Pump It Up: Exceed (Playstation 2)

Gaming Software
Year Released: 2005

Categories: Interactive/Gaming System Workouts

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Step aside, Dance Dance Revolution, there's a hot new dance game in the house! Actually, Pump It Up has been in arcades for almost as long as DDR, but this is its first American game console release. It's available on both PS2 and Xbox; I tested the PS2 version.

As with DDR, PIU has you stepping on a dance mat to the beat of catchy tunes, in sync with upwardly-scrolling arrows on the screen. But unlike DDR's up-down-left-right arrows, PIU's arrows are in an X pattern on the mat - and the center square is used also. (PIU comes packaged with a custom mat, and DDR mats aren't compatible with PIU.) If you're used to DDR like I am, trying to learn PIU is like learning a whole new foot-language! I guess it's like trying your first Christi Taylor after having done nothing but Firms. After a couple of very clumsy sessions with PIU, though, I started catching on and now can do many of the Normal (easiest) level songs.

To play, first select from Arcade, Home or Sudden Death modes. In Arcade, you play 4 songs and get a total score based on how accurate your steps were; a life bar at the top of the screen diminishes with each misstep, and if it disappears, it's game over (Sudden Death allows you only one misstep). Home mode lets you "practice" individual songs in their entirety, with no life bar or failing, the closest thing to a workout mode. For most songs there are 3 difficulty levels to choose from (Normal, Hard and Crazy) and numerical difficulty ratings within those levels, with 1 being the easiest. Although there is no workout mode per se, if you choose Statistics from the main menu, you can see the total "distance" in kilometers you've gone based on your step count, which can help you set goals or determine your progress.

The music and visuals are PIU's biggest strengths. The huge playlist (101 total songs on PS2, though many have to be unlocked at first) includes licenses such as Elvis' Little Less Conversation and Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight, as well as soundalikes of Kiss Me, Let's Groove, Conga and Born To Be Alive. If you're a Hooked On Classics fan, there's a slew of discofied classical pieces; I'll never be able to hear Ave Maria again without thinking about mashing a dance pad. There's also Latin, dance, hip-hop, rock, Korean pop and even a Christmas carol medley. The videos accompanying the music are very high quality, with anime-style cartoons, live-action dancing and psychedelic graphics. You can even sit and watch the videos on a Video channel, or shut them off if they're too distracting. The graphics are very slick and pleasing (although IMHO that is the ugliest dance pad I've ever seen), and loading times are about equal to DDR's.

Now for the bad things. Compared to DDR (let's face it, all dance games are going to be compared to DDR), PIU's menu navigation is a headache. Even though the mat has left, right, up and down buttons, these are used only for the main menus. To select songs or adjust difficulties, you use the unintuitive diagonal arrows and Back button, and the manual is of very little help - trial and error are the standard procedure. Since the center button is used for entering, you can't stand on the center like most DDR players are used to doing while choosing songs; I sort of awkwardly straddle the mat. In Arcade mode, you get only 60 seconds to select a song and difficulty, so your footwork has to be almost as fast during the selection process as during the song itself! The songs are grouped into 3 "channels", and the upper arrows switch channels while the lower arrows cycle through songs (in no particular order) on that channel. Many songs are locked and you have to unlock them by playing them in different modes. I hate locked content, but at least here they tell you what's locked and what to do to unlock them, unlike DDR where you basically have to get on the internet and seek out the "keys" for yourself.

PIU, unfortunately, is not very kind to newbies. There is no training mode; there is a tutorial mode where you can briefly practice the basics, but to learn a regular song, you just have to practice it in Home mode at normal speed without any assists like handclaps. The arrows don't have different colors according to the beat like in DDR, so it can be hard to tell sometimes if there's a jump (2 steps simultaneously) or just 2 steps very close together but not simultaneous. 2 players can play against each other, but unlike DDR, they have to play at the same difficulty.

I give Pump It Up: Exceed a grade of B+, with the music, videos and gameplay helping make up for the lousy interface and beginner-unfriendliness. If you love DDR, PIU is definitely worth a try for some fun variety, but if you're new to dance gaming, DDR is still the one to beat. Let's hope the next version of PIU is improved to make it more attractive to novices and home exercisers.

Instructor Comments:

Sue B