Review by yyr57695

Reviewed: 09/29/04

I pick apart every aspect of this unique but flawed version, good for beginners and intermediates but unsuitable for experts and hardcore arcade fans

Quick pros and cons:
+ It’s DDR, and DDR’s gameplay is great no matter what
+ The new minigames will entertain minigame fans
+ The new steps for most USA-exclusive songs are excellent
+ Mission Mode is a lot of fun and a great challenge (for a little while)
+ Some may enjoy the fresh look of the redesigned interface
+ Some of the new exclusive songs will bring in new players
- Some of the new exclusive songs (and the old ones) will upset longtime fans
- The grading system no longer accurately judges skill
- Some good features from Workout, Nonstop and Training modes are gone
- The songlist is not suitable for experienced players. You can literally count the new 9s and 10s on your fingers
- The Dance Play Setting option, which disabled the corner buttons on the dance pad, is now gone. If you have big feet, or don’t play on your tiptoes, or don’t have an expensive metal pad, prepare for frustration
- With only 11 of the arcade version’s 60 new songs, and the totally redesigned interface, this game barely resembles its namesake. Many players will feel burned

Judging from the not-so-quick “quick pros and cons” above, you can plainly see that this game--which I will refer to as DDR Extreme USA--features some extreme changes. This has resulted in lots of mixed feelings from the community of hardcore players. Game magazines, however, are rating it higher on average than the two previous PS2 versions. Why is this?
I’ll attempt to piece this puzzle together for you. But this review is written primarily for the player who’s seen DDR before and is familiar with it. Because so much has changed in Extreme USA, I’ll attempt to be as complete as possible about all of the changes--both big and small--giving you all of the information you need to make a decision about whether or not to purchase. But first, a little background.

A game called Dance Dance Revolution Extreme was released in Japanese arcades on Christmas of 2002. DDR Extreme featured 60 new songs, most of them from other games in Konami’s Bemani series of music games (games like beatmania IIDX, pop ‘n music, etc.). It also featured, on the whole, more new difficult songs than any previous version of DDR (many experienced players still have not cleared all of them). Nonstop Mode was re-introduced, and Oni (called Challenge in Extreme USA) Mode returned with a set of new courses that were significantly more challenging than MAX2’s. Extreme, indeed. It was easily the most difficult version ever put together, and also the most complete, with almost 250 songs.

The home version of DDR Extreme was released in Japan in late 2003, almost one year ago. Out of the 60 new songs from the arcade version, all but one made it home (due to licensing issues). Over 40 songs from older versions were included also, and a few new songs were created to form a list totalling 111--the biggest home version ever. Over 50 Nonstop and Oni courses were included, some of them being very difficult. The difficulty and feel of the arcade version were preserved.

But critics of both the arcade and home versions pointed out that they were basically the same thing as the previous version, DDRMAX2, except with different songs and courses. When DDRMAX2 USA was released, this was also the biggest complaint from domestic magazine and game site reviews: new stuff in the same old package.
So this brings us to DDR Extreme USA. Extreme USA contains the most additions and changes made to the series since the freeze arrow was added back in 2001. Most of them don’t affect gameplay, but some do--for better or worse. But first I’ll talk about the songlist.

70 songs are included. 20 of them are repeated from older USA versions. As for the other 50, here’s the breakdown: 10 are licensed songs from Japanese versions (2 each from DDRMAX and MAX2, the rest from older versions), 13 are new licensed songs debuting in this version (although 5 of them are taken from Karaoke Revolution), and the remaining 27 are Konami Originals mostly taken from a variety of Japanese versions.
The new Japanese licenses include Kick The Can, The Reflex, Wonderland, Miracle, Don’t Clock Me, Only You... if you’re familiar with the series, you’ll know that these are mostly from old versions, and the rest are just old songs in general. You’ll find a few newer tunes too, like There You’ll Be (exclusive to this version) and Highs Off U, for example...

...but overall, the licenses are clearly an attempt to give more American feel to the songlist and attract new players. New domestic licenses Y.M.C.A., Go West and Kids in America are proof of that. And if you ask me, they do NOT belong in this game. I realize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to music, but...in my humble opinion, these three songs are just plain awful. Also in are five songs from Karaoke Revolution, including covers of Believe, Waiting For Tonight and Bizarre Love Triangle. They’re pretty terrible too.
The best of the exclusive licenses (in my opinion, of course) are Diving by 4 Strings and Music (Bostik Radio Edit) by Darude. Move Your Feet by Junior Senior will also entertain many, especially with its funny video. And one thing needs to be said about all of the new licenses: for the most part, ALL of the new steps created for them are excellent. They’re not overly challenging, but they’re a little harder than last time, and more importantly, they’re fun to play. There are some exceptions (Y.M.C.A.’s steps are pretty lame) but when awful songs get entertaining steps, they’re actually fun to play.

As for the selection of new Konami Originals, many people will be disappointed to hear that many of their DDR Extreme favorites are not here. Only 11 out of the 53 new KOs created for Extreme made it in! Sakura, Paranoia Survivor, Love Love Shine, Colors, 1998, Hyper Eurobeat, Dance Dance Revolution, and Tears are just some examples of songs many people thought would be included, but weren’t. However, we did get some of Extreme’s great songs, like A, V, Jet World, Pink Rose, Frozen Ray and of course, The Legend of MAX.
We also got six Oni remixes from MAX2 that didn’t make it in the USA version, a couple of songs created for the Japanese home version of Extreme, some older favorites, and four all-new songs including music from the Silent Hill series and a fast, fun new song called “Maximizer.”

Don’t get the wrong idea--Maximizer is not a new 10-footer. It is, however, somewhat challenging (rated 8, but I’d say it’s a hard 8), and the steps are just plain fun to play.
Unfortunately, the songlist overall is too easy for the more experienced players. There are only 8 new sets of 9-footer steps, and 1 10-footer. And they’re all in the arcade version, so for the experienced folks, there are no new challenges yet again.
What’s more, since practically all of the 10-footers and other difficult 9s in the arcade version aren’t included, this version can’t be used to practice them at home. It’s too bad that more of them weren’t included to provide a challenge for the growing number of players that’s getting very good at the game.

Overall, the songlist is so-so. It seems like Konami was trying hard to please casual and novice players by including many familiar licensed songs and an easier selection of KOs. My personal opinion was that they shot themselves in the foot by calling the game “DDR Extreme,” because some series fans probably expected the songlist to resemble the arcade version’s...which it doesn’t.
Your opinion of the songlist will differ depending on what you were looking for when you opened the shrinkwrap. If you were expecting the songs from the arcade version, or a new challenge, you will quickly find yourself disappointed. If you were hoping for more fast songs than last time... well, the BPM on average is about the same. If you were hoping for lots of newer music, and aren’t as fond of 80s music or old DDR songs, you might not be thrilled. But if you weren’t looking for any of those things in particular, you may just wind up liking the songlist.

Now for the features! First off, four new minigames are included in DDR Extreme USA. Two of them--the Track & Field-style Hyper Dash, and the chaotic Feeding Time--can be played by two players at once and use the dance pad. The inferior other two--Coconut Panic and Magical Ball--require the EyeToy camera. The minigames are average, and aren’t particularly better or worse than other minigames you’ll find in various other packages. They’re fun at parties for a little while, but your lasting ability to enjoy them will depend solely on how much you like random minigames (and how long you can stand Magical Ball before giving up in frustration).
The EyeToy can also be used during regular DDR gameplay, either in the Watch Me Dance mode (which puts you in the background. Thoroughly pointless), the Clean The Screen mode or the Hands And Feet mode. Clean The Screen adds snow/leaves/other objects that continuously obstruct your view unless you constantly wipe them away. It’s fun for a while, although your height and ability to move around while playing can make it too easy/hard to be fun, or somewhere in the middle and just right.
Hands And Feet mode adds two hand targets on the sides of the Step Zone. This is unique, compelling, challenging and fun...for about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, there’s only one difficulty level (I’d say it’s somewhere between Beginner and Light), and with no way to make it more difficult, you’ll quickly master it. Plus, there’s not enough imagination in the “steps.” Think of how many interesting combinations would have been possible if you had to step on an arrow AND hit a hand target or two at the same time. These possibilities were sadly ignored. If Hands And Feet mode appears again, I’d like to see it used to its full potential.

Mission Mode has been added. Called Challenge Mode in DDR Ultramix (as well as some older Japanese PlayStation versions), Mission Mode features 100 separate challenges that each require you to do something specific. It could be “full combo this,” or “score between X and Y points,” or “don’t step on Left,” or “get 25 Perfects, Greats and Goods,” and so on. Modifiers will be added to some of these missions to make them more difficult. Some you’ve seen before, like speed mods, Sudden and Dark, but others are brand-new, like various re-arrangements of the arrows in the Step Zone, and songs that change tempo--in both directions--without warning.
Mission Mode is quite difficult. Some of the missions may have you screaming in frustration, at first. But all are possible to complete, and if you succeed in finishing all 100, you’ll automatically unlock all of the game’s hidden features! This is great for players who are already skilled at the game and don’t want to spend time unlocking songs they’ve already played. Oh, and Mission Mode is a lot of fun, too! You can even play randomly-chosen missions against a friend...great idea! The only bad thing about Mission Mode is that it ends. And even though 100 Missions sounds like a lot, most players will either probably either complete them or give up after a few hours of play.

Oni Mode (called Challenge Mode in this version) has returned, after its unexpected absence from MAX2 USA. Sixteen courses are included, plus a Random course and the ability to create three more of your own. Gameplay is the same as before: break combo or miss a freeze and one of your four lives is gone; lose them all and you’re out. Experienced players will initially be happy to see Oni’s return, but will soon find that out of the sixteen courses, five are ridiculously easy--containing only 6 footers or less--and if you can clear a good bunch of the arcade version’s Oni courses, you’ll probably only find a few of them tricky and ONE of them actually challenging: a course so difficult that only expert players will stand a chance. If you’re looking for a smooth difficulty curve and several difficult courses, you won’t find them in Extreme USA. And they still haven't fixed the announcer bug after clearing a course: "You were doing alright until halfway!"

Nonstop Mode has returned. 13 pre-defined courses await with two difficulty levels each, as well as a Random course and two courses populated by the songs you’ve chosen the least/most. Players from beginning to intermediate skill levels will almost certainly find something to entertain or challenge them here. Strangely, the ability to create variable-length Nonstop courses introduced in MAX2 USA is now gone. ALL Nonstop courses, including ones you create, are fixed at four songs. If you want to create longer courses, you’ll have to play Oni mode.

Workout Mode has completely changed. It is no longer separate from Game Mode. It’s now just a setting that can be turned on or off. When turned on, it will display calories burned in Game Mode, and keep a diary of how many calories you burned on past days. But the Workout courses are now gone, and there’s once again no way to play songs continuously except in Nonstop mode, where you’re limited to four, or Oni mode, where it’s significantly more difficult. Also, the multiple levels of simplified steps for Workout Mode are still gone--now there’s just one (two levels were present in DDRMAX USA and prior versions). Folks who made use of Workout Mode before may be disappointed by all the missing features.

The grading system used by the game has changed, too. You can no longer earn a grade of AA without a full combo through an entire song. To achieve the AA grade, you must BOTH have a good amount of Perfect steps AND attain a full combo. This means that a player with 199 Perfects and 1 Good will only get an A, while a player with 180 Perfects and 20 Greats will earn a AA. This isn’t right. Home version dance pads aren’t perfect, and are prone to failure every now and then. Unlike before, one small mistake--whether it’s yours or the pad’s--will cost you the AA. So basically, the grading system doesn’t accurately reflect a player’s skill any more.

Making this problem even worse is a glaring omission that will break the game for many people. The Dance Play Setting option that disabled the corner buttons (X, O, Square and Triangle) on your dance pad is gone. That’s right, this incredibly useful feature that has been included on EVERY home version of the game released in any country since 1999 is gone. Now, with no way to disable the corners, players with big feet or slight inaccuracy can trigger extra button presses by mistake, which can cause Goods or Almosts on arrows that weren’t meant to be pressed yet. This doesn’t affect Light or Standard songs quite as much, but Heavy players will notice a difference. And in Oni or Mission Modes, this is a BIG problem, because one extra mistake can fail you out. It even affects the minigames, and can cause accidental jumps in Hyper Dash or incorrect choices in Feeding Time. How could Konami overlook this?
This is not the only mind-boggling omission. You can no longer slow down songs in Training Mode, either. I’m sure people learning how to play The Legend of MAX will appreciate this one!

The last big change is the first one you’re likely to notice: the interface has been completely re-designed, from scratch. No part of the game looks at all like the original arcade version, except the title screen.
The songlist screen now looks kind of like a 3rd MIX songwheel, with song titles instead of discs. You can now view the difficulties for all levels at once (like in 5th MIX). Unfortunately, the helpful Groove Radar has been scrapped. You also can’t view the artist name or your best letter grade for any song except the one that’s currently selected, so to view either, you’ll have to look at each song individually. You also can no longer view your best numeric scores (unless you go to Records on the main menu). Some people may think it’s now more stylish or fresh-looking, but others may miss the extra information.

The in-game interface is different, too. Gone are the bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The background and arrows now use the full screen, and your Dance Meter and score indicators are much smaller. As a result of this, you can see the arrows coming a bit earlier than you could before. The background videos also look gorgeous on the full screen. I really like the new in-game display, except for the fact that you can no longer easily tell when you’re in danger of failing--the screen will no longer flash. The word “DANGER!” will be displayed in your Dance Meter, but it’s so small that you likely won’t notice it.
The result screen is more concise and doesn’t display the information that went along with the Groove Radar. It also unfortunately doesn’t display what difficulty level you were playing on, or what mode (Single or Double) you played in.
Lastly, I hate the sound effects that came with the new interface, but maybe you’ll like them.

Rounding out the feature set are Edit, Lesson and Endless modes, all unchanged. All in all, I’m not quite sure what to say about this version as a whole. Is it entertaining? Well, it’s DDR, so of course it is. Will you enjoy it? That, I believe, depends entirely what kind of DDR player you are.
- If you’re a casual player or beginner, you’ll love it for the recognizable songs and Beginner/Lesson modes. If you have an EyeToy, it’s even better. This is probably why the magazines gave it great reviews--because they generally cater to everybody, not the hardcore fans of a particular series.
- If you’re a Standard or beginning Heavy player, you’ll get plenty of mileage out of it, and it’ll be good practice. Lots of 7-footers to be found here.
- If you’re an experienced Heavy player, proceed with caution, especially if you already own DDRMAX USA and DDRMAX2 USA. You won’t find much here that will improve your skills, and the lack of the Dance Play Setting function might be a big issue for you.
- If you’re a hardcore fan of the series, spend a lot of time on the arcade machine, can pass most of the Heavy songs and have/want the imports, you may dislike or even hate this version, as Mission Mode is the only significant new challenge and the songlist isn’t anything like the arcade’s. You have been warned.

Graphics: 8
The arrow graphics are unchanged, but the interface is totally new. In ways, it looks slick, but in others, it looks like it was designed with Photoshop in 20 minutes. In game, though, the full-screen interface was a great idea.

Sound: 8
The sound quality was upped for this release, and the soundtrack sounds excellent in Dolby Pro Logic II. But the choices to recycle some unpopular songs like So In Love and Keep On Movin’, and to bring over bad covers from Karaoke Revolution baffles me. Also, many players will be expecting to see songs that aren’t there simply because the game is called “DDR Extreme.”

Gameplay: 7
Normally I’d give DDR a 10 for gameplay. But once your skills improve, you’ll realize just how important Dance Play Setting really is, and how much its absence impacts the quality of the gameplay. Random frustration isn’t fun. If you’re only playing Light or Standard songs, if you have a high-quality metal pad, or if you have very small feet, raise the score to 8; if you have nothing but a cheap soft pad and you want to play Oni or Mission Modes on it, lower the score to 6. And personally, I don’t think you’ll spend enough time with the EyeToy modes that it should have an impact on the Gameplay score.

Features/Replay: 7
It’s likely that you’ve improved since last year, and if you have, Extreme USA won’t last you as long as MAX2 USA did--because it isn’t any harder. Mission Mode will be fun for a while, but not forever, because you’ll either finish it or give up. The Oni courses are either too easy or practically broken due to the Dance Play Setting issue, so they won’t be fun for long. The minigames won’t be fun forever either, and in the end, they’re just fluff. If you’re still on Light or Standard, raise this score to 8; if you consider yourself an expert and don’t have someone to play Mission Mode against, lower the score to 5.

Overall: 7
I hate to give a DDR game a score this low, because DDR is my favorite game series of all time and I’ve been playing games for almost 20 years. But I can only truly recommend this version to beginners and intermediates, due to the easy slant of the songlist, the lack of new challenges outside of Mission Mode, and the lack of Dance Play Setting, which breaks Mission and Oni modes for a large number of advanced players. If any DDR is fun to you, flawed or not, then by all means, get Extreme USA and you’ll probably love it. But if you’re serious about your DDR, you might want to consider waiting for Ultramix 2, which looks like it has the potential to be something truly great for every player regardless of skill level.

Also try: DDRMAX USA, DDRMAX2 USA, DDR Extreme (Japanese)

Rating: 7

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