Pump It Up: Exceed Review
For many years, Dance Dance Revolution has been the only choice for people that want a home version of a dancing game. That has finally changed, thanks to Pump It Up: Exceed, the long-running arcade series in the same vein as DDR. The game has a huge list of songs, and the additional center step adds to the experience, but it's pretty challenging, so beginners might not find the game accessible.
Once you start getting' down, Pump It Up is not a whole heck of a lot different than DDR, though aficionados of either series will probably say otherwise. You've got to time your steps to coincide with moving arrows, and the better your timing, the higher your score will be. The game's rather unforgiving, especially in the arcade mode, where you unlock songs for play in the more forgiving home mode. It would have been nice to unlock songs in either mode, or just in home mode, if only to make things a bit easier. If you're a freak of nature, you can try sudden death, where one false step equals game over, but given the fact that the pad will occasionally fail to register a step, you're just setting yourself up for heartbreak.
Instead of steps on the sides, Pump It Up's mat has steps on the corners, as well as a one in the center. This center step not only makes more complex patterns possible, but it actually makes the routines feel like dancing. Instead of jumping from corner to corner all the time, you'll often have to step in the center, which just feels more natural. The pad is about the same quality as the one that's packed in with DDR, which means it's decent, but pros will probably find it lacking. There's no other alternative pad at this time, so you're stuck with the pad that comes with the game.
Pump It Up is hard. Very hard. There is an easy mode, but it's tough in its own right, making the game pretty inaccessible to people that have never played a dancing title before. It's also frustrating to navigate the menus and choose songs. To cycle through the playlist, you've actually got to step off the pad and tap the arrows, because standing in the center will pick a song right away. You can use a controller to pick songs, but really, it wouldn't have been tough to make using the pad easier. There's no way of knowing how difficult a song is until you've actually clicked on it, which makes the whole process of choosing a tune all the more difficult. Again, it wouldn't be that hard to stick the difficulty rating right under the song title. The beats-per-minute is there, so there's no excuse.
The Xbox has the option to import your own songs and create custom routines, but of course, the PS2 gets no such love. There's also no head-to-head play via the internet, though you do earn ranking codes that you can input on the game's official site to see how you compare to other dancers around the world.
Although you wouldn't necessarily expect it, Pump It Up has some very nice visuals. Behind the steps, some songs have their music videos shown, while others have crazy rendered video of... well, wacky things. The CG videos are very high quality, and it's apparent that some time and effort was put into them and the game's graphics as a whole. Heck, the game even supports progressive scan! Obviously you're not going to spend a lot of time looking at these while you're dancing, but they are fun to watch while you're waiting your turn.
Pump It Up's list of playable songs is nothing short of enormous. While the box is a little misleading in that it leads you to believe there are tons of popular songs included, the number of songs you'll actually be familiar with (should you not have played the game in arcades before) is a scant few. Some of the better known acts include: Crystal Method, Steriogram, Elvis vs. Junkie XL, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Sugarhill Gang. If you want to check out all the artists in the game, you can see a complete list here. The good news is that just because you're unfamiliar with the songs, doesn't mean that the soundtrack is filled with duds - quite the opposite. The tracks are all of a very high quality, and there are tons of great songs in a wide variety of genres. Rock, Pop, Rap, Dance... you name it - it's in the game. The game's "house band" Ban Ya is quite good, and the remixed classic tracks by Vivaldi and Beethoven are pretty cool, and fun to dance to. K-Pop fans will enjoy tunes from Sechs Kies, Honey Family, Clon and Novasonic. Even if you're not a fan of K-Pop, J-Pop, Q-Pop or Whatever-pop, these tunes are for the most part appealing and accessible to everyone.
Knocking a game for its difficulty is something that's tough to do, because somewhere out there, a person thinks Pump It Up: Exceed's not that hard. It is safe to say, however, that beginners will likely find themselves overwhelmed with the game's complicated steps and unforgiving mechanics, even on the easiest settings. Dancing game veterans, on the other hand will relish the challenge and find the huge list of songs refreshing. For only $60 with the pad included, Pump It Up: Exceed is worth every penny - if you've got some skills.
10/7/2005 Aaron Thomas