Reviewed: October 6, 2008
Released: September 16, 2008
For the 10th anniversary of Konami's much loved, often-imitated Dance Dance Revolution series of rhythm games, the company released a new title for each system. Their offering for Nintendo's Wii console is Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2, a sequel in both play style and musical selection to the first Hottest Party, released for Wii in 2007. Hottest Party 2 will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played the first one, as little has changed aside from the track listings, but for everyone else a quick rundown is in order.
As with all DDR games, the goal of Hottest Party 2 is to get people up off of their flabby butts and hopping around to the beat of the game's many songs on the distinctive dance pad controller, a large square that rests on the floor and beneath the feet of the player. By stomping one or two of the four directional arrows in time with indicators on the screen, players rack up points and are graded on their accuracy and sense of timing at the end of each song. The concept is simple to understand, but staggeringly difficult to master. Luckily for new players and people with no sense of rhythm, Hottest Party 2 includes two tutorial songs that are designed to teach these basics and help players to get a feel for how the game is played.
Once a player feels prepared, she can test her skills in one of several modes of play, as well as practice on unlocked songs in Training Mode. (Since the other modes will end a song early if a player's performance is too poor, Training Mode is a great place to try, try and try again without having to stop halfway through.) For those with a more passive interest in a song, or who just want to hear the music without actually playing the game, there is also a Dance View mode, easily unlocked, that allows players to watch the game's avatars dancing along to a song in order to "study their moves" (read: listen while doing chores).
There are also a number of multiplayer modes, both cooperative and competitive, but unfortunately the game requires two dance pads for most of them, rather than letting players take turns one a single pad (since these modes often require simultaneous dancing). It's a standard flaw to all DDR games, since there really isn't a way to program around the problem.
Those familiar with the basic concept of DDR games in general should be aware that Hottest Party 2 adds several new or refined "gimmicks" to the mix. A gimmick is the game's term for a less predictable element that is added to the dance pad indicator in order to mix up the experience of playing a song and provide some extra challenge. As in the first Hottest Party game, this game's gimmicks include Double Stomp arrows, which require two stomps in time with the music to be cleared, and Minimizers, which make the arrows on the screen progressively smaller when activated.
New for the sequel are Triple Stomp arrows, which are exactly what they sound like, as well as Sudden Arrows, which when missed will cause all arrows on the dance pad indicator to appear closer to the "stomp now" mark (these are particularly annoying when trying to master a difficult song) and more. As always, gimmicks can be easily disabled if they're not the player's cup of tea.
The biggest deviation between the Hottest Party titles and DDR games for other systems, though, is undoubtedly the addition of hand movements (via the Wii Remote and nunchuk) to the mix. The hand movements allow a player's whole body to get into the groove of a song, at least in theory, and appear along with arrow markers on the dance pad indicator. Hottest Party 2 adds a continuous waggle or shaking motion to the original's simple, one-shake indicators.
Though the sensitivity of the Wii Remote setup occasionally leaves something to be desired, I generally had no trouble getting Hottest Party 2's hand movements to work as intended. During a dance session with four people taking turns at the pad, we found that opinion on the hand movement markers was split. Two people (myself included) found them to be entertaining, while the other two felt that they were distracting and made the game more difficult. Either way, these markers, like the other game gimmicks, can be disabled for those who prefer a more traditional DDR experience.
Hottest Party 2 features just over 50 songs, many of which must be unlocked by playing through the closest thing the game has to a story mode, Groove Arena mode. In this mode, the player chooses from one of several stages or "arenas," each with a specific "crowd request" that must be completed in order to unlock new songs, costumes and characters. Once in a while, the game will spring a seemingly random "challenge" (usually a dance-off) on players, which usually involves a very fast song set to a fairly difficult level. Winning the better score versus the game's AI challenger will unlock the song.
This is probably the single most difficult part of the game to get through, although players who don't mind laughing at themselves should be vastly entertained by the frantic pace of stomping during the challenge. Luckily for those of us who, like Phil Collins, can't dance, every normal mode offers a range of four difficulty levels to choose from. Combined with disabling the gimmicks, being able to play through Groove Arena on Beginner difficulty makes unlocking most of the game's content easy, if unrewarding.
On Beginner difficulty, most songs will have players barely stepping on any arrows at all, making it far too easy to be a real challenge, even for beginners. The next hardest mode, Basic, is much more enjoyable for newer and less-skilled players. There is a challenge at this stage for such players, but it is rarely insurmountable with some practice. After Basic mode, Hottest Party 2 immediately jumps to the Difficult difficulty level, which definitely takes practice even on the lower-ranked tracks.
Arrows begin to fly across the screen thick and fast, often requiring players to step on a new one for every single beat of the drum machine, and quickly switch from one two-stomp to the next (say, Down+Left to Up+Right) without time to think. This is also the mode where dogged determination and constant practice really begin to get rewarding. As for the highest level, Expert... well, it lives up to its name. Let's just say that even hardcore DDR players (and people with a LOT of time on their hands to play) will find that Hottest Party 2 offers challenges that will last for a long time to come.
As for the style of the songs themselves, Hottest Party 2 continues in the style of its predecessor, offering up a number of tracks culled from real-world dance hits of the last 30-plus years. Once again, this sequel has improved a bit on the original by offering a few tracks by the original artists, including three that come with the original music videos instead of the usual DDR stage. Even for people who aren't necessarily fans of the series, it's hard to pass up a chance to dance along to Young MC's "Bust A Move" complete with the original video.
Other standout original tracks include the bubbly "D.A.N.C.E." by Justice, and the hypnotic, pulsating "Scramble" by British group System 7. Many of the covers are also high quality, especially Fraz's version of Duran Duran's collaborative (with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake) dance number "Nite Runner." However, Haley Hunt's rendition of Rihanna's mega-hit "Umbrella" is downright painful. Overall, though, Hottest Party 2 dishes up a lot of high-quality, infectiously catchy tunes to stomp along to. As usual, a whole stable of Konami-commissioned original tracks are also available to play, although they must all be unlocked before they can be played. Konami's originals are up to the usual high standard, covering a variety of genres and difficulty levels.
Outside of Training mode, the game offers up a number of pre-made avatars to choose from who will dance along to the music on one of 50-odd background stages while the player hops along on the dance pad. About half of the prepackaged dancers are locked at the outset and must be earned in the Groove Arena. Hottest Party 2 also allows players to superimpose the heads of their Miis onto several different dancer bodies, which is either funny or just plain weird, depending on how one looks at it. With the right Mii, it can be fairly entertaining, but I found myself almost always opting for one of Konami's well-designed characters instead. The stages, like the dancers, are bright and smooth, but not particularly detailed. The overall visual effect of playing this game is a pleasing one, which is all that really matters in a game that's primarily about music rather than graphics.
In the end, DDR Hottest Party 2 offers up a good solid dose of as-expected DDR gameplay, which isn't a bad thing. Even with the beefing up of the hand movement system and the addition of a few new gimmicks, Hottest Party 2 manages to feel and play more or less like every other recent game in the series. It certainly isn't wildly original. That said, the formula still works, and this game's music is just as fun to dance to than the last Hottest Party, if not even more so ("Bust A Move" again comes to mind).
The addition of a few original dance tracks by artists other than those commissioned by Konami is a welcome touch, and the option to play as a Mii doesn't hurt anything, even if it isn't all that exciting in practice. Four difficulty levels allow everyone with a pair of feet to get in on the action, and the gimmicks (including the hand markers) allow for an extra challenge that can be easily opted out of. DDR Hottest Party 2 gets good marks for being a good (if not great) game, and a solid addition to the Wii's library.