Gaming Nomad’s Retrospective of Dance Dance Revolution
If you were growing up in the late 90’s early 2000’s, you might remember Dance Dance Revolution storming the arcades and anime conventions. You know, that crazy game where you ‘dance’ to arrows on the screen and you’re afraid to play it because you think you’ll look stupid?
I remember Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, DDR for short, being a big deal during my high school years and just for fun, I thought I’d take a retrospective look back on the dancing franchise that would lead the way for a decade of rhythm games.
Originally released as an arcade game by Konami in 1998 and 1999, it was unique for its time as it required players to use their feet on a dance pad, which can be seen as the modern version of the Nintendo Powerpad. The player steps on the arrows at the right time as the arrows on the screen scroll by to a variety of minute and a half songs. The speed of the arrows usually varies on the speed of the song and set player difficulty.
The songs can range from boringly easy to brutally hard. In turn, DDR also became known as a good form of working out. You can easily break a sweat trying to keep a combo of steps going. The idea of playing a video gaming and getting a good workout was very well received and DDR was even promoted by various weight loss programs and enthusiasts. Home versions of the game included workout modes which let you play without worry of a Game Over and let you see how many calories you were burning. It was even named as an official sport by Norway in 2004. It would seem there were many arcade games that used physical movement other than pressing buttons in the wake of DDR’s popularity. To the point where some arcades started to feel like gyms.
Personally, I didn’t find out about DDR till my cousin, Heather, introduced it to me with the home version on Playstation 1. Naturally, like most teenage boys, I was reluctant to play it because of the crippling fear of looking stupid in front other people but I did find myself enjoying the music. In fact, DDR is what got me into electronic dance music. Not my favorite genre, but an enjoyable one. My interest was further peaked when attending Animazment, the annual anime and Japanese culture convention held in Raleigh, NC each year.
During the early 2000’s, DDR was one of the main attractions in the game room.
At the Sheraton where the convention was held, the game room was had a large picture window with DDR and its players right there for all to see. t would attract crowds of people outside the window just to watch these pro-gamers set the dance mats ablaze with their mad DDR skills. In recent years, DDR was absent from the game room at Animazement but it was nice to see it make a return at this year.
I rarely got to go to the arcade to myself so I found myself investing in the home versions of the game. I personally find the PS2 versions of the game to be the best. They are the closest to the arcade versions in terms of music choice and graphics. However, there are versions of DDR for almost every platform out there including PC and even mobile devices. There are all kinds of different mixes as well such the Disney mix and a Super Mario mix. However, I prefer the Euro trance mixes and J-Pop type mixes found throughout much of the classic DDR library of music.
Newer releases of DDR lacked that type of music and seemed to use current American pop music instead. The newest DDR game I played I believe was DDR Hottest Party 3 for the Wii which used mostly music like Lady Gaga, Pussycat Dolls, Rihanna, and more. Ugh, sorry not my kind of music. I missed music from Smile.dk, Naoki Maeda, and other artists who have become well known by DDR fans. Oh well, always the arcades.
DDR has seen a slight decline over the past few years. I feel this is due to two reasons: 1) General lack of innovation in sequels and 2) an over saturation of rhythm games on the market through the late 2000s. They did kind of paint the franchise into a corner with how to improve on future of DDR titles.
There isn’t much change they can give the game without ruining the core experience and for the most part there was no need to improve it. Why fix what isn’t broke, right?
Sure there were new types of arrows added in, use of the Playstation eye camera thing, and even dance pads with more arrows but it was still the same old DDR we all knew and loved. However, in the mid to late 2000s competition started creeping up in the form of Guitar Hero and Rock Band where playing fake instruments and singing became the new popular way to play rhythm games. For a couple years, these were THE party games to have and rock out with but this came with a price.
By the late 2000s, there were yearly releases of Guitar Hero and Rock Band and usually required an upgrade of equipment along with the new game, making each new release pricing around $80 to $200. That’s a lot of money for some plastic pieces of fake musical equipment that would just be replaced within the next year. The cost of these games and the lack of new and interesting ideas temporally ran rhythm games off the map. Rhythm games with a controller, that is.
With motion sensing games becoming popular, games like the Just Dance series became extremely popular with the Nintendo Wii and later the Xbox’s Kinect. It’s also the only game that seems to consistently work well with the Kinect. A dancing game that does not require a dance pad or extra equipment was a big deal. The home version of DDR usually required a dance mat and, while their price has come down, they tend to be easy to break, especially after heavy use and poor storage.
Never the less, I still prefer the selection of music DDR has and dancing to arrows. Unlike most other rhythm games, DDR has had more of a cultural impact. It’s been associated with Japanese culture and seen in many forms of media including a movie from a couple years ago called The FP that was a bizarre (and stupidly hilarious) sort of Mad Max like sci-fi movie based on DDR.
For me, I’ll always look back on DDR with fond memories of high school and anime conventions. The franchise still remains popular in arcades around the world.
For the purposes of this article, some friends and I took part in a photo op at our local Adventure Landing. Considering how long we had to wait to use the DDR machine, it shows that the game is still popular with kids and adults to this day. Thanks for the read and look out for my coverage of Escapist Expo and some Halloween related articles later this month!
Special thanks to – Kelsey Northup, Brian Holder, Phillip Lee, Grant Langston, and Deanna for coming out to do that photo shoot!