If anyone in the late '90s had called the newly released Dance Dance Revolution a flash in the pan, they would have been sadly mistaken. Almost as sadly mistaken as me, thinking that I could get through a DDR game in the year 2011 and not encounter a Justin Bieber song. Unfortunately for me, and likely many of you, the Beebster makes not one, but two appearances in the latest in the now sprawling rhythm series, Dance Dance Revolution II. Not that I necessarily have anything against Justin Bieber songs (I've found myself humming "Baby" in the produce aisle a few too many times), but if you can overlook the strong presence of Top 40 bubble gum, DDRII is a solid addition to the 13-year-old franchise.
If you've played any of the other games in the series, you know what to expect. Stand on a pad, arrows scroll up the screen, jump around to the beat of some J-pop song, and hope your center of gravity doesn't fail you. Konami's tried to spice up the formula on occasion. In a rather contrived twist, they tried to include upper-body motions by incorporating the motion-sensing nunchuck controller with the first DDR experience for the Wii. Such gameplay is absent this time around, giving DDRII a welcome back-to-basics feel.
There's still the Workout mode, which conveniently records your weight-loss goals and fitness progress. This is a solid feature that allows the series to not only compete with the Wii Fit games of the world, but also gives people a reason to keep coming back to the game on a daily basis. Other familiar modes also show up, like Double Mode, which was unavailable on the first DDR. In Double Mode, you can hook up two pads for one player, doubling the frenzy for your feet.
As with all rhythm games, song selection is paramount. Similar to many DDR installments of recent years, most of the available songs are super-processed teeny-bopper tunes. Joining the Biebster ("Baby," "Somebody to Love") is Miley Cyrus ("Can't Be Tamed"), Selena Gomez & the Scene ("A Year Without Rain"), Willow Smith ("Whip My Hair"), and other tweens who have more Twitter followers than you do dollars in your checking account. Rounding out these 19 licensed songs are 17 original Konami tracks (these are the much more challenging, J-pop-inspired beats) and a hefty 32 returning tracks from previous DDR games. This total is considerably more than the 40-or-so tracks from last year's DDR. Another nice touch is the ability to decide whether you want to play a song in a shortened version (usually a minute and a half to two minutes) or in its entirety.
There's not much to say about the familiar gameplay, or the cutting of the nunchuck (all good). So let's focus on the music selection. Honestly, it's quite tedious to unlock the more challenging songs that aren't sung by Disney poster children, not to mention the fact that this particular crop offers little in the way of variety. Among Bruno Mars, Ne-Yo, Jason Derulo, Rihanna, Natasha Beddingfield, and the Beebs, there are only a few outliers, such as Donna Summer and the Human League. Perhaps if the soundtrack were more inclusive to other genres, artists, and time periods, like in the Just Dance series, plowing through to the original Konami songs might have been more bearable.
Otherwise, there's still lots of familiar DDR fare awaiting you. There are unlockable avatars and outfits, and up to four players can get in on the action. If you can tolerate the trade-off of music variety for a crap load of songs, then DDRII will likely give you weeks of foot-stomping to B.o.B. while avoiding falling into the coffee table.