Reviewed: March 8, 2007
Released: February 27, 2007
Dance Dance Revolution Universe is the latest installment of Konami’s popular dancing franchise, and it marks the series’ debut on a next-gen system; the Xbox 360. With more music and some new modes this enduring franchise continues to challenge those who have the slightest desire to bust a move (or a hip).
With a massive library of more than 70 songs and 100+ minutes of music spanning techno, house, R&B, and trance, plus even crazier psychedelic animated backgrounds, live video, and exceptional online play and downloadable content, Universe is truly the ultimate installment in the DDR series, and this is only Konami’s first attempt on a next-gen system.
Chances are if you are reading this review then you don’t need the gameplay explained to you, but just in case, DDR is founded on the principle elements of directional commands (arrows) that rise from the bottom of the screen toward their matching outlines along the top. Your goal is to match those symbols precisely as they pass through their outline. In theory this sounds like an easy proposition, but just wait until they start throwing multiple directions at you at the same time, or perhaps combining “holds” (where you have to keep the button pressed for an extended duration) while continuing to match other symbols.
The speed of the symbols is based on the BPM (beats per minute) of the music and the number of symbols is based on your chosen difficulty. On the easiest skill level a song might have 80-100 steps in the entire mix, but on the Light setting this number doubles or even triples. Choosing Normal or Hard drives the difficulty into the realm of impossibility. Only professional dancers and speed freaks need apply.
DDR can be played with the gamepad or a dance mat, a pair of dance mats, or for the ultimate in challenging fun, Universe now supports three and even four dance mats in the new Quad mode. I have to admit that on the PS2 and Xbox I usually wimped out and played this game with a gamepad, but this really isn’t a good option for the 360 since the wireless gamepad has just enough lag to make the gameplay a bit unpredictable. Eventually you can learn to adjust for the millisecond lag (which is just enough to turn a Perfect into a Great), but it’s just best to suck it up and break out the dance mat for the most immersive experience.
There is fantastic support for local and online multiplayer making this the ultimate party game. There are more than 70 popular songs featuring some of the hottest mixes from world-famous DJ’s, and you can download more for a small fee on Xbox Live. This is the kind of music you’d hear in some of the best clubs and raves from around the world.
While distracting to those actually playing the game, spectators can enjoy plenty of funky kaleidoscope graphics with CG animated backup dancers that boogie down on the screen. As the dancer playing the game, it takes a lot of concentration to see “through” the distracting backgrounds and focus on the symbols, especially when they have live music videos with hot women.
Dance Dance Revolution Universe brings back the Party Mode from the previous game. This is a compilation of various games that allows players to compete against their friends for ultimate dance supremacy in completely new ways. Challenge Mode is also back and allows players to dance through various rounds of play completing specific goals and objectives. Workout mode is now more of a toggle that you can turn on and play the rest of the game modes normally, while DDR tracks your burned calories. There is also a new Relay mode that allows you to switch off dancers and keep the dance party going all night long.
The Quest mode is a rather shallow disguise to mask the endless dancing by having you travel across the U.S.A. competing for cash and the title of DDR Champion, yet I found that once I got into this mode it was hard to stop playing. There are 60 cities spread across the USA and Canada and you have to earn a certain amount of fans in each city before moving on. Talk to NPC's and use your cash to hire back-up dancers, unlock music, and purchase videos before you move on to the next city.
Each city usually has an agent who wants you to recruit a certain number of fans, or perhaps an existing champion will challenge you to a “dance off”. Depending on the type of challenge it might require multiple songs to win the event, while other challenges have to be completed in a single song and usually on a harder skill level.
Universe features online play with plenty of modes and all of the matchmaking services you’d expect from Xbox Live. Most surprising was that the gameplay flows quite smoothly. For a game that requires precise timing, any lag would kill this title. Thankfully, there was none in the 20-some matches I participated in. DDR must really be catching on, as there were even more people playing this year than last.
The multiplayer modes are rather inventive and include Team Battle and Synch modes. The Team Battle mode is your typical versus mode that has you competing with a rival dancer to get the most flawless run possible. The Synch mode has you and a partner dancing together and synchronizing their steps. The game actually detects any timing differences between the two players steps.
The song list is simply phenomenal with a vast library of songs covering enough genres that you’ll certainly find at least a dozen or more that you’ll like. They even have some classic rock that has been spun into techno dance remixes. And if you are a veteran of previous DDR games on other systems you can look forward to downloading previously released DDR songs on Xbox Live.
You can sort through the massive list of included music by alphabet or BPM and there is a cool Groove Radar that breaks each song down by Stream, Chaos, Freeze, Air, and Voltage then color codes the degree of difficulty for each of these pie sections of the radar. You’ll really need to study this meter when choosing certain songs for specific songs. If you need to perform a 30 combo for freezes then you need a song with a lot of freezes in it.
While DDR players don’t expect a lot when it comes to graphics, DDR Universe delivers some of the most hypnotic and mind-blowing visuals of any music game ever released on any system to date. The arrows are generally easy to see and “holds” and “double-tap” notes are clearly indicated by unique symbols. Things can get distracting when the background gets cluttered with animated dancers and some serious flashy effects. Of all the DDR games I’ve played, this is the first where I simply sat through the songs in Jukebox mode just to watch the live action videos and kaleidoscope effects.
The menus are more about function than form but they still have some elegance and the scoring and music selection screens are colorful and easy to navigate. As you unlock new banks of music they are color-coded so you know what’s new and each song is marked with your best letter grade. The information on the HUD during the game is clear and easy to read provided you can take your eyes off the streaming steps long enough to read it.
The Quest mode offers a bit of creative variance with a nice anime-style map of the United States and Canada with 3D icons for cities complete with landmarks and travel lines that connect them. When you pick your next destination a plane or bus will take you to that location and any cities in-between. Again, this interface and arbitrary acquisition of fans is merely a disguise to keep you playing DDR Universe longer than you might otherwise, but it works. My first session lasted nearly 5 hours as I was trying to paint the entire map by visiting every city at least once.
As with any music or dance game the soundtrack is the driving force behind the gameplay. Universe boasts a bigger music library than any DDR game before ranging from dance, techno, disco, and some interesting hybrid mixes. Some of it is licensed and some of it is totally original and much of it is fairly obscure to the general public, but Universe does manage to offer more familiar music than any previous DDR title.
With energetic tunes from Depeche Mode, Chris Brown, Kylie Minogue, Jamiroquai, New Order, Goldfrapp, Philip Steir feat. Steppenwolf (one of my favorite remixes), Cascada, Verbalicious, Sugar Hill Gang, DJ MIKO, Pendulum, skylab2000, Steve Porter, Audio Magnetics, GRIDLOK, and many more, this DDR truly offers a Universe of eclectic music that is fun and challenging for all ages and musical tastes.
Technically, the music sounds fantastic with an immersive Dolby Digital mix and some awesome low-end support to keep that sub-woofer moving some large quantities of air in the heavier dance tracks. The new Jukebox feature allows you to create your own track list and play the music in any order you wish without having to dance, making this the obvious DJ choice for your next party.
You can find Universe bundled with the Konami dance mat for just under $80. Definitely not a bad deal for the content and endless gameplay potential, and the added bonus of being able to download more music for a small fee has the potential to keep this game alive forever. Serious dancers will want to go on a quest for additional mats if you want to explore the multiplayer modes and multi-mat modes.
The new online modes and the increased number of people actually playing DDR on Xbox Live is certainly encouraging. There are now global scoreboards and the ability to organize massive online dance tournaments. The numerous modes, multiplayer gaming, and even the quirky potential to use this game to shed a few excess pounds gives DDR Universe limitless replay value.
Achievement point seekers will delight in 32 objectives that range from completing the entire song list in groups of ten songs, to clearing the challenge mode in each of the difficulty settings. These Challenge achievements are probably the hardest to earn since each skill level has several sub-objectives to complete the challenge. You’ll also get points for unlocking certain songs during the Quest mode, and this can take a good long time since you never know where, when, or who will be offering you the songs you need.
Whether this becomes your next favorite party game or just a guilty pleasure you experience behind closed doors, DDR Universe is the definition of addictive gaming, and once you start dancing it becomes painfully difficult to stop. The only thing Konami really left out was support for the USB camera and you know they’ll add that in the next one.
You’ll never catch me playing this game in the arcades but having DDR on my Xbox 360 ,ready to humiliate myself in the privacy of my own home is undeniable fun. And DDR Universe is by far the hardest game in the series with some insanely fast music, extremely difficult patterns to memorize, and blinding visuals that are way too distracting – in a good way.
There is no mistake; this game was designed for veterans of the series, but newcomers will have a much easier time getting into the swing of things with the new beginner mode that eases you into the DDR lifestyle. It won’t be long before you are ready to tackle the Master mode and all that it has to offer.
So, if you are in the mood for some killer techno tunes and house music then DDR Universe is the ultimate selection of high-energy dance beats and a total blast to play. You won’t find a more comprehensive or fun dancing game out there, at least until they release the next DDR.