Since its inception, Konami's Dance Dance Revolution series has maintained a brisk production cycle in Japanese arcades, usually producing a new installment every nine months or so, with a console version following shortly thereafter. The lesser demand for peripheral-based rhythm games in the US has made most of these releases import-only items, and American dancers are instead given "greatest hits" versions of Dance Dance Revolution that feature tracks from several different installments in the series. DDRMAX, the first Dance Dance Revolution game to appear on the PlayStation 2, follows much the same trend.
What's being called DDRMAX in the States is a slightly different beast from the DDRMAX (aka Dance Dance Revolution 6th Mix) that was released in Japanese arcades almost a year ago. The gameplay's the same: Using Konami's Dance Dance Revolution mat (or one of the plentiful knockoff mats), players step on the directional arrows on the mat in time with the visual cues onscreen. DDRMAX also features the new "hold arrows" mechanic, which involves players holding one foot on a designated arrow while the beat continues and often performing other steps while holding it. It's not revolutionary, but the hold arrows add a new level of depth to the game's otherwise familiar gameplay.
The modes of play remain basically unchanged from past DDR games. The game mode is exactly like the arcade version of DDRMAX, letting one or two players dance along to a series of songs. If you have two pads, no dancing partner, and a good deal of practice, you can play double, in which one player has to step on arrows on both pads, which can prove to be an incredibly challenging endeavor. The introduction of the hold arrows, along with DDRMAX's liberal use of half and quarter steps, can make the already intimidating DDR gameplay even more so for the uninitiated, and make the lesson and training modes in DDRMAX indispensable for beginners. The lesson mode gives a thorough, step-by-step explanation of the gameplay in DDRMAX, and the training mode lets players hone their skills on specific songs. And, much like past versions of Dance Dance Revolution, DDRMAX features the workout mode, which puts the focus on the aerobic qualities of playing DDRMAX. Instead of going for high scores, you set your goals based on time spent dancing or calories burned, and you can keep track of how many calories you've burned over long periods of time. Finally, DDRMAX features an edit mode, in which you can program your own dance steps for any of the songs in the game, and it'll even let you import and export dance steps to and from Dance Dance Revolution Konamix for the PlayStation.
Aside from the new hold arrows, the biggest change DDRMAX makes to the Dance Dance Revolution formula is a revision of the visual presentation. In past games, players have been represented by wacky polygonal dancers who would groove along to the beat. DDRMAX mostly does away with the dancers, replacing them with what amount to prerendered FMV light shows. A few of the dancers from previous versions of DDR will pop up in the FMV from time to time, but the FMV is rather shoddy and visibly pixilated. Since DDRMAX is the first installment in the Dance Dance Revolution series to appear on the PlayStation 2, it's visual presentation seems like a real step backward.
The music in DDRMAX should neither disappoint nor surprise fans of the series, as it's of the same variety of high-energy house music that's been tapped in every other version of Dance Dance Revolution. Though it recycles several songs from DDR Konamix, DDRMAX features an overall mix that is much catchier and includes a larger catalog of songs. Still, if you don't already have an appreciation for fast, breezy dance music from the early '90s, you'll probably have a hard time swallowing the aural stylings of DDRMAX.
With a name like DDRMAX, you might expect this game to be the ultimate realization of the Dance Dance Revolution concept. Instead, DDRMAX is really just a slight refinement of the well-established DDR formula. Though, in the end, DDRMAX is only the third Dance Dance Revolution game to appear in the US, so dance enthusiasts who aren't import savvy will find DDRMAX to be a fine addition to the series, even if it isn't a full-on revolution.