When you were in middle school or high school, did your phys ed classes have a “leisure sports” unit, where you could bowl or play badminton? Or did your teachers have backup indoor activities planned, in case of rain and if the basketball court was reserved? Nowadays, exercise video games like Dance Dance Revolution appear in school gyms as part of such curricula. (Condolences to those students who preferred the lost art of shuffleboard.) Since the series’s launch in 1998, it’s gained a reputation as pretty decent cardio activity, as well as an arcade mainstay that’s now taken over home consoles. A couple of weeks ago, the most recent edition for the Wii was released, making special use of Wii Motion Plus and the Wii Balance Board.
For those who’ve never set foot on a DDR mat, the game goes something like this: choose a song (usually something J-Pop-ish with a good beat), arrows appear on the screen, step on corresponding arrow on the mat at the right time. Lather, rinse, bounce around, possibly fall, repeat. Depending on the level of difficulty you choose (in this game, there are four), you’ll have varying amounts of arrows to deal with. If you can follow the beat, and are in shape enough to stomp about in place, then you’ll likely have a lot of fun. It is fun, or else the franchise wouldn’t be so popular.
The long-running series has mixed things up though. This time you’ll also be using your arms with the help of the Wii remote and nunchuk. It’s a gameplay element Konami used previously for the Wii in 2008’s Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party 2: flick your arms in a certain direction when the game tells you, for example, or swing them in the air. In this latest DDR, I found the arm movements awkward, and the cord joining the remote and nunchuk would sometimes hit my nose, which proved annoying and embarrassing (I need to look as cool and stylish as possible, and I take hopping around to Jordin Sparks’s “Battlefield” very seriously). Such controller gaffes cramp my style. Also, if you don’t have Wii Motion Plus (an add-on that makes the Wii’s motion-sensing technology more sensitive), you might have slight, occasional trouble with the motions. I found myself missing a lot of notes because the nunchuk wouldn’t always register them. Additionally, if you play with the Wii Balance Board, you’ll swing your hips in time with the music, making for a more full-body experience.
In a game like this, the soundtrack is crucial—and I was rather unimpressed with this lineup. Call me a DDR purist, but I prefer the techno songs and energetic Japanese club music over today’s flavor-of-the-month. This game does offer the former, but nearly all of them need to be unlocked. (Perhaps it’s the marketers’ way of forcing us to listen to and dance our way through the initially available Top 40 selections, like Ke$ha’s “Animal,” Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You,” and Orianthi’s “According to You.”) This installment seems a bit heavier on contemporary American hits than games past, which could be a good thing, depending on your tastes and who you ask. There’s also the token B-52’s inclusion, something we’ve seen in everything from Guitar Hero to Karaoke Revolution, and it’s stuff like that that makes this particular song list feel tired.
Other than that, it’s a pretty standard DDR venture. There are over 50 songs to choose from, as well as the classic arcade mode and the workout mode, which allows you to enter your weight and track how many calories you burn, and how many pounds you shed. Up to four players can play cooperatively or competitively, so if you have enough space in your rumpus room, Wii users can use this DDR to work off the holiday turducken. It’s a solid entry in the popular series, assuming you can look past the slightly clumsy technology and trite music choices.