Dance Dance Revolution, the arcade rhythm dancing game that made its way to home consoles more than five years ago, has the distinction of being approachable and entertaining to gamers of all types, but deep for only a select few. Though jumping in for a few rounds on the easier settings will entertain most people from time to time, it is the DDR fanatics who will master the most difficult modes by perfecting every step. This task is not easy, but it seems like the only reason anyone would need to pick up more than one version of the game. DDR Ultramix 3, the third version of Dance Dance Revolution for the Xbox introduces a slew of modes and options that will offer a new challenge for expert players (if that's even what they're interested in), but doesn't change fundamentally enough to make it valuable for everyone else.
Dance Dance Revolution is a dancing game in which players must step on four directional arrows on a floor mat in conjunction with scrolling arrows on the game screen. Though the game can be played with a regular controller, the challenge and fun is had when players are forced to dance their way through the game instead. You can purchase DDR with or without the mat, and although the plastic one that is typically packaged with it is adequate for casual playing, there are a number of more responsive and durable mats on the market. The main dance mode features four arrow slots at the top of the screen, which scrolling arrows pass through from the bottom of the screen. As an arrow moves into the slot, you must step on the corresponding direction on the mat. Each step is measured on a scale from a total miss ("boo") to exact timing ("perfect"), and you're graded at the end of the song based on how well you did. The goal of the game, if there is one, is to get a perfect rating on all songs in the higher difficulty modes, unlocking additional music as you play.
Like all DDR games, the soundtrack covers the span of danceable genres (and a few not-so-danceable genres), but consists primarily of catchy Japanese pop songs like the DDR classic "Butterfly" and licensed tracks from a wide range of artists. The licensed songs are some of the best on this particular version, from the speedy punk riffs in "Bath of Least Resistance" by NOFX, to the pacing roller coaster of "Alphabet Aerobics" by Blackalicious. Most modes let you pick the song that you'll be dancing along with, but for others, you'll need to suffer through the randomly selected music. There are a fair number of classic DDR hits in the mix, but not enough Captain Jack, if for no other reason than to pay tribute to the classic DDR artist who just recently passed away. Ultramix is a flashy-looking game, although admittedly the graphics don't really enhance the straightforward gameplay. You'll be able to pick from a few dancing avatars and view music videos of some of the licensed artists, but for the most part, the graphics serve to better assist your dancing and nothing else.
Aside from game mode, which simply puts you into any song at any difficulty level, you'll be able to try your hand (or foot) at other dancing challenges. Party mode is made up of a number of minigames, which are best when you've got people to compete with, although you can play against CPU players, if necessary. In attack, players send viruses at each other and block them by getting successful step combinations. Bomb mode is like hot potato, and players must get five consecutive steps in order to pass the bomb. Quad allows you to play up to 16 frames on four different maps, if your mat count and living room space permit. Quad is particularly interesting, although picking up four mats is quite an investment. You will be able to compete in a few modes using all four mats, but it's definitely something that would only appeal to the DDR faithful. In sync mode, all players are trying to dance together perfectly, and the first one to fail to get a rating of "great" or "perfect" on a step, fails. Score mode is a head-to-head score matchup, and point is a step-to-step matchup, where the player who gets the lowest rating on each step loses one point. Point would be better if you could start off with more than the default of 16 points, although in games where the players are evenly matched, the battles can go on for quite some time. There's also a challenge mode (not to be confused with the oni/challenging mode of previous games), which tasks you with completing a number of increasingly difficult objectives, such as getting a perfect chain of moves, or playing the whole game without stepping on the up/down arrows. The challenges only need to be done for a short portion of one song, but they often change the game in interesting ways.
Brand new to this version of the game is freestyle, a fun, although potentially pointless gameplay mode. In freestyle, no arrows will appear on the screen, so you're free to dance around in any way you see fit. An indicator at the bottom of the screen will give you a vague idea of how well the game thinks you're doing, and text will appear that will challenge you to jump more, add more steps, or get back in rhythm, when appropriate. Arguably, there's no better motivator than competing against yourself, but the gameplay isn't as challenging as trying to match preset steps.
In quest mode, you assume the role of an aspiring DDR champion, and you must travel to different cities, acquiring fans as you go. The way to acquire fans is to gather a certain amount of points by dancing in each city. However, the point requirements are in the tens and hundreds of thousands, while each song only wins you a few hundred. In order to make any real progress in quest mode, you're going to have to dance a ton. This mode won't necessarily appeal to newcomers, since you'll be faced with random and virtually nonstop songs. But the mode doesn't seem to have a real point for veterans either, other than the bragging rights of completing it and unlocking the various puzzle pieces you can collect along the way. Expert players will probably be happier with other aspects of the game, though, such as the revival of the oni difficulty level on some classic songs like "Sakura" and "Daikenkai", or the 248 BPM "Akumajo Dracula Medley."
You'll also be able to play the game competitively over Xbox Live and purchase new song packs. However, as always seems to be the case, if you don't organize matches specifically, then you might have trouble finding competition online. Currently, there are no song packs available for download, although that could change. There are also training, workout, and edit modes, which let you learn how to play, chart calories, or make your own dance steps, respectively. Jukebox mode is new to this game, and it gives you the opportunity to create a song list of DDR songs so that you can listen to them without having to dance.
Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3 does give the gameplay variety with all of the new modes, but none of them are necessarily better than playing the regular game on challenging difficulty levels. DDR Ultramix 3 does offer a solid DDR experience, so if you're new to the series, or a collector of it, then you'll find that Ultramix offers what you're looking for: a DDR game with more than 70 songs. In this way, DDR Ultramix 3 is not significantly better than previous games in the series, but it is a solid addition to the franchise that will be fun to dance to for quite some time.