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O.C. Dance

Players Need to Put Their Best Feet Forward to Master Popular Dance Dance Revolution

Video Game Keeps You on Your Toes

September 14, 2000|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Your adversary may be a doe-eyed, button-nosed Japanese anime character with moves slicker than John Travolta--and his hair gel--during his feverish disco days.

As cherubic as your rival appears, it will taunt you, challenge you, boo you and cheer you on.

We're talking, of course, about Dance Dance Revolution, the popular dance simulation video game.

GameWorks introduced the game last year in all 13 of its stores, including at the Irvine Spectrum, the Block of Orange and Ontario Mills Mall. DDR and similar games are also gobbling up tokens at other venues.

The interactive video game takes gaming to new levels, vendors say. Various versions have evolved to match the skills of its most advanced players.

DDR has gained a cult-like following. Hard-core fans have formed dance teams and travel throughout the United States to scout the competition.

Fans such as Shirene Olsen of Tustin Ranch, who frequents GameWorks in Irvine.

"I saw players do knee-plants, slides, flips, turns, spins, elbow plants and hand-plants on the game," Olsen, 21, said.

It didn't take long before Olsen became a DDR junkie. When she's not working as an auto insurance estimator, Olsen plays the game every day for at least three hours.

She has traveled far, including to Chicago, to play. Olsen has built her repertoire by watching other skilled players.

"In California we're more about style," Olsen said. "In Chicago it's more about accuracy. The ones who are really, really good are from Chicago."

Olsen took another turn on DDR, and after a series of jumps and shuffles, the game screen flashed, "Perfect!"

DDR is made by Japanese video game maker Konami Co. and is based on the 1977 hit movie "Saturday Night Fever."

In Japan, the game is so popular that tournaments are held to crown the best or highest-scoring dancer. Similar contests will hit the States this fall, when GameWorks launches its national competition and names a DDR champion.

The game is mostly fancy footwork.

The controls are foot panels on a raised, square platform. Players must follow a series of dance patterns by tapping the arrows on the foot panel to the beat of the dance music.

The higher the level, the faster the music and dance. It's something of a cross between Simon Says and Twister. The moves can get so quick and complex that it makes Arthur Murray's step-by-step dances seem quaint.

Players can play the game in various modes, such as Double, in which one player uses the two-player foot panels for twice the difficulty; Mirror, in which the dance sequence is rotated 180 degrees; and Secret, a combination of modes.

Players also can record their steps and then compete, or "battle," against their opponents. It's called the Step Battle Mode.

The groovy fashion and playlist is a reminder of the disco fever. DDR's playlist includes "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba, "That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band and "Kung Fu Fighting" by Bus Stop. Songs have been mixed for fast, techno beats.

Like most video games, DDR is loud and distracting with booming dance music and flashing neon lights.

Unlike other games, DDR doesn't require a joystick, a shoot-pound-punch button, a plastic gun or a steering device to play. It requires only good dancing shoes. When the game starts, techno music booms from the speakers and the anime characters dressed in groove, disco or rave attire--bell bottoms, funky platform shoes, wide-collared shirts, psychedelic colors--egg on players.

"Are you ready for the challenge?" the character asks coyly.

Jon Huffer of Lake Forest is more than pumped to bust the move.

"I've been here for almost four hours," Huffer, 21, said, dripping in sweat.

Before his work shift, Huffer had time to spare. He spent the entire time playing DDR. His longest continuous game was seven hours.

Huffer, a college student, got hooked on DDR last year.

He has lost 50 pounds playing it.

"It's no joke," said Huffer, who now weighs 150 pounds. "Losing weight is what got me addicted to the game."

Not quite the gym type, Huffer claims DDR gives him a better, cheaper workout than any gym membership. Still, Huffer's extensive runs on DDR have at times depleted his wallet.

Shy, Huffer didn't think DDR was his sort of game. He has never been to a dance club and doesn't know how to dance. A friend introduced him to the game.

"I couldn't play it the first time because I have two left feet," Huffer said. "It takes absolutely no dancing skill to play DDR, which makes it easy for me."

Huffer is an advanced player and can master the game's highest levels, such as Trick Double or Maniac, on a good day. In Trick Double, a player follows complex patterns over eight panels. The basic levels require only four panels to play. In the "ultra difficult" Maniac, lights flash in rapid-fire succession every two seconds, and players must follow the sequence.

"If my left knee weren't messed up, I'd be doing handstands and all," Huffer said. "Part of the fun of it is seeing people gather around to watch."

Huffer is looking to join a DDR team. Teams have formed in Orange, Ontario and Chicago.

Crowds often gather around a DDR game, watching players strut their stuff.

"It's about a disco-dance lifestyle, the John Travolta coolness and showmanship," said Michael Lyons, regional marketing manager for the Glendale-based GameWorks.

Lyons said the game's popularity was unexpected. The game attracts players who are mostly in their 20s and 30s.

"It surprises me the cult following it has," Lyons said. "The DDR junkies will play it for hours nonstop."

The game has taken some innovative turns.

"The cool thing about DDR is that the talented players are partnering up to do swing moves," Lyons said. "The couples thing is a new thing. So the game is evolving in a way that people are trying to take it to a different level and making it more challenging for themselves."

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