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game: DDRMAX2
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Konami
date posted: 12:00 AM Sat Nov 1st, 2003
last revision: 12:00 AM Sat Nov 1st, 2003

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By Eric Qualls

The Dance Dance Revolution games are frightening for a lot of people. In the arcade, stepping onto a DDR machine for the first time is a scary event because there is a 99% chance that you are going to make a fool of yourself in front of a bunch of people. The home versions of the game require you to buy expensive dance mats along with a $40 game and a lot of people are afraid to take the risk on something that will break down and have to be replaced. Because of this, the average gamer isn't likely to put the cash down on playing in the arcade or buying a home version. Adding to the fear of Joe Gamer is the fact that all of the media coverage is written by and intended for hardcore DDR fans. Hopefully this review can change all of that and answer some of the questions people have about DDR. MAX2 is the focus of this review, but if I can get more people playing any version of the game I'll be happy.

First off, the basics. DDR is played on a dance pad peripheral that allows you to make control inputs with your feet. On the TV screen, there are four arrow silhouettes at the top of the screen as well as patterns of arrows that scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top. When a scrolling arrow is aligned with an arrow silhouette you have to stomp on the corresponding arrow on the dance pad. You are judged on how good your timing is and when you string several Perfect? steps together the game begins to count them as a combo. The point of the game is to not miss any steps in the song and get a perfect score. You can also play the game with another person with two pads or use two pads in a special single player mode called Double. 

Soft plastic dance pads range in price from $20 to over $100 and hard pads, like those found in the arcade, go for considerably more. You can buy DDRMAX2 in a bundle with an official Konami dance pad (which retails on its own for $30) for a mere $60, so this is a great way for newcomers to DDR to get started without paying too much. Of course, these soft plastic pads break down after a while and will have to be replaced, which can become expensive. Even if you take good care of your pad by storing it right and keeping your fat cousin Jimbo off of it, it is likely to wear out after 4 or 5 months whether you got the cheap model or an expensive one. That is why DDR seems like too much of a risk for a lot of people. It you don't want to spend a lot of money just keep in mind that cheap pads are cheap for a reason (they aren't quite as responsive or accurate), and expensive pads are made for DDR freaks (you know, the people that can do back flips and spins during songs and who also rely on more sensitive pads to register their rapid steps). A moderately priced pad like the official pad from Konami will give you the accuracy you need with solid construction and a reasonable price. 

DDRMAX2 is the best version of DDR to be released in the US due to a wealth of modes and customization options as well as a great soundtrack. Along with the arcade mode that requires you to complete three songs in a row, there is a calorie counting workout mode as well as training and lesson modes to help ease you into the game. The game also features a nonstop mode where you have to do several songs in a row with only a small break in between. There are several nonstop courses available, but you can pick and choose which songs you want and make your own custom courses. You can also edit the steps in each song if the preset courses are too easy for you. About a third of the 65+ songs in the game, as well as a few options such as having animated dancers onscreen, are hidden away and have to be unlocked. You earn points toward new items by playing any one of the modes and it is easy to see just what you unlocked and how far you have to go to unlock the next item by checking out the information screen, which is accessible from the main menu. 

The soundtrack is what makes or breaks a music game, and DDRMAX2 packs the best soundtrack out of any of the DDR games released in the US. The Dance Dance Revolution series has always used Japanese pop music and European club dance music, but MAX2 also features some tracks that will be more familiar to gamers in the US. The Crystal Method, Kylie Minogue, Dirty Vegas, and my favorite, KC and The Sunshine Band have all contributed songs to make MAX2 that much more accessible to US players. There are also fan favorite songs from previous DDR games as well as new tracks. With 65 songs, MAX2 has a whole lot to offer and will keep you busy for a very long time.

Graphically, MAX2 is an attractive game but it isn't anything spectacular. During a song, there are different backgrounds and videos that play, but you have to keep such a tight focus on the arrows that you'll barely notice what is going on elsewhere on the screen. Some of the more popular songs have their music video playing in the background, but they are blurry looking and sort of distracting. Once you unlock the option, you can also have up to three animated dancers onscreen, and this really is the best way to go. The dancers are cel-shaded and look great, and there are a lot of them to choose from. DDRMAX2 isn't the best looking game in town, but it doesn't have to be, and the return of the animated dancers, which were absent from the last game, more than makes up for the less than stellar overall presentation.

In the end, if you are interested in Dance Dance Revolution, there is no excuse not to make DDRMAX2 your first step into a larger and considerably cooler world. You can practice at home and then take your new and improved moves to the arcade, so no more sneaking off when your friends want to bust a move in the arcade. Dance pads aren't too expensive if you choose the right one and investing $30 or $40 into something you enjoy every few months isn't too much of a hit on your checkbook. What is likely to cost you more is that once you start playing MAX2 you are likely to want to pick up the other versions of the game as well. Dance Dance Revolution is fun and addictive and is a great workout and for newbies and hardcore DDR fans alike, MAX2 is definitely worth a purchase.