Review: One-upping DDR one button at a time.
Pump It Up tries to put the moves on rhythm game players by jumping from arcades to home consoles and one-upping Dance Dance Revolution on its monopolized turf. Several other games within the dance genre have attempted fancy footwork on the home console, but saw little to no traction because they were mere imitations. Pump It Up: Exceed benefits from pointing its arrows in a different direction and adding a fifth arrow to the pad, thus literally attempting to one-up DDR. Along with a healthy track list and dance moves that feel natural, it's not just an imposter on the dance floor, but a viable alternative to the king of choreographed video game dancing.
The addition of a fifth button has been the biggest difference between the Japanese arcade phenomenon DDR and the Korean coin-operated sleeper hit Pump It Up since their respective arcade debuts in 1998 and 1999. The extra button lies in the center of the PIU dance pad. Thus, players are required to jump in the air and down on to the center spot where they normally rest. This ramps up the difficulty considerably.
Diagonal arrows on the dance pad are a new and welcome move to the DDR norm. Instead of the typical up, down, left and right arrows, they're now arranged top left, top right, bottom left and bottom right. Not only does this switch up your style, but it also adds to the comfort. Without the down arrow, you're no longer straining to reach that arrow without looking or attempting to turn around to see it without seeing the game screen. To help keep the pad in place, the opposite side is sticky so that it doesn't bunch up like cheaper DDR pads tend to do.
If the fifth button and diagonal arrows don't throw you for a loop, then jump buttons, hold notes and impossible difficulty levels will put you in your place. The game only begins with normal (so don't bother looking for an easy mode) and continues to get even more difficult with hard, crazy and nightmare. Nightmare, along with another mode called freestyle, requires two dance pads for the ultimate foot action. However, the difficulty may drive some novice players with two left feet off the dance pad too quickly, even at the easiest settings. Therefore, PIU may not be the best introduction to the genre if you had to choose one.
As if you could really pass all of those difficulty levels, there are other modes besides the arcade mode. Home allows you to brush up on your skills with mistakes, while Sudden Death puts you to the test without any room for mistakes. Survival sets you up with a marathon of one song after another, but doesn't refill your life gauge. So, in addition to being really hard and lasting a long time, there's a lot to do to make it last even longer.
There are almost 100 different songs to dance to and others that can be downloaded through Xbox Live, all containing music video or anime backgrounds. Only six are familiar licensed songs like Elvis Presley's ?A Little Less Conversation,? Earth, Wind and Fire's ?Let's Groove? and Sugarhill Gang's ?Rappers Delight.? The rest of the playlist is comprised of unknowns within pop, rock or of an international flavor, all typical of rhythm games such as DDR. While the songs are appropriate and plentiful, the menus are difficult to navigate. Besides their overbearing look and inefficient rotating design, the menus make use of the fifth center button as the select button, making it awkward to hop on and off the pad to press.
Although downloadable content and online leaderboards were included, PIU: Exceed makes no attempt to deliver online multiplayer. Instead, the game is limited to two-player offline battles. This puts it a few steps behind DDR, as the series has had full Xbox Live support since the first Dance Dance Revolution ULTRAMIX. Simply (and appropriately) put, PIU got served.