"Putting fresh covers over tired gameplay has been a regrettable attitude of Dance Dance Revolution, and SuperNOVA does little to fix this trend."
As president of my university's Dance Dance Revolution Club, you might assume that I get orgasmic over any arrow-stricken game Konami comes out with.
DDR installments are a dime a dozen. If you don't care for any of its twenty odd-some iterations, SuperNOVA won't change your mind. At the same time, if you have endured the gamut of DDR titles for as long as I have, you have probably already been inundated by seven-years worth of redundancy.
Now, this doesn't mean that the game fails to incorporate some rehashed ideas and a completely new playlist. In fact, compared to the most recent step-crunchers in the series, SuperNOVA has the most musical spark, but Konami hasn't done much to innovate beyond glitzing up the interface and hauling over another jukebox of songs. As such, trying to pick your favorite DDR mix is like choosing which WinAmp skin looks the best, not about which mix offers the best features. Putting fresh covers over tired gameplay has been a regrettable attitude of Dance Dance Revolution, and SuperNOVA does little to fix this trend.
At this point, explaining how DDR works is tantamount to sounding like a broken record. So suffice it to say, you pick a difficulty level, choose a song, and then step on panels near your feet, matching arrows that scroll up the screen; but alas, herein lies the problem.
We have been largely stuck with plain, old arrows since DDR's inception. The latest game-changing mechanic was freeze arrows, but that was about five installments ago. How many times can we dance to the same tune before it becomes staler than the Macarena? Even In The Groove, a dance counterpart with low production values, has triple - even quadruple - steps and bomb arrows which breathe new life into the genre at its core. Most of DDR's "evolution" involves unnecessary modifications to the stepchart, such as making arrows become invisible or having them scroll down instead of up. All this really boils down to is challenging your eyesight and memory, not how well you can move and, err... dance.
The best gameplay design that SuperNOVA has to offer this time around is Stellar Master Mode, which is essentially a rehash of Dance Master Mode from Extreme 2. Jumping from planet to planet, you must conquer the dance floor of each Stellar Joint and acquire VIP Cards to unlock new songs in the shop. Each joint has a list of goals that, once completed, gives you the right to enter Showdowns, which are essentially dance boss battles that net you those previous VIP cards if you win.
Here again, however, this interesting but convoluted and overwrought system just impedes you from getting to what Dance Dance Revolution is about: dancing to songs. Not only are some goals rather absurd - complete three songs in a row with male characters in the background, or finish a song with a score that ends in '70' - but no matter how experienced you are, Stellar Master Mode is a tedious chore that doesn't make you want to master anything. Completing each tasklist is akin to being forced to answer every question on a standardized test. Beginners and casual players won't be able to unlock the majority of the songs because of sheer difficulty, and hardcore players won't be challenged until the last two Stellar Joints. That is, of course, if you haven't already forgotten about this mode out of frustration or boredom.
SuperNOVA's only saving grace, as with every other DDR title, is its freshly-dressed playlist, but as usual, it doesn't follow through. The starting lineup hits off well enough with some unexpected choices: "Let's Dance" by David Bowie, "Jerk It Out" by Caesars, "Do You Want To" by Franz Ferdinand, and "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles. Pop artists Kelly Clarkston, Fall Out Boy, Cyndi Lauper, and Lipps, Inc. round out the impressive list, granted that you actually like pop. As you unlock songs, however, the selection gets watered down by a bevy of techno and J-pop. This isn't so much a problem with the usual audience for DDR, who are accustomed to these kinds of songs, but newcomers will probably be disappointed by how different unlockable songs are to the original playlist.
Apart from the music, SuperNOVA is just a routine. Background dancers and blinking backdrops that cause seizures to small children are still here, distracting you from focusing on the arrows. A myriad of other modes - Workout, Edit, Online, Course, Endless, Survival, and Combo Challenge - have been robotically copied and pasted over. Battle Mode, which allows two players to attack each other with arrow modifications, is a welcome change of pace, but in reality, this is just a reworked multi-player mode from Disney Mix, if you can find it within the dusty archives of the PlayStation. To disguise this incessant copying, Konami has sharpened the interface with solar neon colors and a clean, sharp framework; however, no amount of pretty window-dressing can hide such an obvious scheme of simple duplication.
Loving DDR has become a chronic condition that can never seem to find its way out of boring. Every time the series shuffles out another release, it evokes the dichotomous feeling of joy and anger, but now, the joy has all but run out. DDR has so much potential that to see it become as insipid as The Land Before Time XI is just numbing. Konami needs to take a serious step back and redefine what Dance Dance Revolution means to save it from becoming as repetitive as the first two words in its title.
Freelance review by Nicholas Tan (October 24, 2006)
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