I think I may have mentioned previously how much I love Dance Dance Revolution. Spoiler alert: I love it a lot.
My local bowling alley has a lovely DDR arcade machine, which is a little worse for the wear, but still awesome, and I used to play it once or twice a week.
I say “I used to” because the machine is broken.
THE MACHINE HAS BEEN BROKEN FOR TWO MONTHS NOW.
Seriously, about a week after I wrote the above post about my deep and abiding love for DDR and how happy I was that there was an arcade machine in my tiny ass, backwards, southern Oregon town, the machine broke. I called the bowling alley pretty much every day for the first week, asking if it was repaired yet. Finally, one of the managers told me that the motherboard was shot, and they were waiting on parts. So I dialed back to calling once a week, just checking to see if the parts had come in. Two weeks ago, I was told at last that the machine was fixed! Yay! There was much rejoicing! So I hustled my butt on down to the arcade, all ready to put in a massive marathon DDR session.
Only to discover upon my arrival that the employee I spoke to on the phone had been confused. The machine was still broken. The parts still had not come. Defeated, I walked home, seething in impotent, DDR-less rage.
My husband sympathized, but then said, “Seriously, why don’t you just get the game for one of your THREE home game consoles?”
The man had a point. So I called around to some of the local game stores I see who had DDR pads in stock, and started researching prices. It turned into a pretty epic quest.
Allow me to explain. Dance Dance Revolution has been around for a REALLY long time for a video game franchise. The first DDR arcade machine appeared in Japan back in 1998. The machines started popping up in other countries by 1999, and the first home release was Dance Dance Revolution 2nd Remix for the PSX, which also came out in 1999. Since then, the franchise has seen literally almost a HUNDRED relseases in different mixes, versions, platforms, and updates. Seriously, check out the list on Wikipedia. Seems like a pretty healthy franchise.
Only not. Upon closer examination of said list, you will see that there was a new arcade version released a little over a year ago, and a baffling iOS version released the month prior…wait, are you serious, iOS? Can you even use a pad for that? If people are DDRing on their iPhones with their fingers, that is just stupid…
OH FUCK ME.
So yeah. That’s where my beloved franchise is now. On fucking iPhones. And even that shut down last September, as the team retired. The last true home console release with A PAD (A PAD! DDR is played with a DANCE PAD, people!) was back in 2011 on the Wii.
I guess the goddamn Kinect and the Move killed DDR as a franchise. Once enough people had access to camera-based dance games that could accurately track their movements, I guess those took over DDR’s niche. Which I just find sad. I mean, I don’t have anything against the Let’s Dance games, I’ve played them at conventions, and they seem pretty fun…I just…I REALLY LIKE DDR, OKAY?
So it seemed pretty clear to me that I needed to jump the fuck on top of getting myself some DDR gear before it got too rare and expensive to get ahold of. Most of the game stores in town had DDR pads in stock, but they were all used, all cheaply made, and mostly for the Wii. Fun fact: as it turns out, if you have one of the newer model black Wiis, you just can’t ever play DDR on it.
When Nintendo redesigned the Wii for its “Family Edition” release, it removed all GameCube compatibility. It didn’t seem important to me at the time I bought it, because I couldn’t think of any GameCube games that I really wanted to play, and the console came bundled with New Super Mario Bros Wii, which I DID want to play, but there’s no GameCube controller ports on the damn thing, either, and all Wii DDR pads used the GameCube controller ports. So the Wii was right out.
Okay, what about the PS3? I wondered. I love my PS3, and wouldn’t it be fun to earn all the trophies for DDR? Well, there was only ever one PS3 DDR release, Dance Dance Revolution, and man does its music list look like it is full of suck. I never want to DDR to Ke$ha. Ever. And how the fuck do you DDR to “Hey Soul Sister”? What a terrible mix. The one advantage to going the PS3 route that I could see was that the PS3 pads used USB connections, which meant that I could ALSO use the pad on my PC. Sweet! I could play Stepmania all the time! I loved Stepmania when I was a kid!
…And then I discovered that most USB dance pads will not function with Windows 8, because Windows 8 is an asshole.
So that left the PS2. My trusty, oft forgotten friend, the PS2. I still had a PS2 Slim, shoved into the back of my entertainment center, missing both its power cord and all of its controllers, but still functional. So I hit up eBay, found a power cord, a memory card,
and a bunch of PS2 DDR games for less than $10 apiece. Picking a pad was trickier. There are a metric asston of PS2 DDR pads available on eBay, and you are spoiled for choices. The PS2 years were the DDR franchise’s heyday, so there are several levels of dance pad to chose from.
Level One: The Plastic-y Bundled Pad
These were the pads that typically came bundled with a game. They are thin and foldable, so they are easy to store. The ones made by Konami or Red Octane have a pretty decent sensitivity, but off brand ones are generally pretty terrible, so look for the “Stay Cool!” or the Red Octane logo before buying. These pads tend to slip around a lot on the floor while you are dancing, and the plasticy-surface feels like you are dancing on a trash bag. You can’t really play on these mats barefoot, as your bare feet will stick a little bit to the surface, making the pad shift around during songs even more. These pads really do shift too much to effectively play anything harder than Standard difficulty, even on carpet. The advantage to these is that you can pick one up for somewhere between $5-$15, and they’re easy to find.
Level Two: The Foam-Backed Non-Slip Pad
These pads are a step up from the usual bundled pad, with a matte plastic dancing surface that doesn’t stick to your feet. These pads are slightly thicker, and backed with a dark grey foam that does a much better job of staying put on the floor. They’re still pretty easy to fold up and store, but they’re slightly bulkier, due to their thickness. Once again, the Konami and the Red Octane brands are more reliable in terms of sensitivity. These pads will do fine on Standard or lower-difficulty Heavy songs, but they still aren’t weighty enough to keep from slipping around during really serious dancing. Even dancing on Standard will see you readjusting the pad between every song. They can typically be had for somewhere between $10-$20, but you can often find them for around the same price as the plastic-y bundled pads, because the differences between the two aren’t readily apparent to someone who doesn’t play DDR.
Level Three: The Foam-Core Pad
These babies are AWESOME. I had a set of these when I was a teenager. They are soft pads with the matte plastic dance surface and the non-slip foam backing of the Level Two pads, but with the added bonus of a zippered internal pouch into which you slide an inch-thick layer of dense foam. The result is a pad heavy enough to stay put while dancing through almost anything but the very highest difficulty Challenge songs, but still light enough to be easy to move and to store. These are a lot bulkier than the Level One and Two pads, and you can’t fold them down without disassembling the foam core, so they do take up a bit of space. The foam core isn’t hard to take apart and reassemble, though, so it isn’t that big of a deal. These pads do, however, represent a serious jump up in price: even on eBay, they’re hard to find for less than $60, and a brand new one could set you back somewhere between $90 and $120.
Level Four: The Metal Pad
These are for the really serious DDR nuts. I used to know a guy who owned a metal pad, but one of the buttons was broken, and he couldn’t find anyone who could fix it. Even broken, though, that thing was worth something like $150. They come with or without handles, and represent the closest thing you can get to the arcade experience short of buying an actual arcade machine. These things are usually made with steel frames, and are really difficult to break. I have no idea how my friend managed to break his. They are also REALLY heavy. But man, you can’t get a better DDR experience than these. I’ve played on metal pads at conventions, and it was really great. I have no idea where I would store one of these fuckers, though, and they can cost more more money than I make in a month. On eBay, a used metal pad will cost somewhere between $200-$400. Brand new ones run between $350 and $900, depending on the model. Those prices typically do not include shipping, mind you, which will easily add an extra $100 to the cost.
I knew I didn’t want to buy a Level One pad, and I couldn’t afford a Level Four. Or store one. Or lift one by myself. So I scoured the listings, trying to find the best deal on a Level Two or Three.
And lo and behold!
A Red Octane Ignition foam-core dance pad for $40!! I did a little dance of joy, let me tell you. The seller was listing the pad for his girlfriend, and I don’t think he realized what he had. Ignition pads are some of the nicest and most reliable on the market, but are increasingly hard to find, since Activision shuttered the RedOctane division in 2010. RedOctane is probably the most well-known for its Rock Band games, but they perfected the art of making video game peripherals by practicing on making some of the best DDR dance pads this world has ever seen. This was a VERY lucky find.
All in all, I spent about $80 on all of the things I needed to play DDR, which seems like a pretty worthwhile investment. When the arcade machine at the bowling alley was functional, I probably spent $6 or $7 a week for my twice-weekly sessions, so this stuff will pay itself off in a month or two. Also, now I get to play DDR EVERY DAY. It’s better for my exercise regimen, as well, because I actively WANT to play DDR every day. That’s more than I can say for most forms of exercise.
Along with the pad, I purchased DDR Supernov 1 & 2, DDR EXTREME, and In the Groove, which is not actually a DDR game, but is in fact, Red Octane’s take on the genre.
Once again, RedOctane proves its enlightened level of mastery over the entire genre of rhythm games, because this game is hands down the best DDR game that has ever existed, at least to my mind. The soundtrack is much more Europop/electronica rather than the JPOP/American pop music that dominates most DDR titles, and I recognize that Europop is not for everyone. I have always had a secret weakness for Eurovision, though, so being able to DDR to Europop is pretty exciting to me. Beyond the interesting and different soundtrack, though, In the Groove is just full of little touches that make the game really attractive to someone who plays a lot of DDR.
For one thing, the game is a lot harder than your typical DDR. Most DDR courses are rated between 1-10 in difficulty. In the Groove goes up to 13. Granted, I think you would have to be a cyborg to dance a 13-level course, but it’s there! As someone who has played DDR for almost a decade and a half, I really appreciate the challenge. Also, In the Groove dance courses tend to be almost a minute longer than most DDR courses, another thing I really enjoy. Most DDR tracks only clock in at a minute and a half or so, and if I’m dancing for my daily workout, I WANT to be dancing longer. Having a course that extends two and a half or even three minutes is really cool.
Beyond those really significant game play improvements, there are a lot of little details that really make me think that In the Groove was designed by people who played a LOT of DDR. For instance, every DDR game has a combo counter, which tracks the number of steps you’ve gotten a Great, Perfect, or Marvelous rating on, but In the Groove keeps the counter going BETWEEN SONGS, letting you track your combos through an entire course or gameplay session. My all time best multi-song combo is 706 so far, but my goal is 1000. And I think it’s awesome that that is even an option! Another thing that I really appreciate is the meter at the top of the screen that tracks how much of the song you have to left to play. It’s a nice little touch that keeps me from thinking a song is over, only to have more arrows unexpectedly appear, ruining my combos!
Finally, the thing that I love the most about In the Groove, is that you don’t have to jump through any bullshit hoops in order to unlock more songs. Playing Game Mode? You unlock songs. Fitness Mode? You unlock songs. Are you playing this game? Then you will be unlocking songs. I particularly appreciate this when I compare it to the asinine fuckery that is the unlock system in the Supernova games, which forces to me to play dance courses that are entirely too easy for me in order to unlock songs.
I picked In the Groove up on eBay brand new for $10. I recommend you seek out a copy of this game, it is well worth your time.
Now if you all will excuse me, I’m going to go and play all the DDR. Forever.