Cue Charlie’s nerd alert editors note, I’ve been a DDR player since it’s U.S. release back in 1999 so I’ve seen my fair share of mixes come and go. I’ve also picked up every next generation mix to come out, both foreign and domestic. So it’s no surprise that I picked up Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix for XBox. After five minutes of having the game I wish I hadn’t spent the extra money to get the pad as well. At the 40-dollar price point the game is worth picking up, but what you’ll be getting is a game rushed for the holiday season so badly that at times it will feel unplayable. Granted there are a few redeeming factors of this game, but if you know DDR like I know DDR then you’ll know that this is not how Dance Dance Revolution should be.
For the uninformed or parents out there, Dance Dance Revolution is Konami’s famed dancing series that you’ve seen in arcades. Step on the pad as the arrows come up on the screen, really simple stuff. Of course there are plenty of difficult things about the game as I’m sure many readers have seen people play the dancing game like a man possessed. In Ultramix you’ve got the regular game mode, which has three difficulty levels, and Konami also opted to throw in a Challenge mode, which has you complete specific tasks to unlock hidden songs, quite a boon for the hardcore out there, but I seriously wish Oni mode was included.
Starting with the graphics, the design is technically sound, I dig the new silver metallic look of everything, very clear and clean, and the main menu background looks great with the video running in the background, though I wish there were some variations and not just the same video on loop. Now once you get into the game the ugliness shows up. First off, on the early builds of the game there were supposed to be multiple dancers that could be selected. In the end all you’ve got are the first mix Afro and Lady characters who look nice but cause the frame rate in the game to bog down. The dancers aren’t the only thing ruining the gameplay. The movies also cause the frame rate for the arrows to drag and be sluggish. I seriously feel like I am playing Konamix for Playstation. This is especially perplexing when you consider that the demo mode shows that game running perfectly smooth with the dancer and the videos running in the background. And if you think that adding options to the game will make it better then you’re sorely mistaken. I tried playing many a song on high speed 2, reverse and it’s horrifyingly choppy. The only time the game feels even remotely playable is when the game is running at its basic mode. Thankfully when playing on XBox Live you are forced to play the game with no options making it an equal playing field for everyone. However in their haste to make the game playable online they made it so that when you play the arrows are small. Edit mode small, making for quite the eyestrain when you play with four people. I think it would have been better to put a meter on the side of the screen showing the Perfect, Great, Good, Boo and Miss count of all players.
The X-Box Live function of Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix works out surprisingly well. From X-Box Live users can purchase song packs that contain five songs for a measly five bones. But at the same time, I paid 40 bucks for DDR Max 2 on PS2 and got 69 songs. With Ultramix I get 50 songs after the initial eight unlocks. So essentially to catch up with Max 2 I would have to shell out 20 more dollars. Granted some of the songs in the packs are really good but still, as if I didn’t pay enough when I bought the game and dance pad I get slapped with these extra fees. I would like to hope that something more than extra songs come with future packs. In the first pack that is available now you get two songs not seen before in DDR, In My Eyes by Akira Yamaoka (ric is the pseudonym used) and Mind Parasite by Tomosuke; which comes off the Dance Maniax game series. Also included is Abyss by DJ Taka, Burning Heat (3 Option Mix) by Mr. T, and Burnin’ the Floor by Naoki. Of course the song pack is not perfect. If you try playing Burning Heat on Heavy with the Solo Mode Arrow option turned on, all the of the arrows that are off beat will appear as if they were 1/16th steps which can be very distracting to the player.
Of course this game is nothing without some good music, and for the most part it does not disappoint. You’ve got four licensed tracks, Shiny Disco Balls by Who Da Funk, Do That Thang by MASAI, Ready Steady Go by Paul Oakenfold, and Castles in the Sky by Ian Van Dahl. You’ve also got a bunch of stuff that is rehashed and a few remixes that sound good but I’ve really heard better remixes from the fan community. There is a good variety in difficulty as well, although I’m sad that only Max 300 made it into this mix, hopefully it will become available with one of the download packs.
Now of course, the greatest tragedy of all, the bug-list. There are so many little things in this game and it just bogs down the experience. First there is the obvious flaw in the game’s frame rate. It can change at a moments notice, and if there is a tempo freeze in the song, like in Abyss, or Burning Heat then the frame rate will jump radically coming off the pause. This frame rate issue also makes the game that much more difficult when trying to use the speed options. Putting it on anything other than one speed makes the frame rate a lot worse. Whoever in Quality Assurance or even Microsoft for that matter let this game get the green light should be shot. Then there are the stupid minor glitches like how “Castles In The Sky” will appear up to six times if you sort the song list to Player’s Best. Unlocking songs is also a horribly random affair. I’ve seen the unlock procedures for some songs and I could swear I’ve met those requirements yet I don’t have the song, what gives?
Some people may view these bugs as a trifle and not worth worrying about. But to me there is a standard that has been set by the PS2 versions of DDR; there is no reason why this game should be anything less than stellar. This holiday season vote with your gaming dollars, avoid this mix and pick up the PS2 versions if you haven’t already picked them up. Hopefully with Ultramix 2 a lot of these bugs will be alleviated along with the need to cough up extra dough to get some new songs.
DDR Ultramix represents a step back in the franchise as Ultramix is plagued with bugs and missed opportunities.