More fitness reviews here here.
These fitness reviews are different to critiques you find else where. I don't describe the graphics, modes, playability and then wrap things up with a rating. Rather, I put the game through some rigorous fitness tests, to determine its usefulness for keeping fit.
The first of this series of reviews features Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). DDR is the acronym that is synonymous with dance mats the world over and is one of the most obvious and recognisable examples of fitness gaming. DDR, or Dance Dance Revolution to give its full title, has been in use before the concept of fitness gaming has been put into the public mind.
The dance game has been around since 1998, making DDR 10 years old. Happy birthday DDR! First seen in arcades, there have been many titles in the series for console games and this is where I first met DDR, on a PS2. Now we have Dance Dance Revolution Universe for Xbox 360 as the latest implementation.
The dance mat that forms the basis of DDR games is basically a large gamepad were you jump on the buttons with your body instead of pressing them with your thumbs. Music is played by the game giving you different "buttons" to hit with the beat. Follow the on screen prompts and get the timing perfect with the song.
Fitness gaming is designed to add fun and entertainment to fitness which appeals to those who want a bit more out of exercise than raw press ups.
The simplest of concepts are always the best, without exception, and this concept has also stood the test of time. Using your body to control a game has never appealed to me, for the simple reason is makes control more difficult and does not replicate the real world actions. DDR uses your body to control the game but the formula is spot on. The actions, depending on how left-footed you are, more or less replicate the same bouncing around as in any Ibiza nightclub. The game play is very simple and so is not more difficult to control with your body, moving with the beat in fact makes it easier.
After 10 years or so at the top of fitness gaming, how does DDR rate?
In common with all my fitness game reviews I will look at four key aspects, to help you decide if this will be the game that gets you of the couch or the game hide away.
Back in the mid 80s there was an explosion of video games. The games console had come of age and there were more games published each month that in a whole year now. The trouble is at least half of them were total rubbish. Now we are starting to see the beginnings of an explosion of fitness games. We are smarter now and will not be tricked twice, so the game play of the game is under close scrutiny.
Without adequate game play, any fitness game will quickly become replaced by a new purchase, most probably one without a fitness aspect. DDR, and we're specifically looking at original Konami titles, has some problems with game play. As you progress in the game you will start to tire of the songs on offer. The inability to choose the song from your own collection gives DDR the appeal of a dance album you play over and over when you first buy it, but have not listened to in years.
Even after time there should still be a couple of songs you will dance to, so in all we have to accept the diminishing appeal but there should be enough to keep you going.
The game is a great deal of fun even with a few songs, so I can give DDR three out of five as a game.
Playing a game or working through a fitness routine is always much more enjoyable when you have a friend to share the experience. Fitness games are no exception, and in my experience they need a social aspect to be effective.
Playing DDR in two player mode solves all the problems of game play completely. You both dance to the same song with the same moves and whoever hits the steps in time the most wins. Stringing together a number of perfect steps gets you a combo count that further enhances the competition.
The challenge and social aspect of DDR as a two player game was, in fact, its initial concept as an arcade machine and this translates to the console versions very well. The space required for two playing is around 4 foot square each so dance mats score in the practicality department, you will be painfully aware of the importance this if you have tried to play four player Wii tennis!
The social aspect of DDR is second to none, and I give it the maximum five star rating.
Taking into account studies that have been around the globe and my own personal experience using video games with my fitness clients I can say DDR is exercise and you will get fit if used correctly.
There is little point looking at calories per hour that a fitness game can help you burn. It is like looking at the top speed of a car, would you chose a 186 mph car over a 170 mph car because it was quicker? Only if you were a race car driver! The rest of us have gas mileage to consider and speed limits to obey. What you need from a fitness game is a good range of intensity, the ability to warm up and cool down.
Used at the easiest setting on least complex song DDR can provide a good warm up, get you lose and ready for a real fat burning workout. Completing your workout with an easy game will help the lactic acid, which is the stuff that makes your muscles hurt after exercise, dissipate and will also reduce the chance of cramps.
Just like dancing is good exercise, so is DDR. Getting into the music helps sustain effort and encourages you to keep going. There is a slight twist to the longevity though, and I don't mean the problems with quality that means the bundled fabric mats can tear and the contacts for the "buttons" can fail.
When you get more practiced at the game and reach higher levels with more complex moves the exercise effort reduces. Yes, reduces! If you see a great DDR player you will notice they make very small and efficient moves, designed for speed. These moves are significantly different from a beginner who will be jumping from the core body.
With that minor point in mind DDR scores four out of five for exercise.
Think about why fitness games have started to become popular. Fitness is something far better achieved with active lifestyles, morning jogging, swimming, cycling, workout out at the gym and more! Fitness gaming is designed to add fun and entertainment to fitness which appeals to those who want a bit more out of exercise than raw press ups.
A good measure of how much fun and entertainment is in a fitness game is to see how much physical effort is spent without noticing it. They key here is do you stop playing halfway through a game or a level because you notice the effort too much? Will this game make you exercise more than if I asked you to go running? I call it "stealth fitness".
Dance Dance Revolution is a very powerful tool for stealth exercise. Dancing and music hides the fact that exercise is happening very well. The competition is also seen more as skill than physical ability. Top this with the fact that schools across the world are using dance mats to engage kids in physical activity and you have the measure of the quality of DDR as a fitness game.
When I look at these aspects there is no other score for DDR on stealth fitness than tops marks with a five star rating.
DDR is an example of how all fitness games should be. The game is fun and addictive, especially with two or more players in competition. The exercise is flexible and hidden well enough not to make DDR too easy or too hard.
The Fit Gamer verdict is most certainly Fitness.
I'll be back again soon with more exercise and gaming fare for you. Until then, why not follow me on my mini blog, friend me on Facebook or just email me with how you are getting on. The next fitness game in this series to be reviewed is Wii-Sports.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: