit is required for unlocking songs, and unlock codes were unveiled for regions in which the kit was unavailable.

So enough about the outside of the machine, what's going on inside? DDR X makes its own little attempts at modernising the experience, starting with a new difficulty rating scale. The old 1-to-10 scale from the MAX and SuperNOVA eras has been replaced with a scale going from 1 to a possible 20. All difficulties using the old scale have been adjusted, by a roughly 1 1/2-times increase. For example, "PARANOiA" Expert has gone from level 8 to 12, and "MAX 300" Expert from 10 to 15. As of 2013, the highest level ever achieved on this scale by an official chart is 19. And for those of you migrating to this series from Pump It Up!, this scale is also roughly analogous to the scale they introduced in PIU Exceed, back in 2004. It appears that Konami was only now trying to catch up with its competition... specifically, where its competition was that many years ago.

Want proof? DDR X also marks the debut of the Shock Arrow, which damages your Groove Gauge if you're stepping on any of the panels as it crosses the Step Zone. If this sounds like the mines from In The Groove (refresher), they are indeed similar, but with two differences. Shock Arrows always cover all four step directions, and if you hit them, all the arrows on screen will flash invisible for a brief moment. Sadly, the Shock Arrows are a bit under-used, only appearing on Challenge-level charts (themselves copies of other charts with Shock Arrows replacing some notes) for a scant number of songs, and you can't add them to edit data. At least it's fun to play with them every once in a while, and they would return for the next few games.
DDR X employs a new art direction for its background stages.
In contrast to the wide variety of colourful, computer-esque settings that the SuperNOVA games offered as backdrops, there are only six to be found in X. Some are grungy cityscapes, which tie in to urban elements like chain-link fences and masking-tape tags used in the predominantly yellow-orange UI. And then you lay eyes on the birthday cake stage and things start to get more complicated... They brought in new announcers, too: Justin and Wil-Dog from the band Ozomatli, who also contributed a song to the home version. Aaand... they suck. Their uncomfortable mixture of American street slang and gratuitous Japanese makes them the most grating out of all the announcers this series has ever had. On the bright side (figuratively, anyway), DDR X also adds a handful of new modifiers. The Screen Filter option darkens part of the background, making the arrows easier to see, which is a Godsend if sun glare has been a problem wherever you've been playing (in my case, the Jersey shore). You can also change the design of the arrows from the options menu, similar to what the later home games allow.

Notable new songs include:
  • "30 Lives (Up-Up-Down-Dance Mix)" by The Motion Sick. An alt-rock love song built around the Konami Code, of all things. And yes, they do work the code into the stepcharts. Made for the DDR Song Contest 2008.
  • "A Geisha's Dream" by Naoki & Pretty groundbreaking in that it's a collab between Konami and non-Konami acts, but in the end it just serves to cement's association with the DDR franchise.
  • "Always On My Mind" by the Pet Shop Boys. This country classic was re-worked into a post-New Wave version by the band in 1987.
  • "Here It Goes Again" by OK Go. And yes, it does use the "OK Go on Treadmills" music video.
  • "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer. And yes, it does pause at the "Stop, Hammertime" line.
  • A selection of old licences from 1st and 2ndMIX have been revived in the form of "2008 X-Edits". The steps bear plenty of resemblance to their original charts, all of them boast Shock Arrows on Challenge, but unfortunately, the edits made to the songs themselves kinda suck. It's like they tried to avoid using any passages from the original cuts. I realise that the cuts from older games are shorter than nowadays, but these are just jarring to anyone familiar with them. The following songs have been revived in this manner:
    • "Butterfly" by (1st)
    • "Boys" by (2ndMIX)
    • "Dub-I-Dub" by Me & My (2ndMIX)
    • "Get Up'n Move" by S&K (2ndMIX)
    • "Hero" by Papaya (2ndMIX) (Only available on home version)
  • In addition to the X-Edits, Shock Arrow charts are available for the following songs:
    • "Dance Celebration" by Bill Hamel feat. kevens
    • "Flight of the Phoenix" by Jena Rose
    • "Horatio" by OR-IF-IS
    • "On the Bounce" by Neuras
    • "Saber Wing" by TAG
  • The five X-Mixes, which are medleys of new songs. Like the Nonstop mixes from the Solo games and the Long Versions from 5thMIX, these require 2 stages to play.
  • The following songs have been revived from the Hottest Party games, making their core series debut: 
    • "Beautiful Inside (Cube::Hard Mix)" by NM feat. Alison Wade (HP)
    • "Super Samurai" by jun (HP)
    • "will" by Naoki (HP)
    • "Into Your Heart (Ruffage Mix)" by Naoki feat. Yasmine (HP2)
    • "Loving You (Epidemik Remix)" by Toni Leo (HP2)
  • The new boss songs are listed below. In the arcade version, depending on the total difficulty ratings of the songs you chose before, you may get different songs.
    • "On the Break" by Darwin. First available as a Final Stage.
    • "Saber Wing" by TAG. First available as an Extra Stage.
    • "Horatio" by OR-IF-IS. First available as an Extra Stage.
    • "Saber Wing (Akira Ishihara Headshot Mix)" by TAG. First available as an Extra Stage.
    • "On the Bounce" by Neuras. First available as an Encore Extra Stage.
    • "Trigger" by sonic-coll. First available as an Encore Extra Stage.
  • In addition to the boss songs, X also features "X-Special" charts, new Challenge-level charts for numerous classic songs, similar to the Groove Radar Specials from SuperNOVA2, but instead of trying to max out any one element of the Groove Radar, they're just all-around challenging. X-Special charts are available for:
    • "PARANOiA" (1st)
    • "Trip Machine" (1st)
    • "PARANOiA Max (Dirty Mix)" (2ndMIX)
    • "PARANOiA KCET (Clean Mix)" (2ndMIX)
    • "SP-Trip Machine (Jungle Mix)" (2ndMIX)
    • "Afronova" (3rdMIX)
    • "PARANOiA Rebirth" (3rdMIX)
    • "PARANOiA Evolution" (4thMIX)
    • "Trip Machine Climax" (4thMIX)
    • "Healing Vision" (5thMIX)
    • "Candy" (MAX)
    • "MAX 300" (MAX)
    • "Kakumei" (MAX2)
    • "MaxX Unlimited" (MAX2)
    • "Dance Dance Revolution" (Extreme)
    • "The Legend of MAX" (Extreme)
The home version of DDR X was, yet again, made for PlayStation 2. Thankfully (IMO), the shop system from the Extreme and SuperNOVA games has been scrapped; instead, you unlock most songs and content by playing through the Street Master Mode, which deals out missions in the context of stories for each of the game's characters. In practice, these are simple text-box vignettes which provide the most transparent excuses for getting them to dance against one another -- think the DDR equivalent of Professor Layton. Although I did enjoy the quiz missions where you choose an answer by getting the corresponding grade in a song. Don't take it too seriously, and you'll find it a fun way to see all the game has to offer.

With its anniversary out of the way, Dance Dance Revolution will now join the 7th console generation! ...Or not. Read what happens next time on the Dance Dance Retrospective!

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