"PIU Zero Portable is the game PIU Exceed Portable should have been. Really. Zero actually co-ops a significant chunk of its PSP predecessor's set list, mixes them with favorite songs from the NX and Zero arcade flavors of Pump It Up, and presents it all in a much improved package. Where Exceed exhibited a clunky, frustrating user interface, Zero is intuitive and accessible. Where Exceed rigidly controlled user options, Zero
PIU Zero Portable is the game PIU Exceed Portable should have been. Really. Zero actually co-ops a significant chunk of its PSP predecessor's set list, mixes them with favorite songs from the NX and Zero arcade flavors of Pump It Up, and presents it all in a much improved package. Where Exceed exhibited a clunky, frustrating user interface, Zero is intuitive and accessible. Where Exceed rigidly controlled user options, Zero allows complete customization right from the start. Where Exceed provided virtually no rewards for casual players, Zero opens a store of extra unlockables. But unfortunately, this superior conversion of feet to finger dancing introduces problems of its own, namely bugs and broken support.
For the neophyte first jumping into this freestylin' universe, Zero Portable offers a very limited beginner's mode as a tutorial for the basic gameplay mechanics. Five receptacles are lined up at the top of the screen, bunched to the left. These represent the diagonal steps of the PIU dance pad; there's one anchor in the center and four footholds in the right and left corners. A choreographed pattern of steps floats up the screen with the music (later, they'll fly), and you hit the appropriate button as each symbol passes over its matching receiver. It is possible to tinker with the setup a little, either by changing the scroll speed or the shapes of the button from the default, an arrow. To make sure no one gets too comfortable here, though, there's only about twenty songs.
Beefed-up versions of these same selections appear in the main arcade mode, along with about 100 other pieces of music. The tunes are divided across five channels, two separated primarily by difficulty and the other three along the franchise's standard genre lines: K-Pop, Pop, and BanYa. K-Pop and Pop could be shoved together since they embody the same core style; language stands as the main difference. However, both classifications wander through a variety of sound. There's the sugar-coated fluff of assembly-line idols, but also the weirdness of Asian rap and metal-lite, all with noticeable American influence. Flip to the next song on the dial, though, and it's pulling from smooth Cuban, Jamaican, and Latino rhythms. Certainly, you wouldn't necessarily expect such a range, but I'm all for cute anime girls dancing the samba.
BanYa are still the real kings of surprise. Andamiro's stable of artists collaborate under this shared moniker, churning out dance beats for this brand of games. Their unquestioned signature are remixes of classical masterpieces. Pachelbel's Cannon cries out with an added electric guitar solo. Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee glides across a synthesizer instead of a baby grand. Beethoven seems to be a favorite target; this game includes a take on the frantic 3rd movement of his “Moonlight” Sonata. Unfortunately, anyone with Exceed Portable will recognize a lot of these works.
You might never venture past these three categories. Even with only five buttons to cover, Zero Portable's intermediate difficulty levels saturate the board with so many steps it's impossible to simply react to the choreography. You absolutely must have the routines down cold. But the final two channels barely bother with that amateurish challenge. The generically titled Another Channel features extended versions of old series favorites, while the Remix Station patches together medleys of those same songs. All returning music has new step charts, and these almost entirely eschew the five-button layout in favor of a ten-button mode, which simulates using two dance pads at the same time. That's every action button on the face of the PSP. In short, it should be freaking impossible.
Meeting these greater challenges are the practical way to earn items from the in-game store: new songs, new step skins, and music videos. The prices are exorbitant, though. Just cruising on the easier settings, it'll take fifty to a hundred performances to buy just one new piece of music. If, by the grace of some deity, you become a master, you can apply other modifiers to keep things interesting. Mirror the moves, randomize the step and velocity, makes the arrows travel diagonally; there's plenty of ways to make it harder on yourself. At least it's simple to navigate these options. Even with English words, the user interface in Exceed Portable used strange button combinations to bring up different menus. Zero Portable includes English as well, but its actions require a single button press, which aids in figuring it out.
Of course, the real aim of Pump It Up is competition, and Zero Portable theoretically provides avenues to test yourself against others. There's local two player, but why stop with with friends when your score could be revered worldwide? The main objective of the arcade mode is to facilitate these international rankings. You play through four songs of your choice, and the game spits out a code along with a url. The idea is that you visit the site and see how you measure up. But there are a couple of problems with this. First, the site is only in Korean. Second, the url provided by Zero Portable is the same one found in Exceed Portable. I clicked through the links and couldn't find a separate section for Zero. If the game rankings are considered together, that's dumb. If no section exists for Zero at all, the colassally negligent.
The bugs aren't limited to external forces, but Zero Portable's in game glitches are actually beneficial. A life bar accompanies every performance, with the gauge midway at the start. The bar fills when you hit steps perfectly, and it drains for every miss. When it empties... nothing happens. Normally, the stage would end prematurely with a fat “Game Over.” But Zero allows you to continue merrily along, collecting credit for stages you really failed. Also, there's supposed to be a one minute limit for selecting the next song you want to play, but the timer inertly sits at 60 seconds for all eternity.
These careless mistakes raise questions about the developer's quality control, but ultimately they have little negative impact on the overall experience. Pump It Up Zero Portable provides a wide variety of music and unending challenges. And by virtue of having a better user interface, it outdoes Exceed Portable.
Community review by woodhouse (October 12, 2008)
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