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Dancing at the arcade
Popular video game on the move in Arizona

Jeff Davids/The Arizona Republic
Patty Marrese, 14, and Adam Ali, 18, follow their virtual partner at Dance Dance Revolution at Gameworks.

By Penny Walker
The Arizona Republic
May 19, 2001 12:00:00

Anurag Gulati started putting on weight last fall, capping out at 225 pounds.

Then the senior at Corona del Sol High School discovered a new arcade game, Dance Dance Revolution, at GameWorks at Arizona Mills and began dancing on the game's platform for an hour a day. He lost 30 pounds in four months.

Kind of like karaoke, only with dancing instead of singing, Dance Dance Revolution requires only a basic rhythm and the willingness to dance in front of a crowd. Judging by numerous Web sites dedicated to the game, extensive DDR message boards and lines of people waiting to play at arcades on weekends, DDR is attracting a following throughout the country.

One or two players stand on a platform aglow in pink neon lights and step on four large arrows in time to the beat of a variety of techno-pop songs. A video screen shows which arrow to step on and when. Players get points for correct steps, and if they score well enough they advance to the next song.

Pretty simple concept. Pretty addicting.

DDR, part of Konami's Bemani series of rhythm-based games, is one machine that rarely stands empty at GameWorks, the arcade's staff says. Easy enough for the casual player yet challenging for veterans, it's a nice change from the usual arcade fare.

"The interface is so innovative," says Bill Bradley, Chandler resident and founder of DDR'izona, a Web site ( that aims to help establish a DDR scene in the state.

"You look at regular video games, you have a joystick and a number of buttons. But with Dance Dance Revolution, you have to get up there and actually do something."

Local players say the combination of mental and physical challenge draws many people to the game - young, old, male, female, it doesn't seem to make much difference. Though the main age group tends to be late 20s and younger, Gulati says he once played a 67-year-old woman from San Francisco who was an avid DDR fan.

"She kicked my butt," he says.

As for the local DDR scene, Gulati says it's nothing like California, where DDR made its U.S. debut in March 1999. (It was released in late 1998 in Japan.)

According to the Web site, there are 143 DDR locations in California, by far the most in any state. In contrast, Arizona, where DDR debuted in autumn 1999, has six locations.

A U.S. PlayStation version has recently been released; versions for Japanese Dreamcast and PlayStation have been on the market for a while. The home game costs about $60.

Many players perfect their moves on a home version of the game but continue to play in public. Amy Parsons of Mesa owns the imported Dreamcast version, but she says nothing can replace the experience of playing at an arcade.

"You get a performance thrill when you're up there," says Parsons, 25. "Even if you don't think anyone is watching you."

And that's what DDR is all about: showing off your moves. Some players have done certain songs so often that they memorize the steps, turn their backs to the video screen and dance face to face with the crowd that often gathers.

Expert "freestylers" - players who care more about the style of the movement than making sure to hit every arrow - spin around the platform, using feet, hands, knees, even their heads to hit the arrows, Bradley says. One fan Web site has a movies link,, showing examples of such stylers competing in California, where tournaments are common. Bradley thinks it's only a matter of time before Valley arcades hosttournaments.

You don't have to be an expert styler to get started with DDR. All you need is the ability to tap out the beat to a song - and the willingness to look silly in front of others.

You may want to try different arcades, as each location differs in crowds, lighting, noise and atmosphere. The DDR USA version has fewer songs but can be more user-friendly for beginners. Veterans tend to prefer the versions of 3rd, 4th and 5th mixes imported from Japan.

Most players in Arizona are friendly and more than willing to help newbies figure out the game, explaining different levels and modes, such as hidden mode, in which the arrows disappear halfway up the screen. Even the game itself is vocal, razzing players when too many arrows are missed ("Did you have your breakfast today?") or voicing compliments when things are going well ("Wow, you are too cool.").

For those who aren't too willing to look that silly in public, keep in mind the point is to enjoy the game. Once most people get the courage to try, they're hooked.

"It didn't look like that much fun to me," Gulati says. "But once you start playing, the fun factor is amazing."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8014.

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