Pump It Up Exceed (PlayStation 2)

by Cutriss, 12 December 05

Is hell freezing over? A Pump review on DDR Freak? Heh, hardly. DDR Freak isn't strictly about DDR. Sure, it is our focus, but we're about all music games. And now that we have the first official console release of Pump It Up in the US, we're happy to be given the opportunity to give it the once-over by Andamiro and Mastiff. We'll be reviewing the bundle package for the PS2 - the game is also available for the Xbox.

Let's make one thing clear here - this review is not intended to be a debate on the virtues/vices of the PIU gametype versus the DDR gametype, and we won't be reflecting on that at all. Comparisons will be made based on features, but not on gameplay.

Since Pump It Up doesn't have any real predecessors in the home market to follow upon, it has to make a big opening splash, much as In The Groove did with its first console release. Actually, PIU Exceed has even more working against it in that regard, since PIU-compatible hardware isn't nearly as widely available, meaning that for serious players, the bundle pack is the only option for many people.

Thankfully, the pad that comes with PIU Exceed is of some pretty solid construction. At least, for a softpad. As opposed to Konami's vinyl nightmare, the PIU pad is made of canvas and holds up very well to storage and gameplay. It uncreases easily and holds up over time, so it'll be able to handle normal gameplay. The underside has a textured rubbery surface that helps to keep the pad in place, though you might still want to tape it down a bit just to keep it stationary.

The game itself is set up somewhat like a lot of 2D fighter ports are, with an Arcade Mode designed to be near arcade-perfect, while Home Mode is an arranged home version with extra songs and options available, and some different control methods. The game also includes a Sudden Death mode which isn't available in the arcade, and that's pretty nice. One problem some reviewers have noted is that Arcade Mode plays somewhat authentically, in that the ending of each game kicks you back out to the main menu, but given the availability of Home Mode and the Internet Ranking feature for Arcade Mode, it's not really that big of a drawback.

Arcade Mode retains most of the songs from the arcade version of Exceed, minus a few songs that didn't make the cut, notably the hiphop songs. Also present are a few preview tracks from the arcade release of Exceed 2, and some exclusive license tracks, such as A Little Less Conversation (Elvis Presley), Name of the Game (The Crystal Method), and Rapper's Delight (Sugarhill Gang). The PlayStation 2 version of the game tops out at 101 songs, a record for non-Internet-connected US music games, which is higher than the Xbox version's 97, though the Xbox version is slated to eventually have downloadable songs.

And while we're on the topic of Internet features - well, there's not much here. The two versions of the game are distinct in that regard - while the Xbox version has a downloadable stepchart editor (a feature which is not available at all in the PS2 version), the PS2's Internet connectivity is limited to a simple offline Internet Ranking password generator for those who complete a round in Arcade Mode. It's a bit disappointing, but considering that the Xbox's Live functionality has really remained largely untapped, it's not a huge loss. Definitely something to look forward to in Exceed 2, if it gets green-lighted.

I've always had quite a few complaints about Pump It Up that weren't related to the core gameplay. For starters, mod codes aren't consistent between many versions of the game, and, at least in Exceed, you have to select a song before seeing the available difficulty levels for it. Thankfully, Home Mode rectifies some of these problems. A modifier menu is available, and you can preselect a specific default difficulty level to help save time. This is good, but not terribly helpful at times, since the step ratings for Pump It Up songs not only vary rather widely, but they're also not on a scale that most DDR players are used to. The latter complaint can hardly be seriously levied against the game, but the former is more pronounced than in DDR.

Another complaint I have with the series (and this is not something that was fixed in Home Mode) is the lack of the Vivid representation that DDR players are commonly used to. Pump It Up color-codes the arrows based on positioning, but as a consequence of this, the arrows don't have a rotating color pattern as in DDR. True, expert DDR players initially had to play Flat full-time, but the dancing game genre has moved far past that point, and I feel that if Pump It Up is to attract more players, it is something that needs to be made optional, even if just in the home versions.

Now, all those complaints made, the game is put together very well. All the excellent videos and graphics of the arcade version come over intact, with little load time. As a matter of fact, aside from the initial loading phase, there load screens are very short...so short that the presence of the "now loading" screen makes transitions a bit jarring. I think I would have preferred that Mastiff not even include them given that they're often only a half-second or so in duration.

The menu controls are also a bit inconsistent. Since the arcade versions have always relied completely on the pad to control song selection and code input, it's a bit confusing to have to switch between diagonal arrows and directional arrows for making selections between the main menu, the song menu, and the modifier menu. Truthfully, I think it'd have just been better if PIU pads had a fixed button to signify the use of a pad, kind of like how Pop'n Music controllers work. That way, the game could use the D-pad for input if a controller was plugged in, and diagonal inputs (L1/L2/R1/R2/X) if a PIU pad was plugged in.

All in all, it's definitely a good first run, though I think maybe Andamiro and Mastiff should've put a little more effort into making the game more palatable for new players. As it is, it's great for an arcade port, but given the entrenchment of DDR compared to Pump It Up, it'd be nice to see a little more functionality. Even the Xbox version doesn't have online competitive play, which is a little weak in the face of two (and now three) Xbox versions of DDR which have had both online competing and downloadable content, and now have tournament modes too. It's hard to say anything with regards to the PlayStation 2's lack of an online component - part of it will be dependent on which additional songs are provided via Xbox Live. If it turns out that the only songs made available are the four missing tracks from the PS2 version, then owners of the Xbox version will likely feel screwed. I'm not saying that Pump It Up should copy all of DDR's features, but it really is time to put some of the past limitations of the series behind us and to make the game better for everyone.

It's a good game and a good value on its face, and well-developed. Hopefully if Exceed 2 gets a home release in the US, we'll see a bit more effort next time. But don't feel bad if it winds up under your tree this holiday - it's worth having.