Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dance Dance Retrospective: The Mobile Games

At last we have reached the final installment of Dance Dance Retrospective, and with this momentous occasion upon us, please allow me to say... This series was a mistake. A mistake I made whilst blinded by fandom. Pretty much all I did in those articles was describe the changes each game made from one installment to another, no how irrelevant they would be to readers without my level of interest in the franchise. I even planned a video series at one point, but never finished even the first episode once I realised I was wasting all my time on so much minutiae. Oh well, I suppose I let some critical observations slip in from time to time, so it can't have been a total waste. Spoiler alert: I'm going to be doing just that for this article as well.

Okay, so I've covered all of Dance Dance Revolution's arcade games, all the home console games, so what's next...? The mobile market, of course! With pocket-sized touchscreen devices proving their feasibility as gaming platforms ever since the invention of the iPhone, Konami eventually saw fit to introduce their venerable DDR property into the market. Their first foray was DanceDanceRevolution S, which first appeared on the iTunes Store on 25 February 2009. (Ports were later made for Android and Windows Phone platforms, but they were only sold in Japan.) As you might imagine, this game was played by tapping the arrows on a virtual dancepad on the bottom of the screen. As with most mobile games that use virtual-gamepad inputs on a touchscreen, there was always the problem of missing the buttons and not getting any feedback that you did so, but I suppose that could be less of a problem for some gamers. There was also the "Shake Mode", where you shook the iPhone unit in four directions instead of tapping the notes. It was only available for Basic and Difficult charts and, as with any kind of motion control, the lack of physical feedback makes your timing even more imprecise, but as an added bonus, I guess it was fun for a little while. There were 25 songs packed into DDR S, mainly revivals from the Hottest Party games.

Gameplay in DDR S, using a virtual dance-pad at the bottom.
In my opinion, DDR S didn't have the most engaging setlist, but they rectified that issue, in a sense, with DanceDanceRevolution S+ (iOS, 5 October 2009). This game had a price of just ninety-nine cents, but only packed three songs within. That is, unless you count the DDR Store. There were a total of 219 songs released, across 67 song packs, as DLC for S+, spanning more-or-less the entire franchise, including tracks from (the real) DDR X2. There was even an option to purchase a "Starter Pack" of 150 songs for US$65. This was a pretty strong showing, considering that the 2010 DDR games only got a couple of DLC song-packs. And with so much content available, you could pick and choose your favourites to create your own custom Mix. But, I'll say the same thing I said about DDR 2010: if you have to pay extra to get the best content, then the game's just not worth it. Besides, that all-songs pack is a monster case of sticker-shock, you know?

And finally, there was DanceDanceRevolution Dance Wars (iOS, 14 February 2013). Dance Wars followed the example of all those free-to-play games that sprouted up over the past few years. First, a "stamina" system limited how many songs you could play in the main Battle Mode within a certain time frame. (A free-play mode was also available which doesn't include the stamina limit, but you could not unlock new songs this way.) And second, you could invite other players to your "Dance Crew" to unlock content faster. A total of 47 songs were available in-game, mostly revivals from all across the franchise, although only 4 were available without unlocking.

However, I've been using the past tense to describe all these games, because they have all suffered some degree of unavailability. DDR S was taken down from the iTunes Store at some point, perhaps because of S+, which is still available to this day, but recently I've had trouble getting the game's online store to open. And Dance Wars was not only taken down from the store as well, but the online service was shut down on 31 August 2013, barely six months after the game's debut. And with Dance Wars being one of those always-online games, this shutdown rendered the game literally unplayable. I never even got the chance to play it myself due to it not being compatible with my outdated iPod Touch model.

The last time we heard anything from DDR in the North American market was something called DanceDanceRevolution Pocket Edition, which is played on an Apple TV sling-box and an iPhone in your pocket as a motion-sensor, eschewing the physical dance-pad setup entirely. I don't have a lot of information on this edition; apparently it follows the S+ model of a free app with three songs, and about 300 more available as DLC. And it also appears to have been removed from the iTunes Store as of this writing.

And... that's all I've got.

So this is how it ends, huh? It looks like Dance Dance Revolution isn't coming back to the arcades or "traditional" home consoles anytime soon, especially now that we've got the new generation forcing its way onto the market. DDR has managed, of late, to gain a foothold in the mobile-platform market, and I'm just starting to come to grips with this reality. I mean, if other games like GTA: San Andreas and Bioshock can run on iOS or Android, what do I have to complain about? But Konami managed to screw that up too, what with them taking some of their games offline. And having read about Pocket Edition, I should be more supportive of that one, too. For one, they managed to solve the problem of wearing out countless dance pads by taking them out of the equation. And an Apple TV unit is bound to be cheaper than a PS4 or XBox One or what-not... Oh wait, I forgot the exorbitant cost of an iPhone or iPod -- one for each person who wishes to play -- so never mind.

But more so than anything else, my creeping sense of doom for the future of DDR franchise was brought on by the franchise itself. As you may have gathered by reading the past articles of Dance Dance Retrospective, the later games have somehow failed to capture my interest. Maybe it's my own tastes that are shifting towards other genres of gaming, maybe it's a case of running out of new ideas, or maybe they've gone so far from what I interpret as the essence of DDR that they've become irrelevant. And what I envision as the "essence of DDR" may vary from someone else's vision. Like, my vision involves a return to the musical styles of the first few games, with more modern conventions elsewhere, and to cap off a running gag from this series, how 'bout USB UNLOCKS FOR ONCE!! There's always the possibility of DDR making a major comeback, but with the gaming market shifting as it has these days, it may not be in the form we expect. But wherever there's good music, there will always be someone who wants to dance to it. Specifically, to Dance Dance to it.


Ah [verb] it, there's always StepMania.

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