Since my parents weren’t the kind of parents who let me play video games or watch T.V. through most of my childhood, they had to find other ways to keep me entertained. This meant, among other things, that I went to dance classes. And not unwillingly, mind you. My smaller self was all about ballerinas. I dreamed the dream that I imagine many uninformed little girls dream about being a ballerina, a dream that persisted until I was old enough to understand exactly how much goddamn work goes into being an actual ballerina. From then on, I just thought it was fun to make my body do neat things while getting to wear a costume with a fuckload of sequins on it.
My favorite thing in ballet class was the part where we got to take turns practicing a single kind of step across the entire dance floor. I liked to try and make each grand jete or chasse or…uh, the leg-changy jumpy thingie? (It’s been awhile.)…look better than the last. My least favorite part of dance class was the dreaded combination. Our instructor would stand up in front of the class and model a set of steps that we were supposed to be able to repeat. As long as she was standing in front of me, doing the movements with her back to me in the same direction as I was doing them, I was fine. I was a great dancer. I was in the groove.
The minute she turned around to face us, or worse! the minute she started calling out the movements with directions (“Left! Now right!”), I transformed from what I imagined as a graceful gazelle into a stubby-legged giraffe with six left feet tied in knots.
I don’t know if other people have this problem, but I don’t understand how someone can hear the word “Left!” and instantly know which way to go. How do you know which way is left? Do “left” and “right” have a feeling? I have no idea. I have to really think about it every time I want to know which way is which. “Left!” shouts the dance teacher. Okay, I think. Okay, so which hand do I write with? I wiggle both hands. Oh, okay, it’s this one. Okay, so now the OTHER way is left! Go that way! But by the time I am done thinking that, everyone else is already two steps ahead and going a different way! It makes learning choreography a bit challenging. When I was still young enough to not care what other people thought, my mom draw a big L on my left ballet slipper, but once my sense of shame grew in, I stopped letting her do that. While I do enjoy just dancing to music in my own groove, there is something intensely satisfying about moving in choreographed steps that perfectly match a song, and I really did like doing it when I could get it right. I could do okay with a lot of practice, but as much as I loved dancing, it was very stressful to try to remember choreography while also desperately thinking, Right or left? Right or left?! RIGHT OR LEFT!!!?
Well, I can’t tell my left from my right, but I can follow arrows.
I love DDR because it lets me dance in a way that feels choreographed without my having to remember every step or which way is left. I just get to move. And, oh, how I can move now!
Boyfriend texted me this image while I was at work:
I was in a meeting, so I had to not make high-pitched noises of excitement, but it was a near thing. I have discussed my DDR dance pad travails at some length on this blog. I’ve been through a lot of pads in the past three years. After my Red Octane pad starting ghosting, I bought a foam core DDR Game Energy pad, and it had a misfiring left arrow out of the box. Same thing happened with its replacement. I had some better luck with DDR Game’s Tough Universal Dance Pad, but although I didn’t have issues with ghost-stepping, its thin and unsatisfying dance surface was irritating, and I had to readjust its position after every song. This past Christmas, my grandmother sent me some money and told me to buy something really nice for myself with it. So I did.
Behold the Omega 4X Precision Dance Pad:
Precision Dance Pads is a mom-and-pop-style operation which appears to be the culmination of one man’s dream: to make a durable DDR pad that didn’t ghost, didn’t require extensive knowledge of electrical wiring to maintain, and didn’t weight 300 pounds. I heard about the company through the Crypt of the Necrodancer devs, who have a plug for the company’s custom Necrodancer pads on their website. My interest was piqued, and after doing some research, I desperately wanted one, but I didn’t have an extra $365 lying around until I was able to match Grandma’s generous Christmas contribution this past December. Finally, it has arrived! So let’s talk about it.
First off, let’s get this out of the way: this is not a cheap pad. $365 is a lot of dollars. That’s why it took me almost two years to finally get around to buying one of these things. However, let’s put that price in perspective. The aforementioned Tough Universal pad set me back about $75. While this is a considerably lower price, I expect to get a maximum of six to eight months of moderate use out of a good soft pad before it starts ghosting. That adds up after awhile. There are a lot of metal pads out there, but they’re not cheap, either, and where the hell do you store that thing? Boyfriend and I live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. A metal pad would take up like 20% of our total available space. Ergo: $365 seemed a fair price.
Once the purchase was made, there was a good, long wait. I expected a good, long wait — it does say on their website somewhere to expect at least six weeks processing time — but they apparently had a fire in their warehouse in December, and this bumped things back even further. By this point, I had already waited years for a dance pad that didn’t suck, so an extra month or so didn’t seem like a big deal. I guess if you’re the kind of person who is used to Amazon Prime, the potential wait might drive you a little crazy, but it’s my understanding that these people make each pad to order. While this adds to processing time, it also makes it possible for them to do custom images. I seriously considered getting Boyfriend to help me make a bunny-, Totoro-, or Zelda-themed design using their template, but the company already offers a startling number of customization options on their website, including two Necrodancer designs, a pad that looks like a SNES d-pad, a design involving a disco ball for some reason, and also a…squirrel?
I am admittedly perplexed as to the genesis of this design, but it’s stupid adorable, and considering the colors, I just went ahead and decided in my heart that this was secretly a custom Squirrel Girl skin.
So there’s the first point in its favor: this is, without a doubt, the cutest dance pad in the history of ever.
Yesterday evening, when I arrived home from work, the glorious package was waiting for me. I dragged it into the room with the computer, and proceeded to tear into it. It was a surprisingly labor-intensive package to open. The pad appeared to have been wrapped in a flattened cardboard box and then covered in an entire roll of packing tape.
A bit unconventional, but it got the job done. The pad arrived in perfect condition. In addition to the pad itself, the package contained a bubble-wrapped packet protecting the control box.
This is another ingenious customization option that the company offers. They build their own control boxes, and they are modular, so you can select the control box that works the best for you. Despite the fact that I mostly play Stepmania on Boyfriend’s fancy PC, I also have a PS2 copy of In the Groove that I like whipping out every once in awhile to take advantage of its far superior workout mode, so I opted to pay a little bit extra for the multi-tap control box.
This allows me to connect the pad to a PC, PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube. According to the company’s hilariously snarky FAQ, you can get PS3, Xbox 360, or PS4 control boxes on special order. So, if Sony starts putting out new DDR games, I have the option to get a second control box for my PS4. Swapping the box is as simple as plugging in an ethernet cable. My multi-tap control box seems solidly built and likely to last, but if anything were to happen to it, I can easily purchase a replacement on the website. They have replacement sensor pads, too. I’m a big fan of companies that sell replacement parts. It usually means that they expect their product to last.
The pad is less than an inch thick, but it’s surprisingly hefty. The pad’s smooth graphical surface is held onto the plywood backing with heavy-duty velcro.
Though I haven’t taken it apart to look at the sensor plates inside, it’s clear that I could do so easily should the need arise. The backing is much more functional than fancy.
It’s just a piece of plywood that’s been painted black. It makes the pad heavier than I expected, but it’s still perfectly manageable for this relatively small woman to handle, and because it’s so thin, it slides right behind the couch and against the wall for storage. I suppose some tech aficionados might take issue with the lack of polish, but again, mom-and-pop operation. These people are clearly more interested in function than they are with form.
Let’s talk about that function, shall we?
Set up was stupidly easy. Plug and play. The drivers had no trouble installing, and while I reflexively went into Stepmania’s joypad config menu to set it up, it seemed like all of the buttons were already properly configured. Time to start dancing!
This pad is so, so good. So good. It took about two songs for me to get used to the new surface. It’s weirdly smooth for a dance pad. Arcade pads have arrow buttons surrounded by a metal lip and probably some screws, and they are so obvious you can feel them through your sneakers. The pad I’ve been using for the past six months, the Tough Universal pad, has textured arrows that are incredibly comfortable to feel through both socks and shoes, though I didn’t like using it barefoot. This new pad feels like a slightly springy wooden dance floor, and it’s almost perfectly smooth. You can kind of feel the sensors, but finding them mostly comes down to reflex. For this reason, I think this might be a tricky pad to use for a beginner, but once I made the adjustment, I loved it.
I like hard pads because you can so clearly hear the rhythm you are tapping out with your feet, but I dislike having to stomp like you do at the arcade. It’s satisfying and fun for a few rounds, but it starts to wear on me for long-term play. I like being able to glide from arrow to arrow on a soft pad, but a soft pad lacks the satisfying tap-tap-tap of the rhythm. This pad gives me the best of both worlds.
I played for about an hour and a half last night. After an hour or so, my feet started to hurt a bit. I was in socks, so I tried putting on my sneakers to see how that might affect play. While shoes made things more comfortable, and also made it sound like I was tap-dancing (which was awesome), I sacrificed some accuracy because I couldn’t feel the arrows. I tried shedding both shoes and socks, but I could only get through half a song barefoot, so I went back to my socks. The company’s FAQ suggests putting some foam under the pad if you find it uncomfortable, and since I kept the interlocking foam from my last broken foam core pad, I think I’ll try that tonight.
Are there any drawbacks to this pad, other than a price that some people might be unable to afford? Not for me. The pad did randomly disconnect a few times last night during play, but only while I was in the menu. While that might be something to do with the control box, I am inclined to think it’s because Boyfriend has too much crap plugged into his USB ports. If the issue persists, I might have do do some troubleshooting, but as of now, it hasn’t affected play.
Speaking of Boyfriend, he seems to have found the only true problem with this pad, and this may be a problem unique only to him and his very tall brethren: if you have size 16 feet, hitting arrows accurately seems to be a bit tricky. Now to be fair, this is a problem that Boyfriend has always had when playing DDR, as let’s be real, nothing is designed with size 16 feet in mind. (Like not even shoes. We have to special order all of his shoes online.) However, with most dance pads, he can feel out where the arrows are enough to mostly keep his feet in line. He had a lot of trouble keeping his feet on the correct arrows while using this pad. This morning, when he came home from work, he asked wistfully, “If those dance pad people make all their dance pads themselves, do you think they could make me a big foot dance pad?” Perhaps that’s something we’ll have to pursue.
In the meantime, though, the point is moot. He’s not going to be able to pry me off of my Precision Dance Pad long enough to get a turn himself. In fact, it’s ridiculous that I’ve spent so much time writing this blog post. That’s two hours I could have spent playing DDR.
My inner child will never be a ballerina. But playing DDR on a pad this good? That almost makes up for it.