Mario's first dancing game probably won't change much through localization, so check out this import review to help you decide whether it should be on your holiday shopping list!
Dance Dance Revolution has been around for about seven years in Japan, with dozens of versions across numerous platforms. (Thanks to Cutriss @ DDR Freak for the correction!) Thus far, Nintendo fans have received only a scaled down Game Boy version and a creepy Disney version for N64, neither released outside Japan. But now, Nintendo and Konami have finally teamed up to create the first GameCube iteration, DDR with Mario, and it's even going to be released elsewhere as DDR: Mario Mix.
This version does a good job of appealing to a wide audience. Players new to the series will find a relaxed learning curve and plenty of familiar music from the Mario series of games, rather than the daunting (and arguably terrible) techno lineup of most DDR games. Hardcore players may be put off by having to play the game's annoying story mode to unlock songs, but the songs can eventually be played at very high difficulty levels that should challenge, or at least keep the interest of, nearly any pro stepper. Overall, the game is definitely geared towards beginners and intermediate players, but DDR fanatics may be lured in by the game's soundtrack and graphics, both of which trump any DDR home version released in the U.S.
The most visible unique feature in DDR with Mario is, of course, Mario. The pudgy plumber dances on the screen during every song, though he doesn't try to match your own steps. Instead, he rocks back and forth, waving his hands and tapping his feet to the beat. You can also select Luigi as your character, but sadly, he has the same animations as Mario, and both brothers hardly make a sound at any time during the game. Instead, the in-game pep talks are still given by the same goofy announcer that DDR games have been cursed with forever. Several other major characters make an appearance, including Bowser, who evokes You Got Served with his hilarious break-dance moves.
In terms of gameplay, DDR with Mario adds a significant new element in the form of special steps that look and sometimes behave like classic Mario enemies. Koopa Troopas have to be stepped on twice, on successive beats. Hammers from the Hammer Bros. fly in from the side, so you can't tell which button they'll correspond to until the last second. On top of the unusual movements of these special steps, they're also difficult simply for looking different, so even the relatively simple Goombas and coins can be confusing, especially on songs with isolated half-beat steps. These special steps are thus quite interesting as new obstacles for advanced players, while also appealing to new players who just like to see the recognizable Mario items and characters.
Mario's strongest influence is on the soundtrack, which is comprised almost entirely of remixes and remakes of familiar songs from the many Mario games over the years. These songs, many of them bona fide classics in the annals of game music, have been brushed up with various styles ranging from jazz to techno. There are also a few classical songs, but they only help to bring up the grand total to about thirty songs, which is quite low by DDR standards. Nevertheless, the soundtrack works well because most of the songs are catchy, familiar, and danceable, whereas a typical DDR home version (at least in the U.S.) might only have a handful of great tunes among a huge selection of techno turds. In fact, my only real complaint about the soundtrack is that the original Super Mario Bros. theme, remixed as "Here We Go" in this game, doesn't quite match up to its step patterns. The steps feel slightly offbeat, which makes the song oddly hard even at low difficulty levels. I didn't notice this problem on any of the other tracks, but it's disappointing to find such a fundamental DDR faux pas in the game's showcase song.
The game comes in a big box containing one GameCube dance pad. The pad is soft and lightweight, but it does have some padding, and the buttons are very responsive. Since the buttons can't be felt through the cover material, I had occasional problems with losing my placement during a song, which can ruin the performance very quickly. Additional pads can be ordered from Nintendo in Japan, but an easier solution for two-player mode is to connect a PS2 dance pad with a controller converter, such as Nyko's PlayCube. Both of my PS2 pads worked great through this device, except that there's no mapping for the Z button, which toggles the special steps in arcade mode. That's easy enough to deal with, and with such a converter, you could possibly use fancy RedOctane thick foam and metal pads. The folks at DDR Freak seem to like the Gemini Game-Elements converter for minimal time delay.
DDR with Mario is a very good dancing game suitable for Nintendo fans looking to get into DDR for the first time, as well as seasoned DDR players looking for a completely new set of songs and the added layer of challenge presented by the special steps. Extremely hardcore players will have complaints about some missing features and the lack of incredibly hard songs. Due to the long period between Japanese and U.S. releases, and since the soundtrack probably won't change much or at all in that time, DDR with Mario is a great game to import. The menus are easy to navigate without knowing Japanese, and the story mode is self-explanatory despite having plenty of text. The main issue is cost, since the game comes with a GameCube dance pad and thus is expensive to ship. If you can find a good deal on shipping, I do recommend importing. You can order it from our partners at Lik-Sang.