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Dancing Stage Euromix

Old age creeps up on you when you least expect it. There you are, a lithe young thing frolicking in night clubs, partying all night, dancing to the latest hip tunes. You think “wow, I’m never going to stop doing this, this is the greatest time of my life!” But one day, as you hit the wrong side of twenty-five, the lure of the dancefloor diminishes. Gradually you begin to stay in more and more Friday nights, preferring a nice cup of tea and an RPG to a night on the tiles.

Your record collections starts to acquire lots of “Best of” compilations as you no longer bother picking up the latest singles. You start to lose track of what’s at number one each week. You begin to prefer VH1 over MTV and TOTP2 over TOTP. One day while channel hoping you utter those dreaded words; “tsk, this music’s rubbish. Wasn’t like this in my day!”

Argh!!!! That’s an electric shock to the system, that’s the sound of the Grim Reaper knocking on your door, that’s the sound of someone teetering dangerously on the edge of old-fogeydom. This deterioration cannot continue. It’s time to rekindle that lust for life, relight your eternal flame, find your mojo again.

So hurrah for Capcom and the makers of the PSX dance mats. For little more than the cost of a good night out you can buy Dancing Stage Euro Mix and a mat to play it with. You can recreate the nightclubs of your youth in the privacy of your own home and you don’t have to pay £2.50 for a bottle of water and queue for ages to use the toilet.

Dancing games by their very nature tend to appeal to a niche market. They are completely unplayable without the dancemat peripheral. If you have never seen one of these before they are a large mat that you put on the floor. They have the d-pad and four symbol buttons on them and you stand on the mat and leap on the buttons to activate them. They can actually be used with any psx game (Fighting games are particularly amusing to play with them), but they are specifically made to work with the Dance Dance Revolution and dancing Stage series of games.

These games first became popular in Japanese arcade in the late 1990’s. Selections of popular songs were programmed to have directional button commands running up across he screen as the played. As the directional commands (left, right, forward, back) hit the top of the screen you had to jump on the required button on the floor, this resulted in you dancing along to the tune. The higher the difficulty level, the more complex steps you have to make. Double taps and synchronised leaps onto two buttons at once are demanded of you. The more accurate you are and the better you can keep time to the music, the higher your score at the end.

These games are still hugely popular in Japan where they have been linked with the increased frequency of girls and families visiting arcades. After a slow start these also have became very popular in the UK as the price of PSOne’s and Dance Mats dropped and the range of titles to play on them grew. One of the first and best of these is Dancing Stage Euro Mix, which benefits from several big name artists and a selection of very euro friendly techno and house tracks.

It is a very slick title; there are many options to choose from including the marvellous workout option. Here you can set a goal of how many calories you want to burn and then keep selecting songs to dance to. As you pogo around like a mad thing on your mat the game calculates how many calories you have burned and keeps a running total of it at the bottom. You soon find the higher the difficulty level the more calories you burn. Easy mode can see you burning a paltry three calories per song, ramp it up to Hard and you can break ten calories per song!

There is also a fine training mode which eases you into the game gently. Through a series of tutorials it takes you from simple timing of steps to tricky stuff like double taps and coping with several consecutive double jumps. It’s recommended that you practice in this and workout mode before trying the arcade mode. As you dance your way though a series of songs in arcade mode its gets harder and harder. To involve you more in the action a commentator will egg you on and the crowd will cheer. Start to mess up and you get boo’s hurled at you, mess up to much on the trot and its game over.

There is plenty to choose from songwise, around thirty tracks. These include classics such as “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor), “Video Killed the Radio Star” (The Buggles), “Word Up” (Cameo) and “(Mucho Mambo) Sway” by Shaft. Also there are some damn fine techno tracks the likes of which I wouldn’t have been embarrassed to shake a leg to down the Paradise Factory of a weekend. The two Paranoia tracks are particularly good examples of early nineties House.

The graphics are not spectacular, but they complement the action perfectly. You choose a person to represent you on screen and as you move, they dance along. These are the usual big haired, futuristic suspects. They could have come right out of Space Channel 5 or Bust a Groove. Of course this makes you feel much better as you can actually imagine you are a stylish dancer and not someone standing in front of their TV leaping up and down on a plastic mat dressed in and old T-shirt and jeans. (ahem) Also each time you hit a “perfect” step (press exactly when the symbol going up screen hits the marker at the top), the back ground changes. Psychedelic images spin and constantly change with the beat of the music, after a while you really begin to feel the beat inside you.

Which is basically the key to doing well at any Bemani game. When you begin your steps will be faltering, you’ll be concentrating hard on the symbols flashing up the screen and trying to get the steps right. This slows you down too much, you have to feel the music in your feet and begin to let your sense of rhythm take control. Soon you are intuitively making the right steps without having to concentrate of the TV screen. Instead of just using your feet, your whole body is moving around. It feels damn great, and it’s then you realise why music and dancing is such a primal force, getting it right feels damn sexy and when you score a perfect A grade at the end of a song, well it’s orgasmic!

There is a downside. If like me you live above someone else, your fairy feet on the mat can make and awful lot of noise. In fact the game itself has stern instructions to be considerate of any neighbours you may be disturbing. Also the mat can get slippery after a while and if you’re not careful you can come a cropper. As well I found the stuff I have on top of my TV started vibrating off it, but this is all nit-picking stuff. One of the greatest achievements of the original PlayStation has been to offer experiences that don’t come under the banner of “traditional” gaming. The CD based nature of it meant that music could become a driving force and a draw to those alienated by the nerdier aspects of gaming culture. Hook up a dancemat or two and stick a bemani game in the machine and you have one of the purest and most enjoyable forms of interactive entertainment ever invented. I urge you try it. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on…

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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