Dance Dance Revolution is flying its flag over yet another game platform with DDR Universe, the first installment for the Xbox 360. The game comes with a decent dance mat and offers many of the same modes found in the DDR Ultramix games, which were released on the previous Xbox. With handy tutorial stuff for beginners and more than 70 songs to choose from, Universe is accessible to players of all skill levels.
Like most of the domestically released DDR games, Konami has placed a handful of North American and European licensed tracks into Universe. The highlights of the more popular tracks include a Chemical Brothers remix of Kylie Minogue's "Slow," "Twist" by Goldfrapp, the remix of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" that was made popular by the movie Go, and more tracks from artists like Ozomatli, Chris Brown, Phats & Small, Depeche Mode, and the Sugar Hill Gang. All that is matched with more typical DDR tunes, including speedy Eurodance tracks "www.Blonde Girl" by Jenny Rom and remixes of music from Castlevania and Gyruss. It's a healthy mix of music that doesn't stray too far from what the series is known for, though it's 2007 now, and the genres that have fueled this series for almost a decade now aren't what they used to be. It might be time for a more drastic change in musical direction for this series, though the fast-paced happy hardcore Europop stuff that the series has been leaning on all along is at least fun to hop around to.
When you first launch the game, you're dropped into a stripped-down version of the game that's meant for beginners. This version of the menu only lets you do easy stuff and is focused on getting new players up to speed. From there, you can transfer over to the "master mode" menu, which is the full-featured game with all of the modes and options you'd expect to find in a DDR game. Party mode is the local multiplayer mode, where up to four players can play in various cooperative and competitive modes. Workout mode tracks the number of calories you're burning by playing the game. Challenge mode offers up very specific tasks that really change the way you think about the game. Some challenges may demand that you not get a combo higher than 10 steps, forcing you to purposely miss one out of every 11 steps. Some ask you to step only on eighth-note steps, or only on two arrows at a time, and so on. Edit mode lets you create your own steps. The manual implies that you can upload and download edited step data via Xbox Live, but if that's in there, it's buried extremely deep, because the game doesn't make any mention of these features either in the edit mode or in the Xbox Live menus. Over Xbox Live, you can play various multiplayer games against other players. But since you can't really see them dancing with you or anything, it's not particularly compelling to play online. It does, however, provide online leaderboards.
The game also has a quest mode that gives you a map of North America, broken up by states and provinces. You can travel from one area to another, taking on challengers in dance contests or attempting to earn fans or backup dancers. This is also the area where you unlock more songs using the money you earn by dancing. But the entire mode is set up incredibly poorly. The manual doesn't describe what you're supposed to be doing, and the game doesn't offer any assistance, either. The primary task you'll get is a dance competition against a computer-controlled dancer. All this does is make a meter appear that you must fill to win. The catch is that you usually can't fill the meter by dancing to only one song. And after you finish a song without filling the meter, a screen comes up telling you that you've failed...but if you hit A, it'll load another song and you can continue filling the meter until you win. To make matters more confusing, there's a "fanbase" event that works the same way, except the meter drains between songs. Some songs don't have enough steps to fill that meter--in fact, most songs on the default difficulty won't have enough steps to fill that meter, making the events impossible to win. With some more in-game explanation or some help from the manual, this might all make sense. But as is, it's easy to feel as though you're stumbling through it with no idea what you're even supposed to be doing.
Graphically, DDR Universe looks roughly like the Ultramix games, with cel-shaded dancers that dance over a jumble of trippy-looking videos. On the 360, of course, the dancers look better and the video is slightly higher in quality. But on occasions where the dance arrows are scrolling quickly, the arrows don't scroll as smoothly as they should. Overall, though, it still looks pretty good. Like other 360 releases, there are 1,000 achievement points to earn in DDR Universe. Many of them come from just clearing all of the different songs, but there are also plenty that come from unlocking songs in quest mode, which makes quest mode's poorly described flow that much more aggravating. The game also entirely disables the 360's custom soundtrack support, which is unfortunate, as being able to import your own music into the edit mode would have made this a much more interesting package.
The real catch with DDR Universe is that you'll need to buy a new dance mat to play the game on a new console. So that's a reinvestment for those of you who have been playing the game on other platforms, though the game is selling in a package with one dance mat for $79.99, which is reasonable. Whether you're a DDR fan who's fine with getting more of the same or a 360 owner looking to get some rhythm action, DDR offers a little something for everyone, and it's a good package.