DDR Extreme (PlayStation 2) review
"Remember the time you were so desperate that you threw whatever leftovers you had into the frying pan and hoped something edible came out? Well, Konami has cooked up DDR Extreme in much the same way, and while starved fanatics will most certainly devour anything DDR, it goes down with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. More than any of its predecessors, DDR Extreme is a half-hashed recipe teeming with more unharmonious flavors than a milk and orange juice burrito with a vinaigrette truffle sauce. T..."
Remember the time you were so desperate that you threw whatever leftovers you had into the frying pan and hoped something edible came out? Well, Konami has cooked up DDR Extreme in much the same way, and while starved fanatics will most certainly devour anything DDR, it goes down with a distinctly bitter aftertaste. More than any of its predecessors, DDR Extreme is a half-hashed recipe teeming with more unharmonious flavors than a milk and orange juice burrito with a vinaigrette truffle sauce. This eighth installment tries to bombard you like a cheap buffet with as many entrées and appetizing a la "modes" as possible with the intent of making you believe its illusionary grandeur. So many ideas from previous installments have been flung around that you will probably accept DDR Extreme out of sheer bewilderment. However, as the saying goes in the world of cuisine, "a dish is only as good as its ingredients". In short, though DDR Extreme is awful every way you cut it, it is unfortunately bearable. Just be prepared for the upset stomach.
Ruining the glory days that were DDR 3rd Mix, Konami has been reheating the same old gameplay and idly serving it over and over again with new songs as seasoning. Stepping on the correct arrow at the correct time has been the name of the game for more than nine years now. Still, nothing has prepared me for just how complete DDR Extreme pretends to be. Every attempt at innovation down to every feature and game mode is too little, too late. Moreover, design issues and gameplay problems that were solved by the past two DDR MAX installments return from the ashes to burn whatever is left to a crisp.
In fact, many would like to put an end to the graphics in DDR Extreme, let alone the entire series. Konami always seems to try its best to not only cause distractions, but also to cause epilepsy. As much as we enjoy neon-flashing orbs, spinning teddy bears, twirling stars, and inwardly-spiraling photographs, they do not belong in the background. Ever. Nor should they move left then right, up then down, or in any geometrical direction in 3-space.
Randomly waltzing across the screen, the dancing characters in the background have also continually served to mystify me. Granted that they are now selected at a separate screen without having to navigate through the option menus, they are useless and serve only to divert attention to itself when the attention should be focused on the actual performer. Many of their movements are also neither coordinated with the steps on the screen, well-synchronized in time with the music, nor even all that interesting to look at. Both the character and background animations have been copied over from as far back as DDR 2nd, which is just lazy and unacceptable. Sure, the game provides you with the option to turn them off, but the fact that they are turned on by default shows that Konami does not realize just how annoying they are. Unfortunately, these two features are already so integrated into DDR that for them to face the chopping block is doubtful at best.
This is not to say, however, that Extreme's flaws come from a lack of trying. Konami has actually listened to some feedback and has addressed a few nagging problems. DDR MAX had a score meter as well as what can be best described as a squiggly life meter that limited the number of arrows you could see on the screen at one time. DDR Extreme corrects this problem by making the life bar and scoring meter translucent, thereby making game feel less like a cocoon.
In-game movies have returned in high style. Licensed videos, such as Junior Senior's "Move Your Feet" and Kim Wilde's "Kids in America", all provide the relevance and appeal missing from the frequent acid trips that spill over our eyes. Konami has finally noticed that videos are more intriguing than whatever breakdancing shenanigans the characters will ever have. In-game movies cut out the dancing avatars, giving the players and the audience something that is actually enjoyable to watch. Silent Hill fans in particular will love the computer-generated movies from the game serving as the background for Heather's (Melissa Williamson) "You're Not Here". This tempts me to dream of a day when every DDR song comes with a full-length video. Alas, DDR should clean up its mess before even thinking about anything this mouth-wateringly delicious.
When DDR MAX came on the scene, many believed that the dreadful interfaces of ages past would rot with it. We were wrong. Extremely wrong. Why Konami has us suffer through the interface from DDR 4th again goes beyond the limits of my sanity. To be sure, DDR MAX had us press left to move the songs up and right to move the songs down. But how would you like pressing left to move the songs right. Right, left, I mean… left. Or how about tapping the sensitive up and down arrow just once, instead of twice, and accidentally changing the difficulty level from three to eight. Family fun for the unconscious.
Indeed, there is a laundry list of minor issues that just waters the gameplay down the drain. Steps are usually graded on a scale of how well it was timed to the music: Perfect, Great, Good, Almost, and Boo. While attaining Perfects are not particularly difficult, DDR Extreme adds an exclusive Marvelous grade for Challenge Mode. However, players really have little or no control on whether they receive a Marvelous or not. Unless you have superhuman ears and god-like precision, there is no way you can step on the exact beat of the music consistently. In effect, getting Marvelous grades is completely random and puts the game out of the hands of the player, which is a downright sin in game design.
Achieving "A", "AA", and even "AAA" final grades have always been one of the key ingredients for motivating DDR players to continually improve. Normally, getting a max combo on a song virtually guaranteed a "AA". Look, anyone who completes a song with a flawless string of Perfects and Greats deserves it. But no, let's go back to the harsh grading system in DDR 4th and make it worse. Here, it is far too possible for a max combo to be downgraded to an "A*". You heard me. A*. It's like getting an 89.9 and getting a B+. How dare they not give the additional A. It should not matter whether a person does not satisfy the 3:1 Perfect to Great ratio or whatever nauseating requirements they pull. A max combo is a "AA". End of discussion.
I am also sickened by just how horribly Lesson Mode and the Beginner difficulty setting attempts to help new players. Lesson Mode offers three tutorials, each with eight separate lessons, which seems to be well put together. True to fact, these tutorials constructively guide fellow newbies through the game in an easy-to-follow manner. Nonetheless, after players complete every lesson and finish every song that Beginner offers, the game carelessly leaves them out to dry. I have encountered far too many instances where Lesson-Mode-graduates simply quit because the game fails to offer any transition from Beginner to Light.
Worse, the beginner difficulty setting actually hinders a beginner's progress. DDR Extreme provides on-screen characters that step on imaginary pads to supposedly help new players follow along, but they are only helpful the first three times. How the characters lunge their feet onto the arrows is just plain unnatural, and how they have to place their feet in the middle of the pad is an absolute crime in the DDR world. In addition, there are gaping rest areas and a lack of step variety that make Beginners steps far too easy in comparison to Light steps. Beginners also cannot disable the help character in the background and, thus, cannot view any in-game videos. Not very appetizing if you ask me.
DDR Extreme presents quite possibly every game mode in DDR history and serves one extra mode on the side: Mission from DDR 4th, Endless from DDR 2nd, Workout from DDR MAX, Lesson, Edit, Training, and a special Party Mode. Even with a few minor tweaks, virtually every mode is redundant filler that has been simply copied and pasted over. On the contrary, Party Mode is a nice complement - short and sweet. That is, if you own an Eye Toy. While DDR Extreme puts forth a course of seven party games, only two are available without the additional peripheral. Not many own this USB camera and, honestly, the five exclusive games are not enough to dish out another 40 dollars. This is quite disheartening because the mini-games serve as light, enjoyable diversions that succeed in breaking up the monotony of playing song after song without end.
Equally as disappointing, the Challenge difficulty songs return to baffle me even further. Why waste a two-megabyte remix solely for Challenge difficulty steps and not create two-kilobyte Beginner, Light, Standard, and Heavy difficulty steps as well? Asking this question to myself after DDR MAX 2, Konami seems to agree and then disagree. DDR Extreme features two songs that have every difficulty setting available and seven that remain Challenge-exclusive. Should I be confused or pissed off?
Just as ambiguous, the song selection in DDR Extreme will set off mixed reactions. I have never understood why Konami insists on doling out song lists for home editions that differ from those from the "genuine" arcade. There is a nagging difference between releases in Japan and those in the US that begs to be answered. For some inane reason, DDR Extreme has hashed out remakes of American songs in the hopes of grabbing a wider American demographic. I can safely assume that no one can stand to hear second-rate artists ruin popular songs on the radio, and no one will stand them in a game, either. We do not need a Cher-less "Believe", a Madonna-less "Like A Virgin", or a J-Lo-less "Waiting For Tonight". Perhaps offsetting these blunders, dj TAKA's "V" and "Frozen Ray", the resident 10-foot-difficult "The Legend of Max", and dj Amuro's "A" from beatMania has finally arrived stateside. Combined with a few classic songs like "YMCA" by the actual Village People and a bevy of classic songs, the music selection is acceptable, though it won't knock your socks off.
The DDR franchise has reached a boiling point. As a freestyle specialist and vice president of my university's DDR Club, I am angry that I despise Extreme as much as I do, especially the ostentatious title. The only thing revolutionary about it is how extremely incomplete and predictable it is. With such a long-standing trend of half-boiled reiterations, there is very little hope that DDR will ever change. Like a chicken without a head, Konami continues to flap around the DDR vault, run into new songs, and plop out nearly rotten eggs like DDR Extreme. Yes, it's edible. But the stench is already all too familiar and makes the chicken that much closer to being eaten.
Community review by draqq_zyxx (October 06, 2005)
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