"The center button is your start point. During gameplay, you can stand on it with no effect, or bunny hop to press it in time with the music and score a point. What’s important to note is that you never have to press “left” or “right” on the pad. Instead, you are going for diagonal directions. This leads to a different style of play, if you ever get any good. It seems to require a lot more movement, too."
I have come to the painful conclusion that I should never, under any circumstances, ever touch a dancing game again. I don’t have broken furnishings in my apartment (though I did nearly fall once) and I don’t have pictures of me dancing on the Internet to prove it (though my wife did put her camera to use), but I’m still pretty certain that my conclusion after playing Pump It Up: Exceed is right on the money.
The game works about like Dance Dance Revolution, only it has a pad of its own. I’ve played the other game and I have to admit, its pad felt a bit mechanical. But then, to an uncoordinated louse like me, so did the one that comes boxed with Pump It Up: Exceed. It just happens to be laid out a little bit more like a standard controller might be. This makes diagonal presses (which are assigned to the four corners of the pad) more intuitive.
Of course, Pump It Up: Exceed never felt entirely intuitive. My progression went something like this: I popped the game in, selected the “Arcade” mode, missed the first three or four steps, then found that my game was over. I did this a few times (and suffered through load and menu screens) before it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t start where normal people might begin. So I went to the “Home” version, which promised unlimited retries. This it delivered, and that’s how I improved my score and my dance proficiency in general.
After dancing for awhile, the differences between this game and Dance Dance Revolution became more apparent. For one thing, the pad is actually rather simple. There are five buttons you’ll need to press, with four of them being those diagonal ones I mentioned a minute ago. The center button is your start point. During gameplay, you can stand on it with no effect, or bunny hop to press it in time with the music and score a point. What’s important to note is that you never have to press “left” or “right” on the pad. Instead, you are going for diagonal directions. This leads to a different style of play, if you ever get any good. It seems to require a lot more movement, too.
All that movement means you’ll be shedding clothes. I started in usual slacker attire: a t-shirt and sweatpants, along with the essentials underneath. A few attempts in, I took my wallet out of my sweatpants so it wouldn’t be weighing me down as I wiped a few drops of sweat from my forehead. A few more attempts in and, after making sure the blinds were closed, I removed the sweatpants and kept my groove going. This worked better, but my feet were getting pretty warm. I removed my socks and continued my clumsy ode to the Elvis song that was playing (there’s some great stuff on this disc, from a variety of artists old and new). However, my apartment had begun to feel like an inferno, and my feet were sticking to the mat. So I put the socks back on and tried to endure. In the end, my t-shirt was sticking to my chest and back, I was pouring sweat like a Spring shower, and the idea of taking off my underpants had occurred to me. The world hasn’t imploded, so you know I didn’t dance naked.
In all fairness, doing so wouldn’t have improved my inimitable style all that much, anyway. Nor would it have improved my score, which I want to blame on poor dance pad calibration. Surely, my finesse is not the issue all the time. I’d press the right directions, look down to find my feet precisely where they should be, then look to the screen and see that I had missed the point that should have been mine. This happened even when I timed my stomp with the utmost precision. There are simply times where all the stomping and grunting in the world doesn’t do any good. The markings on the pad are rather general, while the location where you need to actually place your feet is pretty specific.
Then again, some of the fault is mine. With hundreds of hours of experience, I could probably make that nerd you saw at the mall last week look like a total poser. Some of the steps I missed can be attributed to the fact that I haven’t memorized all of the spacing. I’d be dancing like a fool, feet headed in the appropriate directions at all time, then look down after missing a few points and realizing that I had moved forward a bit much on the pad. There’s actually a lot of stuff you have to keep in mind, at least until everything becomes second nature.
Alas, dancing and ‘second nature’ are never two terms that will peacefully co-exist in my life. Instead, I’m forced to watch from the sidelines as people like those in the videos in this game make me look like the scrub I am. Humiliatingly, the choir girls on display had more rhythm than me, and so did the dude in the business suit that busted out a few quick grooves as if they were an afterthought. Certainly, the music and videos on this game are a hoot to watch. At one point, I stood still on the pad and watched them in awe, just to see some people do properly those things that so successfully eluded me. It was a humbling experience, I assure you.
People who are like me and you can’t twist their feet fast enough to keep up with games of this variety might wonder if there’s any reason to purchase Pump It Up: Exceed. The answer, if you have a lot of friends, is most assuredly “yes.” This is the sort of game that can make even alcohol-free parties a riot. Inebriation need not enter the picture for even a moment when you can snicker at your chums as they tumble to your floor and maybe break your mother’s cherished antique lamp. And if you have fat friends, let them play this for a bit. I’ve never found a more interesting way to lose weight. I weigh only 150 pounds or so, and I felt calories sliding from my body in a landslide each second I hopped around like a maniac.
Pump It Up: Exceed isn’t the greatest game of all time. It’s not even something I would consider a must-have. Still, those who like to infuse their game library with a little bit of variety can pick this one up for a perfectly reasonable price. If you’re musically inclined, this could well become one of your favorite pastimes for a few months or years. If you’ll excuse me, though, I have other things to do now. For starters, I’m going to make sure there’s no chance that my wife will get those pictures developed (thank the stars it’s not a digital camera).
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 11, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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