Dancing is not a skill we gamers usually inherit; but the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) series has taught many gamers how effortless and enjoyable dancing can be. Konami first entered the music genre with their huge hit Beatmania, where players jumped around to music with the aid of piano keys and a turntable. This was followed by the birth of the Dance Dance Revolution series, which the Japanese market embraced religiously. Over the past ten years the cult of fans has multiplied in magnitude. Now, Konami is set to expand on their success by releasing the first DDR title for the Gamecube, DDR Mario Mix.
The game begins with a story like no other - the musical crystals have been stolen from the castle and without their presence the whole Mushroom Kingdom is forced into a dancing trance. An S.O.S is sent to our hero Mario who, guided by a high-spirited Toad, ventures off into the unknown to retrieve the missing crystals. Entering each new world, you face against your favourite Nintendo villains in a dance-off, where the fate of the Mushroom Kingdom rests on your feet.
Upon arrival onto the dancing stage, players are shown the four basic dance steps that will, with practice, transform your clumsy two left feet into the soles of John Travolta. The basic concept is to follow the up, down, left and right arrows on the screen, and respond by stepping onto the corresponding arrow on the dance mat. Whether you are an expert with years of DDR training under your belt or just a beginner without the slightest clue about rhythm, the range of difficulty levels available will satisfy the requirements of dancers from both ends of the dancing spectrum.
The music played on the dance floor is surprisingly good. The fast beat, in conjunction with the trancey feel of remixed Mario themes, generates toe-tapping bystanders, and creates an uplifting aura around the dance floor that makes the player float on the dance mat. Although there are many unlockable dance tracks, few of them offer alternatives to the Mario remix tracks, which is a little disappointing.
Mini games are also added into the mix during story mode to keep the player on their toes. These range from running away from chained chompers, to the iconic “grabbing that flag off the top of that flag pole”. The variations don’t stop there, however - each boss has their own unique dance-off challenge, ranging from flying cheep cheeps to jumping on goomba. Although some variation helps spice up the gameplay, at times it feels like the whole spice rack has been emptied into the pot. The Hammer Brother dance-off includes hammers that swing side to side on the screen. Since the dance arrows scroll vertically they both hamper your ability to time each dance step, which is damn annoying.
The greatest add-on found was the calorie counter - that's right, a calorie counter - that measures the amount you burn during each dance session. Profiles are created where the weight of each dancer is recorded, and at the end of each dance-off the calories burnt is added to your overall total. Keeping fit while playing games sounds just as unbelievable as diet ice cream, but after 20 minutes of rock-solid dancing on expert mode, it will definitely wear out your batteries.
DDR Mario Mix is a solid addition to the DDR family. The core DDR elements remain intact to keep old fans happy, while the Mario theme adds a new dimension to the gameplay. DDR Mario Mix is an excellent game that offers a unique experience and is definitely worthy of making the Christmas shopping list.